National Hurricane Director discusses advances in forecasting since Camille

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - "Hate to wake you, but Camille is changing course.  Turning north now instead of east.  Looks like she's going to head to right where you live."

That excerpt is from the documentary "A Lady Called Camille." It captures those dramatic hours before Hurricane Camille made landfall on the Mississippi Gulf Coast on August 17, 1969.

"If Camille had hit today just like it did in 1969, the damage would have been around $22 billion," said Bill Read, Director of the National Hurricane Center.

Read focused on the destructive storm during a 40th anniversary Camille luncheon in Biloxi.  He discussed how hurricane forecasting has improved greatly over the years.

"This is one of the few satellite pictures that were available at the Hurricane Center back in 1969," Read said as he showed a black and white image of Camille.

Today, he says there are more advanced satellite systems and computer technology. People also have instant access to information, thanks to cell phones and the Internet.

"I think the difference is a lot of people didn't see what was coming at them back then.  Now you get it in your face constantly when you have a threat," said Read.

"That was a very difficult, difficult time.  It really was," said Danny Guice of Biloxi.

Guice remembers appearing on television, begging people to evacuate.  He was the mayor of Biloxi when Camille roared through his city.

"And then the next day, when we got out and saw all the destruction, it was hard to believe," said Guice.  "I didn't take off my jumpsuit for two weeks. I really didn't.  It was a real tragic area around there then."

Read offered some advice to south Mississippians:  Heed the warnings, build stronger structures, and move farther inland.

"We probably shouldn't build anything about 20 miles of the coast, anywhere from southwest Florida all the way over to south Texas, because that's how far on our flat land the penetration of that salt water goes in," said Read.

He also encouraged homeowners to buy flood insurance.

"If you're on a coastline as flat as this, there is no non-flood zone.  Period," Read said.

Read also spent some time talking about the status of the tropics today, including the storms brewing in the Atlantic.  Proceed from the red beans and rice luncheon will benefit the Hurricane Camille memorial in Biloxi.

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