Hurricane Ida: Mississippi River Reverses Flow, Fossil Fuel Production Halted, And Blackouts

Hurricane Ida is seen by the ISS just hours before the storm’s landfall in Louisiana on August 29. Image credit: NASA/ISS/Thomas Pesquet

Hurricane Ida is causing all kinds of hell along the southern coast of the US. The Category 4 hurricane hit the northern Gulf of Mexico coast on Sunday, bringing winds of 241 kilometers (150 miles) per hour between Grand Isle in Louisiana and Bay St Louis in Mississippi, as per the National Hurricane Center. 

The tropical storm made landfall on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina that caused over 1,800 deaths in late August 2005. While Ida is not expected to be as catastrophic as Katrina, it’s caused widespread devastation through intense winds and flash flooding.

As a remarkable indication of Hurricane Ida's power, it managed to reverse the flow of the Mississippi River on Sunday, August 29, forcing water to flow upstream and resulting in a negative discharge rate, according to data from the US Geological Survey.

"I remember, offhand, that there was some flow reversal of the Mississippi River during Hurricane Katrina, but it is extremely uncommon," Scott Perrien, a supervising hydrologist with the USGS Lower Mississippi Gulf Water Science Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, told CNN.

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Fossil fuel production in the Gulf of Mexico ceased after workers were forced to evacuate from all 11 of the area's offshore rigs and over half of the offshore platforms. According to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, oil production was down 95 percent this week while gas production was cut by 93 percent. 

Due to storm damage to power infrastructure, Louisiana and Mississippi have both been wracked with power outages, leaving at least 1,100,000 people in the dark, according to PowerOutage.us

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Many hospitals are relying on emergency backup generators, but the storm also caused a failure of the backup generator at Thibodaux Regional Health System in Lafourche Parish, an area that was hit hard by the initial push of the storm. NOLA reports that doctors and nurses were forced to manually push air in and out of the lungs of seriously ill ICU patients while they were being transported to another floor.

As if things couldn’t get much tougher, Louisiana is currently dealing with a surge of COVID-19 cases and many hospitals are reaching full capacity. Ida is currently bringing a further strain on hospitals, cramped rescue centers, and the early closure of vaccine centers, all of which are set to deepen this ongoing public health disaster.

“It bothers me considerably ... you’re having two potential or real catastrophes conflating on each other,” Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Chief Medical Advisor to the President, told CNN on Sunday.

“We’re having a situation where even when you’re stretched to the limit, to superimpose upon it what will likely be a historic weather environmental catastrophe is going to do nothing but make things much, much worse,” Fauci added.

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