I had planned to do a review on this book in November of last year,
but unfortunately due to health issues, and school, I was unable to
do it then. When it was time to get back on the horse, I just simply
didn't. Anyway, I didn't forget about writing up a review, and here
it is. While Isaac's Storm is somewhat a controversial book in some
circles particularly those in the Houston and Galveston area, I still
found it a good read for several reasons.
all, like other historical books I've read on hurricanes, it is well
detailed and explained. Second, it provides plenty of insight of the
bureaucratic and forecasting problems that plagued the Weather Bureau,
predecessor to NOAA and the National
Weather Service. As a matter of fact, many of those same problems
lingered long after the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900, and haunted
the bureau up and until the time of both of the 1935
Labor Day Hurricane, and Long Island
Express of 1938.
and most interestingly, Larson also provides us with details on the
conflict that existed between forecasters at the Weather Bureau office
stationed in Cuba, and the native Cuban forecasters. For those, who
weren't aware, and didn't happen to read my review on Bob Sheets book,
the Cubans were ahead of their time in terms of forecasting the weather,
particularly hurricanes. Father Benito Vines was the first in a series
of prolific hurricane forecasters out of Cuba, and he actually had started
a weather observatory on the island.
came the Spanish-American war, and Cuba became property of the United
States after its lopsided victory over the Spanish. The Americans did
not like the fact that the Cubans were better forecasters because this
made them look bad, especially in light of the fact that the Weather
Bureau had become the butt of many jokes back home. Willis Moore, who
was trying to make the Weather Bureau more centralized, Colnel Dunwoody,
and William Stockman did what they could to make sure that there analysis
was the only analysis that matter.
you could call it the first skirmish between the Americans and Cubans
that led both countries down a slippery slope that ended with the 1959
Revolution, and the emergence of Fidel Castro. Knowing this, and the
fact that the Weather Bureau forecasters in Cuba gave no indication
that any storm at all, let alone a major hurricane was going to crash
ashore on Galveston island the second Saturday in that September of
1900, its pretty difficult to make Isaac Cline, the chief Meteorologist
at the Galveston Office, take the majority of the blame on what happened
book mentions that Cline stated some ten to fifteen years earlier that
hurricanes couldn't happen there, but try to remember that Cline was
using the limited knowledge and tools available to him at the time.
One of the concepts in the book is that Cline was symbolic of an arrogance
that existed in America at that time, which was that man knew all that
there was needed to know. This was during an era when you had the Titanic,
which many hailed as unsinkable only to be tragically sunk on its initial
voyage by an iceberg.
very serious about his craft. He was a hard worker, and a good student,
who was one of the top scorers in a very rigorous examination given
by the weather service. He considered himself a scientist, who also
went to medical school at the University of Arkansas to fulfill a requirement
of pursuing a related scientific endeavor to his duties. Besides his
scholarship, he was very passionate and Cline was appointed to head
the Galveston Office, and was given the task of cleaning the office
up, and he did, making it one of the best Weather Bureau outposts in
the entire country at the time.
of the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 had a tremendous impact on
Cline, who rigorously studied the phenomenon of storm surge, and preached
about it to anyone who would listen. This monster hurricane at the very
end of the 19th century still ranks as the deadliest natural disaster
in United States history with at least 6,000 people killed, and estimates
even go higher than that (between 8,000 and 12,000). Many of which perished
due to the surge, which accounts for 90 percent of all hurricane related
deaths. So, it's tough for me to put the entire blame on him when there
was more than plenty to go around.
that, I still felt that the book was enjoyable. Isaac's Storm was one
of the first in a recent wave of historical books on past hurricanes
that have come out. Before there was the detail that you saw in Sudden
Sea, or Storm
of the Century, there was Isaac's Storm. Larson does a great job
in giving the reader background on Cline's life to that fateful day
in September, 1900 by using a series of flashbacks to noteworthy moments
or milestones in Cline's life.
does a fine job in explaining how weather and hurricanes work so that
the average person with very little or no weather background could understand
the processes at work. Larson's book also points out that the bureaucracy
that existed post Katrina, even existed back then although it mostly
centered around the Weather Bureau with forecasting storms such as the
hurricanes of 1900, 1935, and 1938 while problems with storms such as
Andrew in 1992 and Katrina
in 2005 was how each of the storm's aftermath was handled by the
federal and state government agencies.
Storm also discusses what happened to the Galveston Hurricane of 1900
following its destruction that fateful Saturday, which I found fascinating.
We make so much of what hurricanes do at landfall, that we forget that
they can still cause problems even beyond that. Hurricane Camille in
1969 is a classic example of that. While I don't agree with some of
the ways in which Isaac Cline was depicted, I still feel that you will
find this book a wonderful read.