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A 2016 storm dumped 4 trillion gallons of water on Louisiana. Could Barry do the same?

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 7/12/2019 Leigh Guidry
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LAFAYETTE, La. – In August 2016, south Louisiana experienced record flooding and devastation from the more than 2 feet of rain that fell in a matter of three days and overflowed nearly every body of water.

As the state prepares for Tropical Storm Barry, which is expected to strengthen into a hurricane before landfall this weekend, residents wonder if their cities once again will be flooded.

Follow the path of the storm with MSN’s hurricane tracker 

Robert Miller, assistant professor of civil engineering at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said it's hard to compare the two events, but they could be similar.

"It's a similar set of circumstances," Miller said. "There is a lot of Gulf moisture and a disorganized system. It (Barry) could meander around and bring a lot of moisture. It's unfortunate for our area because we have such low topography."

That was a big part of the problem in 2016. The system remained nearly stationary over areas of southwest Louisiana like Lafayette and Baton Rouge, causing torrential downpours and flooding.

Tropical Storm Barry: Hurricane warning issued in Louisiana as Barry gains strength in Gulf of Mexico

Gallery by photo services

The Weather Channel estimates the total rainfall over southern Louisiana from Aug. 12-14, 2016, was equivalent to more than 4 trillion gallons of water – enough to fill more than 6 million Olympic-size swimming pools and more water than fell on New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

The maximum rainfall total for the 2016 event was 31.39 inches in Watson, northeast of Baton Rouge. At least five other locations had observed rainfall totals in excess of two feet, all located north or east of Baton Rouge, according to The Weather Channel.

Now with Barry, there's the added issue of a high storm surge potential, which is something parish emergency preparedness officials find especially concerning.

Tropical Storm Barry 2019: See the track, live map updates

The potential storm surge doesn't necessarily mean Barry would be worse for Acadiana than the 2016 flooding though, Miller explained.

Then there was a lower threat of storm surge but 20 inches of rain in Lafayette. Barry could dump fewer inches of rain but have a higher storm surge. They are two different scenarios but could produce similar results.

People seem to be more aware this time because the 2016 flooding left an impression, Miller said. He sees the change in himself.

"A few years ago if I had seen 'Category 1,' I would have thought, 'How bad can it be?'" he said. "But after 2016, it became real for me. I take it seriously. I had family that flooded. I've got people in Vermilion Parish. It brings a new dimension. I'm watching it more."

He thinks others are, too. He's noticing people getting sandbags and making preparations ahead of time, perhaps more so than in 2016.

Parish and state officials are prepping, with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declaring a state of emergency and parishes calling for voluntary or mandatory evacuations in some cases. A hurricane warning is in effect for the coast of Louisiana from Intracoastal City in Vermilion Parish to Grand Isle in Jefferson Parish.

Making a hurricane prep kit? Here's what you need

"It's really going to depend what side of the storm we end up on," Miller said, referring to Acadiana.

The storm is inching westward toward the Louisiana coast at speeds of near 5 mph, and the National Hurricane Center forecasts that the storm will continue this motion into the evening. They predict a turn toward the north Saturday.

The center of the storm will be near or over the central or southeastern coast of Louisiana by Friday night or Saturday.

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: A 2016 storm dumped 4 trillion gallons of water on Louisiana. Could Barry do the same?

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