See what I mean?
Good people of New Orleans, this is simple. No, we don't know where this storm is going to hit, or at what strength. But there is a possibility that it will hit close to New Orleans, and with extreme power. So make plans. (Actually you should already have tentative plans that are easy to enact whenever this kind of situation arises.) Many people have a long weekend, so why not evacuate early and avoid getting stuck in a grueling traffic jam? If nothing happens, well then it's just one more 'better safe than sorry' experience. If something does happen, well, you got out early and easy and you and your loved ones are safe. What could be wrong with either outcome?
This, of course, assumes that you have the resources to leave and somewhere to go.
Somehow that tiny detail gets forgotten - at the time of Katrina, over 100,000 New Orleans residents didn't have cars. The trains and bus lines shut down. The people that stayed behind weren't sitting around 'doing nothing'. They were largely people with no cars, no savings, no credit cards, and no outside help - in other words, people with very few options. So they stayed in the hopes that the storm would turn or fizzle out like so many others have. It's real easy to talk about them being an 'embarrassment' when you've never tried to travel 300 miles or more without a car or a credit card. Yes, some people stayed that had the means to go, and I don't know what their deal was. Maybe they just couldn't face the idea that it really was finally 'the big one'. But they were a ridiculously small minority of the people who rode out the storm.
The point? If you can afford to leave and have somewhere to go, then do it. Not tonight, and not in some kind of crazed panic, but not at the very last minute either. There's nothing like making the drive from New Orleans to Dallas but having it take 22 hours instead of 8; I think enough of us have had similar experiences to truly grasp the value of leaving before the crush.
I just hope that this time around the local, state, AND federal governments will notice and do something about the large portions of the population who cannot evacuate themselves, whether because of money or age or health, and do something about it a day or two BEFORE rather than five days AFTER landfall. There are worse things than an evacuation that turns out to have been unnecessary - for example, a thousand or so people dying because it wasn't done.
Oh, and in case you're wondering, this is the cause for all the hubbub: