From Publishers Weekly
Journalist Jenkins (Colonel Cody and the Flying Cathedral
) has carefully researched the career of Charles Hatfield (1875–1958), the man fictionalized in R. Richard Nash's play The Rainmaker,
whom some still credit with precipitating the San Diego flood of 1916. Beginning on January 5 of that year, a series of torrential storms filled the Morena Reservoir and flooded the surrounding area; the Lower Otay Dam overflowed, washing out farms and causing dozens of deaths. Hatfield had long been experimenting with chemical combinations he believed could produce rain; he built a windmill tower and heated a secret formula (still under lock and key), launching vapors into the clouds. The controversial rainmaker was hired by San Diego officials during a 1915 drought to fill the city's reservoir. The rains came, but Hatfield was refused his $10,000 payment by the City Council. Since there were widespread storms all over southern California during this period, meteorologists doubt that Hatfield caused the storms. Although Jenkins successfully evokes a sense of time and place and recounts a wealth of detail about rainmaking, his portrait of the charming but highly private Hatfield lacks vitality. Photos. (July 1)
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In the early years of the twentieth century, long before Doppler radar and satellite imagery, weather forecasting was more art than science. Meteorologists relied on a wish and a prayer, and those whose livelihood depended upon their forecasts looked elsewhere for the results they needed. Enter the rainmaker, that combination snake-oil salesman and self-taught scientist, who convinced desperate people that he alone could do what Mother Nature could not. Perhaps the most noteworthy of the rainmakers was Charles Hatfield, whose fame would soon turn to infamy in light of the devastation wrought upon San Diego in January 1916. After prolonged droughts, Hatfield was hired to bring on the rains that would fill the city's reservoirs. This he did, and then some: an unheard-of 35 inches of rain fell, flooding the area and inflicting some $3.5 million in damage. As captivating as any tale of contemporary catastrophic events, Jenkins' investigation thoroughly exposes the historical tragedy surrounding a natural disaster that may have had unnatural causes. Carol HaggasCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved