The death toll now stands at 16. But it is important to note that more than half the deaths were not due to storm surge or direct hurricane damage, but due to improper use of generators, leading to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Several of the other deaths were from trees falling on homes, killing those inside.
Nearly all of these storm-related deaths did not have to happen, and the lessons of Laura are important here in the Northwest, which is often hit by Pacific cyclones rivaling the hurricanes that strike the southeast U.S.
And there is something else: Hurricane Laura was very well forecast in the days before, as is true of most of our storms. Thus, there is time to prepare and evacuate if people would take advantage of the improving predictions.
Hurricanes Versus Northwest Winter Storms
Hurricane Laura was a category 4 storm (130-156 mph sustained winds) as it approached the Louisiana coast and rapidly declined to category 2 (96-110 mph) after landfall. Within a half day it was no longer a hurricane.
Northwest Pacific cyclones often approach the coast with winds equivalent to category 1 hurricanes (74-95 mph) and in the case of the Columbus Day Storm of 1962, was as strong as a category 3 hurricane (111-129 mph).
Satellite imagery of Hurricane Laura and the Chanukah Eve Storm (2006) is shown below with an arrow indicating the distance of 100 miles. Note how much larger our storms are, which means that greater areas experience strong winds.
But what about the 192 Columbus Day Storm? Storm expert, Dr. Wolf Read, created a map of the peak gusts for that event, and the winds were extremely similar to Laura. Our next tier of storms, such as the 1993 Inauguration Day Storm or the 2006 Inauguration Day Storm, often produce 80-90 mph gusts.
Weather Prediction Has Become More Skillful
The track forecast (the prediction of the path of the storm) of Laura was extremely good days in advance. I mean stunningly good. 4-5 days before, the location of landfall was predicted correctly within a few miles and few hours (see proof below). Such small track errors within 4-5 days of landfall has become typical of hurricane predictions and represent an extraordinary accomplishment of numerical modeling and observation. Similarly, track errors of major storms approaching the West Coast have greatly improved (decreased).
1. NEVER use a generator or barbecue inside a home when the power goes out.
As noted above, most of the deaths from Laura were from generator use inside of buildings, leading to carbon monoxide poisoning. Here in the Northwest there have been several deaths when folks used barbecues inside homes or garages and carbon monoxide invaded homes. Never, ever do this.
2. If strong winds are predicted, do not sleep in bedrooms that might be hit by a falling tree.
Sleep in a lower level or in part of home/apartment that is not vulnerable. If no trees, no worries.
3. Never drive, bicycle or walk around outside during strong winds
During almost every major windstorm in our region, someone gets killed or seriously injured while traveling outside. The chance of any individual being hit is very, very low, but if thousands are outside, someone is going to get hurt.
Let me admit something, I almost got killed this way. On a windy night, I bicycled home along the Burke Gilman trail and a big branch fell about 6-7 feet behind me. That would have been the end for me if I had been a second slower. I am very careful about this issue now.
4. Forecasts are much better today than even ten years ago. Take the forecasts seriously.
Combining excellent forecasts with common sense, the death tolls from major wind storms and hurricanes can decline to near zero.
My blog on the KNKX firing and cancel culture is found here.