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June 18, 2008

Reading up on hurricanes

Posted: 10:24 AM ET

Here are a few of my favorite books on hurricanes for your summer reading pleasure. You might want to crack one of these open on the beach - assuming the beach isn't being evacuated for a hurricane.  None of these are new releases, but they're all keepers.

"Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms," by Mark Schleifstein and John McQuaid. These two journalists from the New Orleans Times-Picayune probably did their most important reporting on Hurricane Katrina more than two years before the storm wiped out much of their city. While they do an outstanding job of chronicling the way that the disaster was managed - and mis-managed, Schleifstein and McQuaid wrote an extensive series for their paper in 2002. "Washing Away" served as a full preview of what Katrina would do two years later.

"Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming" by Chris Mooney stakes out the sides in one of the most active scientific debates in climate science. Was Katrina and the rest of the hellacious 2005 hurricane season a herald of global warming? Or part of a natural cycle? Mooney looks beyond the ideological polemics and profiles the scientists on both side.

"The Great Hurricane of 1938" by Cherie Burns is a quick, compelling read on what a killer storm can do to the Northeast. The '38 storm tore through Long Island and Connecticut, wiped out a sandspit resort community in Rhode Island, then sent a wall of water through the streets of Providence, killing 700 along the way. Some say we're overdue for another one - and this book may be the blueprint.

And the one, unlike "The Perfect Storm," that is still waiting to be made into a major motion picture: "Isaac's Storm," Erik Larson's recounting of the 1900 hurricane that leveled Galveston, Texas and claimed over 6,000 lives. Larson's tale of the utter chaos and misery in the wake of the storm is made even sadder by the backwardness of the U.S. Weather Bureau, which ignored storm warnings posted by the Cuban weather service.

Peter Dykstra Executive Producer CNN Science, Tech & Weather

Filed under: books • hurricanes • Severe weather • Weather

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Vivien   June 18th, 2008 10:32 am ET

You forgot to mention "Isaac's Storm" – the hurricane that hit Galveston around 1900.

Larian LeQuella   June 18th, 2008 10:56 am ET

I suppose that's an okay reading list if you like your information in the same vein as today's media presents it (i.e. high on sensationalism and short on true substance). 😉 Sorry, couldn't resist the jab.

I do urge people to understand the actual processes of a hurricane (Nice primer: ), and not fall for the hype. Also, keep in mind that "past performance is not a clear indicator of future performance" when trying to correlate one year to the next. There's a reason that a lot of the models for these sort of predictions require super-computers. It's not easy stuff!

Larian LeQuella   June 18th, 2008 12:21 pm ET

Vivien, read the last paragraph. 🙂

"And the one, unlike “The Perfect Storm,” that is still waiting to be made into a major motion picture: “Isaac’s Storm,” Erik Larson’s recounting of the 1900 hurricane that leveled Galveston, Texas and claimed over 6,000 lives. Larson’s tale of the utter chaos and misery in the wake of the storm is made even sadder by the backwardness of the U.S. Weather Bureau, which ignored storm warnings posted by the Cuban weather service."

Franko   June 18th, 2008 3:02 pm ET

"lot of the models for these sort of predictions require super-computers"

The problem is that, given the wrong models,
supercomputers give more accurate wrong answers.

Over the years, for all the billions spent on computer modelling,
the accuracy of predictions has not improved.

"backwardness of the U.S. Weather Bureau"
Similar to NASA, IPCC predictions on global warming.

Bad drive out the good.

CB_Brooklyn   June 18th, 2008 4:57 pm ET

Hurricanes and tornadoes resemble giant Tesla Coils.

CB_Brooklyn   June 18th, 2008 4:59 pm ET

See Dr Judy Wood's new paper on Hurricane Erin for info on the Tesla Coil comparison:

michael   June 18th, 2008 6:14 pm ET

I never understand why people insist on living at or below sea level and then complain when a storm wipes them out. Move!

doctorj   June 18th, 2008 10:26 pm ET

Yeah, Michael, we get it. We deserved to have faulty federals levees fail and kill us all. Thanks for the support. And to answer your demand – NO!!!!!!!

Dayahka   June 19th, 2008 12:00 am ET

People need to be reminded that these storms affect not only coastal regions, but can go far inland. If you like the sea, a storm is just as likely to find you there as if you are on a mountain in the middle of nowhere. All life is a risk and all homes are risky, no matter where they are. Nature does not discriminate, so build well and be prepared no matter where you live.

S Callahan   June 19th, 2008 9:29 pm ET

One often hears the rumors that it's projected that Florida will be inudated with water in the Southern tier submurging it for good, and parts of California will break from it'self landing into the ocean....what's the possibility, or likelihood of this happeing? Just curious...
Weather is so fickled , being a native NorthEastern I have seen winters almost become spring like was the norm 40 yrs ago for 2 feet of snow to fall in one it's a trickle here and there..of course i'm not complaining...less salt on the cars :-)....and now we have unheard of levels of flooding in the midwest.....

Also, When i was lived in Long Island some few years back a big wind storm came through..just a few blocks from the ocean..boy was that powerful...and scared the beejeebers out of the natives! What a mess it made of the dunes... It was much later than 1938...

xabier   June 19th, 2008 11:09 pm ET

Very interesting book but isn´t a little bit of a sciences fiction book?

Franko   June 19th, 2008 11:56 pm ET

Google for Atlantic tsunami.
Most other events you can plan for and deal with.

Ice Age is coming, sooner or later ?
Troposphere has been cooling since measurements began,
Land surface changing due to land use.
Ice shifting from North to South Pole. (North robbing heat from South ?)

There is wide range of predictions for CO2 doubling; 0.24 C to 6.0 C

Phil   June 20th, 2008 11:12 pm ET

Chance of Florida being submerged:
by rising sea level: quite good (over 100 years or so)
by subsiding crust: no chance over many millions of years
Chance of California tumbling into the sea:
breaking off and submerging in a big quake: no chance
the sliver west of the San Andreas fault (plus Baja California) becoming an island in 50 to 100 million years as it moves northwest: almost certain

Franko   June 22nd, 2008 2:51 am ET

Estimated Canary Island caused tsunami speed is only 450 mi/hour, with 60 feet rise. You might survive, given a good head start.

With coming cooling, Florida would be expected to rise a little.
Perhaps not enough to walk to Cuba.

California is sprinting away at 76 mm/year:

Franko   June 22nd, 2008 3:33 am ET

It disappeared quickly, while Phoenix was soil training itself.
Partial pressure of ice is low. Quick evaporation possible ?

concrete and steel houses   June 22nd, 2008 1:55 pm ET

I am sick and tired of seeing houses destroyed by hurricanes and tornadoes, flooding, fire, and termites. Why is it that we have a man on the moon and can't build strong reinforced concrete masonry homes with steel inside like the US Virgin Islands? Duh. If you keep building wood frame houses, you'll lose them. If you build with poured concrete and steel, the water washes right out and the wind rolls right off.
Oh, and P.S. The American Indians demonstrated a long time ago that you don't build in a flood plane. Even the French settled only the quarter in New Orleans. We cannot win nature.
A. Build high.
B. Build steel and concrete.

Franko   June 23rd, 2008 12:45 am ET

Easy to drive deep steel and concrete pilings into the sandstone.
Perhaps expect the first 40 feet to be wiped out every decade or two.
Save the fifth storey as a hurricane shelter with a good lifeboat.
But that is the price for living in the Garden of Eden.

Even a low technology country, like Bangladesh, has reduced deaths by building Cyclone walls and shelters.

Cheaper and safer to build well. Improved planning and building codes ?

John   June 23rd, 2008 4:50 pm ET

Isaac's Storm is an excellent read. Should be requred reading of all FEMA directors.

Franko   June 25th, 2008 8:33 am ET

"desert container gardening" ??

FEMA to garden in large containers ?

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