Cornelia Ehlebracht ’25
On the morning of Monday, Oct. 23, New Orleans was engulfed in a dense fog, known as a “superfog,” resulting in a catastrophic pileup on Interstate 55. The collision involved 158 vehicles and took the lives of eight people, with an additional 63 people sustaining injuries. The tragic incident has left the community in shock and raised concerns about the dangers of extreme weather conditions. Superfog is an extreme weather condition characterized by an exceptionally dense and persistent fog. It often forms when moisture in the air combines with smoke or pollutants, resulting in a thick mist. This phenomenon is relatively rare but can occur under specific circumstances, particularly in regions with marshlands or areas prone to wildfires. The National Weather Service referred to New Orleans as a “perfect storm” due to the combination of moist air and smoke from marsh fires that led to this deadly situation.
According to the New York Times, New Orleans experiences superfog twice a year. However, this year’s occurrence was particularly devastating due to the increased frequency of marsh fires caused by the region’s dry conditions. Drier conditions resulting from climate change can increase the occurrence and intensity of wildfires, thereby potentially enhancing the likelihood of superfog events in affected regions.
The fog began to descend around 3 a.m. on the morning of Oct. 23, and reached its peak density during sunrise, with visibility dropping to one- eighth of a mile. Although most of the superfog dissipated by the afternoon, some lingered in the suburbs west of the city. Superfog differs from regular fog in its intensity and duration. While regular fog reduces visibility to a few hundred meters or less, superfog can significantly impair visibility to less than 10 feet or even near-zero visibility. Low-lying terrain acts as a channel for the fog, further exacerbating the hazardous conditions when it settles over highways or densely populated areas. This poses significant risks to transportation and can lead to dangerous accidents, as was the case with the tragic pileup on Interstate 55. Vehicles collided in both the north and southbound lanes, triggering a chain reaction of crashes. Some vehicles even caught fire, complicating rescue operations. Emergency responders worked tirelessly to extricate survivors and provide medical attention to the injured.
The Louisiana State Police swiftly closed sections of Interstates 10, 55 and 310, urging drivers to avoid the area and seek alternate routes, and the department emphasized the importance of not stopping on the road during near zero visibility, as it can lead to further accidents. Instead, drivers are advised to pull off to the shoulder or take the nearest exit to surface streets if they feel uncomfortable driving in dense fog. It is crucial for drivers to exercise caution and follow safety recommendations in extreme weather conditions including reducing driving speed, maintaining a safe distance from other vehicles, using headlights and fog lights, and pulling over to a safe location if visibility becomes dangerously low. As the community mourns the loss of eight lives and prays for the recovery of those injured, local authorities and residents remain vigilant and strive to take necessary precautions when driving.