Don’t know why gaming revenues aren’t high? Stormy weather. It may seem to Louisianans like Hurricane Ida blew through just yesterday, but we’ve arrived already at another Louisiana hurricane season.
Expert forecasters predict a bad one. That could mean downtimes, damages, and revenue losses for Pelican State casinos, just as in prior years.
Which way the wind is blowing for this hurricane season:
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has forecast an “above normal” 2022 hurricane season along the Atlantic. They’re predicting 14–21 named storms at Category 3 level or more, which isn’t good news at all for Loisiana casinos.
Storms get named when their winds reach at least 39 mph, tropical storm status. The status graduates to hurricane at 74 mph winds.
NOAA expects three to six of those named storms to qualify as major hurricanes.
The agency’s administrator, Dr. Rick Spinrad, said at a May briefing that this would be the seventh consecutive “above normal” year if predictions prove correct. He also said NOAA is 65% sure of their forecast.
Similarly, researchers at the Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project expect four major hurricanes to be in the mix.
Category 5 is currently the highest rating for hurricanes. Category 5 storms roar in with winds at 157 mph or even more. That’s bad, but now some scientists want to revise the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale and introduce a Category 6, according to www.usnews.com.
Michael Mann is the current director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University.
Recently he told USA Today, “It has been argued by some that there’s no need for a higher category than ‘5’ because a ‘5’ causes total destruction. That’s less true now with the more resilient infrastructure that we’re creating, and there is a qualitative difference in the impact of a 157 mph weak Cat 5 and a 185 mph monster Cat 5.”
It’s pretty stunning to imagine a Category 6 when you remember Hurricane Katrina making landfall in Louisiana as a Category 3 with winds at 125 mph in August 2005.
Some 900,000 homes lost power. Electricity, gas, and water remained unavailable for weeks. About 10,000 people had to seek refuge in the Superdome.
How to make a hurricane
Hurricanes have a few certain ingredients.
La Niña is a Pacific Ocean weather pattern that results in cooler than average ocean temperatures around the Pacific equator.
This has a global effect on weather. And according to wfla.com, the presence of La Niña is the most influential factor in predicting how active an Atlantic hurricane season will turn out to be. Las Niñas have historically produced three times as many hurricanes as any El Niño.
The presence of El Niño can actually reduce the number of hurricanes forming in the Atlantic, according to the NOAA.
The Loop Current:
The loop current gives hurricanes the fuel they need to cause havoc.
More specifically, they provide “an unlimited supply of hot water for intensification” according to CNN meteorologist Chad Myers. “A 600-foot-deep river of hot Caribbean water that travels between Cancun, Mexico and western Cuba into the Gulf,” Myers has explained.
Forecasters are basing their expectations on the apparent similarity between the loop current’s position now and where it was in 2005 — the record-breaking Louisiana hurricane season that included Katrina.
However, as NOAA lead forecaster Matthew Rosencrans points out, forecasting a storm’s track is not something they can do outside a week’s time frame.
Louisiana hurricane season impacts on casinos
Laura 2020 and the Isle of Capri
2020 proved not only the year of a worldwide pandemic but also “the most active [hurricane] season on record with 30 named storms,” according to Spinrad.
That’s year’s Hurricane Laura is tied with an 1856 storm and Hurricane Ida for the strongest recorded hurricane to make U.S. landfall.
On August 27 and near peak intensity, Laura made landfall at Cameron, Louisiana. The next day, FEMA issued a Major Disaster Declaration for the state. The storm surge had reached an unbelievable 18 feet above ground level. There were dozens of civillian casualties, and Laura caused $17.5 billion in damage.
At the time, construction for a new $112.7 million land-based Isle of Capri Casino was underway but now the storm’s damages delayed the project. In addition, Ida unmoored the Isle of Capri riverboat and pushed it under a bridge.
The storm also seriously damaged an older hotel at the site, resulting in its demolition.
Then, adding insult to injury, Hurricane Delta blew through at a Category 4 level a little more than a month later. Renovations stalled even further.
Ida 2021 and New Orleans
A hurricane has to have done a tremendous amount of damage to life and structures for its name to be retired. As of this past April, 2021’s Hurricane Ida joined the retired names list that totals 94. The list includes Katrina, Harvey, Maria, and Sandy; with Ida, they constitute the five costliest storms in the U.S.
According to nbcmiami.com, 2021’s hurricane season was the third most active on record, including 21 named storms and seven hurricanes. With maximum sustained winds of 150 mph, Ida killed 96 people and did an estimated $75 million worth of damage.
After making landfall in Louisiana on August 29, Ida released wind gusts reaching 170 mph and caused a more than 10–foot storm surge. Twenty-six Louisianans lost their lives.
Most of New Orleans lost power, part of the 1 million customers in the state overall who saw their homes and places of business go dark.
Louisiana casinos and racetracks saw August 2021 revenue losses of over $3 million due to Ida’s fury. Most of the state’s riverboat casinos had to close for several days and revenue dropped $4.5 million year-over-year.
While the rest of the state bounced back in September, Ida’s effect on New Orleans lingered, to the tune of a $7.2 million loss (-41.2%) year-over-year.
Louisiana Gaming Control Board Chair, Ronnie Johns, said in Ida’s aftermath that these storms pose an ongoing safety concern for riverboat casinos.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” he commented at the time.
Raindrops keep falling on my headphones
Here’s a fun fact: According to www.satelliteinternet.com, raindrops are up to eight times denser than snow. And the bigger the raindrops, the higher the chance of internet going out.
Internet outages due to storms, which happen most often due to infrastructure and equipment failures, can happen with any kind of internet.
Still, some kinds are more vulnerable than others. For example, fixed wireless has a better chance of continuing to work than satellite. However, fixed wireless can go out if too many people in the area are using it, or due to a power outage.
According to allconnect.com, Louisiana’s internet service ranks a low 48th out of 50 on a connectivity scale. The state’s many rural areas, some of which have no internet access at all, factor into that. On the other hand, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and some other locations are in good shape internet-wise.
Now that the state has mobile sports betting, hurricane-caused revenue loss for that activity could conceivably result from another storm like Ida. If reality aligns with the forecasts, we may see how that plays out this Louisiana hurricane season.