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Last Saturday, New Orleans flooded after more than 9 inches of rain. Initially, the S&WB, or "Sewerage & Water Board," said the system was working as expected and it was just too much rain (it is designed to handle only 1 inch of rain for one hour, then 0.50 of an inch each hour after that). Since then, it was discovered that three out of five turbines that power the pumps were, in fact, not working this week.
This morning SW&B was trending on Twitter because at 3 a.m., residents got a text from the S&WB which explained that an overnight fire had taken the fourth pump turbine out, leaving only one. WWLTV reports: "A fire that broke out Wednesday night in a turbine that provides power to most of the city's pumping stations crippled that piece of equipment, leading city officials to warn of possible flooding today and during the weekend. In the worst case scenario, Entergy service could be disrupted and there would be no turbines at all to operate not only the pumps but the drinking water or sewer services."
How likely is heavy rain in New Orleans? It's less of a question of "if" but "when." I mentioned yesterday (see above) that 4-8 inches of rain could fall over the next week in parts of the Southeast, and AccuWeather wrote an article entitled "Repeated downpours may inundate southern US with 10 to 20 inches of rain over next few weeks." As I was writing this blog, there were areas of 1-2 inches of rain per hour heading for the city (fortunately the storms weakened before reaching it).
How much rain will fall, and when? Meteorological models aren't high resolution enough to say exactly where and when; at least 10 inches, if not 15, fell this morning in the northern part of the state (see map above) and there's no reason to think that couldn't happen in New Orleans at any time over the next week. It could, and will, happen in other parts of the Southeast as well -- but they may be better prepared to handle it than a city below sea level with a crippled pump system.
Why can't they just hook up more power to the pumps? Sadly, WWLTV says"Four of the five turbines run off of an uncommon kind of electricity known as 25-cycle power, which the S&WB generates on its own."
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