Will Hurricane Matthew Be As Bad As Hurricane Katrina? Preparation Could Still Make A World Of Difference

Residents of Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia are bracing themselves for Hurricane Matthew, which is on track to be the strongest storm to hit the United States in about a decade. The most notorious hurricane in recent memory remains Katrina, which wreaked havoc on New Orleans back in 2005. Now, many are wondering if Hurricane Matthew will be as devastating as Hurricane Katrina.

That’s a bit of a tough question to answer, because “as bad” could mean a lot of different things. In terms of wind speed, though, Matthew will probably be worse. Katrina’s winds topped out at 125 mph, making it a Category 3 storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Matthew, by contrast, is expected to produce winds of around 140 mph, putting it in Category 4 and suggesting that it will cause more extensive damage than Katrina.

But wind speed is only part of the story. Katrina killed an estimated 2,000 people, and this was partially due to the Bush administration’s botched response to the emergency and faulty infrastructure in the area — in other words, things that have little to do with wind speed. It’s too soon to say whether the regions in Matthew’s path will be better-prepared, or whether the Obama administration will prove more competent in its response. Undoubtedly, those factors will play an enormous role in determining how destructive the storm is.

So far, government officials at the state and federal level are taking no chances. President Obama has declared states of emergency in Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia in anticipation of Matthew’s arrival. Federal relief will be expedited to the states named. In addition, Florida Gov. Rick Scott emphasized in no uncertain terms that residents in evacuation zones — about 1.5 million people in Florida alone — need to get out immediately.

“If you’re reluctant to evacuate, just think of all the people the storm has already killed,” Scott said in a news conference. ”The storm will kill you. We don’t have much time left.”

Around 2 million people have been ordered to evacuate across four states; if you’d like to see whether your area is affected, here’s a list of evacuated areas, courtesy of the National Weather Service. This could change, of course, so if you live anywhere near the storm’s projected trajectory, it would be wise to continue checking for new advisories.

The bottom line is that Hurricane Matthew is a big, serious, terrifying deal — and that’s true regardless of how powerful it is relative to Katrina.