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Hurricane Watch Forecasting the Deadliest Storms on Earth
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This book is a fascinating history of the science of hurricanes and hurricane forecasting. It traces the history from the discovery of hurricanes by Spanish explorers (Columbus, et al) and some of the primitive observational rules of thumb that followed along with countermeasures taken against hurricanes, once recognized. The history continues through the centuries with progress being made until the turn of the twentieth century, when major strides have been made. There is a decade by decade history during the twentieth century. The amazing strides from WWII to the time the book was written are very interesting.
Some of the more prominent hurricanes (1900 Galveston, Audrey, Camille, and Andrew) are recounted and how discoveries and new technologies have aided in gaining more accurate predictions as to where the storm will go and its intensity.
I would hope that they would update the book with more recent storms detailing advances in technology and forecasting.
All in all, a very interesting and informative read.
One thing this book has made me realize is that weather is an imperfect science. It seems many people think forecasters are pointless because they're often wrong, but what they don't realize is that there is a LOT we don't know about weather. And we're a lot better off knowing what we know today! It is also strange to continue reading this after Katrina, because there is mention of intense, deadly hurricanes throughout history - and Katrina has really set a new precedent (Rewrite? Heck, I'd buy a 2nd edition!). This is a book that calls for a re-reading anyway. It is so jam-packed with interesting information. There are many explanations of weather phenomena that I had to read several times over because I'm not a scientifically-minded person. This book explains things very well - but I find that with weather-talk, it helps to have diagrams. Unfortunately, this book has very few (in fact, looking through, I can only find one diagram).
This book has excellent appendices! --> A list of hurricane names (2001-06), retired hurricane names. The hurricane probabilities chart is particularly fascinating - it lists names of Atlantic/Gulf coast cities and the probabilities of a hurricane/major hurricane hitting within a given year (Miami/Ft Lauderdale appear to be the two most vulnerable areas). Strongest hurricanes, most deadly hurricanes, most expensive hurricanes (including what past hurricanes would cost today). A glossary of forecasting models. A separate glossary of hurricane terminology. All excellent additions to this book!!
If you are reading this review, it means you're interested in hurricane books. And if that's the case, you NEED to read this one! - especially if you don't know much about the dynamics of hurricanes. (and if you live on either the Atlantic or Gulf coast)
Dr Sheet's book is a very thorough commentary on the history and study of hurricanes. He provides the reader with an interesting background narrative of hurricanes and their destructiveness that dates from the early experiences of Spanish explorers and early European settlers in the Caribbean, the east and southeast coasts of the US and Canada. He also discusses the typhoon or cyclone in the Pacific and the odd phenomenon that dictates that when there are more of these, there are fewer hurricanes in the Atlantic. He also covers the North Atlantic Oscillation and El Niño, though to a lesser degree than Brian Fagan did in one of his weather/climate discussions. Of far greater historical interest-to me anyway-is his discussion of the various personalities involved in researching hurricanes. It's surprising how much solid study was conducted as early as the 19th century.
The author also describes the big name hurricanes. Probably the best is his own experience of Hurricane Andrew in Florida. The story is riveting, especially when, having lived through a very precarious situation himself, he expresses concern over the very real possibility that the storm might move on into the Gulf of Mexico and hit New Orleans. The book was written in the late 1990s, but he is able to thoroughly describe the potential destruction should a hurricane hit the city in full force. As we know, Andrew did not move into the New Orleans area, but Katrina did. The outcome was much as the author had predicted. With so much foresight, it makes one wonder why authorities could have been so lax in taking precautions. It was, in fact, much as many had already said, a case of "not if, but when."
The answer seems to reside in that peculiar sense of probability that dictates that "if it didn't happen in my grandfather's time, and it didn't happen in my father's time, it won't happen mine." Human experience of climate is actually the experience of weather, a relatively short-term phenomenon. While the human life span seems quite long compared to other types of animal, it's infinitesimally short compared to the age of the earth, which is the time frame of climate. It's this grander scale of climatic change that makes the discussions over global warming so contentious, and the appropriate actions to be taken the subject of feud. Everyone has his or her own opinion, and the fact is that we really don't know. The author makes this point when he discusses the possibility that there will be more frequent and more destructive storms with the advent of global warming. Here too, they don't know, but the author is inclined to doubt it. That there will be storms as destructive as Andrew he accepts; that they will be more costly he agrees. But he feels that the latter will be due more to the increasing population of the areas subject to these storms and the unpreparedness of new comers in the face of a phenomenon with which they have no experience.
What is amazing to me is that the areas subject to a force of nature as fierce as a hurricane continue to grow in population and that building continues to be substandard, at least under the circumstances, but then the San Andreas fault system is heavily settled with buildings far too fragile to survive another 1906-style earthquake and the fertile flanks of Vesuvius lure farmers to them irrespective of its reputation for death and destruction. The human capacity to ignore what "might" happen looms ever optimistic.