Hurricane Katrina caused extensive damage to offshore oil and gas production facilities. In this study, the state-of-the-art ocean circulation (the Princeton Ocean Model) and surface wave (Wave Watch III) models, together with high-resolution analyzed winds from NOAA/Hurricane Research Division, are used to simulate the current and wave conditions during Katrina. The model simulation shows large (>15 m) surface waves and strong (>2 m s−1) wind-driven and inertial currents superposed on the Loop Current and Loop Current eddy. The simulated wave fields are verified with surface buoy and satellite altimetry observations; the agreement generally is better than 0.5 m, and the correlation coefficient is above 0.95. Also, while the observed 55-ft significant wave heights on National Data Buoy Center (NDBC) buoy 42040 surpassed the previous record in the Gulf of Mexico, circumstantial evidence suggests that waves as large as 70 ft might have occurred in the storm path. Comparison with the operational analysis suggests that the current NCEP model system tends to underestimate the spatial extent of the serious wave impact.

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School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York

Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey