Book Review--August, 2005
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Originally intended to appear in September, 2005, this month's book review was a bit delayed due to the start of the school year, and a changing work schedule. Nevertheless, I was able to finish reading three great books that deal not only with storms of the past, but potential hurricane problems in the future. All provide great insights into hurricanes, and new information on these monstrous storms. Wille Drye's Storm of the Century is a very detailed book on the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, its aftermath, and legacy.

Hurricane Watch by John Williams and Bob Sheets is a great reference book that not only discusses historic hurricanes, but the evolution of hurricane forecasting, weather technology, and the Hurricane Problem in the United States. It also provides a very detailed narrative on how Hurricane Andrew was handled behind the scenes at the National Hurricane Center. Finally, we look at Great Storms of the Jersey Shore by Larry Savadove and Margaret Thomas Buchholz, and published by Down The Shore Publishing. This book provides information including detailed anecdotes on hurricanes and nor'easters that have affected the Jersey coast from 1769 to the present.

Great Storms also includes a fantastic collection of pictures, maps, charts, and tables for these storms. Then, at the end of the book, Savadove and Buchholz write about the Hurricane Problem in New Jersey as well as a hypothetical hurricane scenario for the Garden State in Hurricane Gabriel. I highly recommended each of these three books to add to your collection.

Sudden Sea

Think the administration of George W. Bush was under intense scrutiny after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Alabama? Well, even FDR's administration was threatened in the aftermath of a hurricane. Ironically, FDR was closing in on an election year in September, 1935 when one of the most powerful hurricanes on record, the Labor Day Hurricane of that season struck in the Florida Keys. His administration's handling of the Bonus Marchers by displacing them far from the lawn of the White House, and failing to provide safe and proper shelter.

Good thing Congress was heavily Democratic, and the Speaker of the House, John Rankin of Mississippi had a strong relationship with FDR. On top of that, states such as Mississippi were about to enter the early 20th Century as Roosevelt's administration was creating a project that would be called the Tennessee Valley Authority, which would provide electrical power to much of the Southeast. So, despite calls by the few Republican members of Congress including a Congresswoman from Massachussetts, Edith Nourse Rogers, the administration's report that considered the deadly toll by the Category Five Hurricane to be an "Act of God" was widely embraced by Rankin's Congressional Committee.

Author Willie Drye captures this as well as all the encompassing details of the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, and its impact on the Keys exceptionally well. Drye not only talks about the power and fury of the storm, but also discusses the miscalculations that ultimately cost some 400 lives in the Middle and Upper Florida Keys. He goes on further to talk about the Hurricane Problem in the Florida Keys, and a subsequent interview with Ray Sheldon's daughter, who shed some light on the man at the center of the controversy surrounding the deaths of many of the World War I Veterans sent to work in the Keys.

Like other writers of books on historic hurricanes, Drye follows a pattern that provides an exquisite narrative, but he goes much further than Scotti and Burns. The latter two authors only briefly go into the political and bureaucratic aftermath of their storm, the Great Hurricane of 1938 or the Long Island Express. They only give an overview or summary of the shake-up that occurred at the Weather Bureau in the wake of its poor performance with the storm. However, Drye gives a very detailed account of the various investigations by the Roosevelt Administration, the Veterans Administration, and the American Legion. Furthermore, it gives a blow by blow account of the testimony given in the Congressional hearings led by Speaker Rankin.

After being recommended this book, I finally was able to purchase it some two months ago. It was bought not only for review, but also as part of research for an upcoming article on the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, which occurred 70 years ago in September, 2005. First reading the very end of the book, the Epilogue that dealt with the Florida Hurricane Problem, and then another postscript section that discussed Drye's interview with Ray Sheldon's daughter. At that point, I became very riveted with the story, and began reading the rest of the book. Despite a busy work and school schedule, I was able to finish the book very quickly. It was a very enjoyable read, and I encourage all the visitors at the site to purchase a copy of it.

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The Great Hurricane Of 1938

This is the ultimate reference book on hurricanes. Hurricane Watch by Bob Sheets and Jack Williams is a book that even makes those who think they know it all about hurricanes learn something new. It is a very comprehensive book on the history of hurricanes and the evolution that man has undertaken to better understand them, and forecast them. It also goes through the significant discoveries and developments along the way, and describes how each of these developments affected the way people thought about tropical cyclones at the time.

The book is written in such a way that this evolution of hurricane forecasting is seen solely through the eyes of Dr. Bob Sheets, the former director of the National Hurricane Center. Sheets was director during a period of relative calm in the tropics, but there were several memorable storms including Hurricane Gilbert (1988), Hurricane Hugo (1989), and Hurricane Andrew (1992). Sheets is also helped out by USA Today Weather Page Editor, Jack Williams, who also provides additional experience.

The best section of the book is the chapter on Hurricane Andrew. It gives you a very detailed account of the life of Hurricane Andrew, which was upgraded to a Category Five Hurricane for its tenth anniversary in 2002. From its inception to its landfalls in South Florida and Louisiana, both Sheets and Williams give a blow by blow description of how the National Hurricane Center tracked and forecasted the storm, and provided watches and warnings to areas in the storm's path. The book also has nice sections on Father Benito Vines and Dr. Isaac Cline. Vines was known for blazing a path toward improved understanding and forecasting of hurricanes in the late 19th Century.

Vines also put Cuba on the map for its knowledge of tropical cyclones. However, during the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900, that knowledge was brushed aside by a fledgling United States Weather Bureau, which thought of itself as the center of the weather forecasting universe in North America at the time. It was the combination of this disregard for the Cubans expertise in tropical weather, and earlier claims by Cline that Galveston was safe from hurricanes, that led to the catastrophic loss of life on September 8, 1900. Between 6,000 and 10,000 people lost their lives in that storm, which was believed to be a Category Four Hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale.

Cline did learn some valuable lessons from that dreadful day, and put it to work with tireless research into the phenomena of storm surge. Up and until his death in 1955 at the age of 93, Cline preached to anyone that would listen about the dangers of storm surge. It was the contributions of those like Vines, Cline, and even former director Jerry Jarrell, who developed HURRISK computer model, which predicts the odds in which a hurricane will pass near a certain location along the coast. While Jarrell's development is not as widely mentioned as some of the other contributions such as satellite, radar, aircraft reconnaissance, and improved forecasting, it along with other computer models have become tremendous tools in assisting forecasters in being able to predict what these storms will do next.

Hurricane Watch is a tremendous book to have whether you're just starting to become aware and interested in hurricanes, or an avid hurricane tracker like myself. You'll definitely learn a lot of new things in this book, and although much different in terms of the type of hurricane book it is versus say Storm of the Century, or Sudden Sea, but it just as riveting and enjoyable. Another great read to add to your collection.

In The Eye of Hurricane Andrew

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The Great Hurricane Of 1938

Since I live in New Jersey, I thought it would be a good idea to get books on Jersey Weather, especially with information on the Category Four Hurricane that struck Cape May on September 3, 1821. It was the last hurricane to make a direct hit on the Garden State. The storm followed a path that basically makes up the Garden State Parkway today. Unable to find David Ludlum's book, The New Jersey Weather Book, I settled on this book, and it turned out to be a great second choice.

Published by Down The Shore Publishing in 1993, Great Storms of the Jersey Shore contains a foreword by Senator Bill Bradley, and it doesn't stop there. The book contains a wealth of different information including personal accounts from those who lived through the various storms described in the book, maps of the Jersey Shore that detail the various changes to the shoreline over the centuries, an endless bounty of photos that brings the storm damage right to your couch, charts and tables such as the Beaufort Wind Scale, and discussion of issues such as storm preparedness and hazard mitigation in New Jersey.

One of the most fascinating passages in the book is toward the end when Larry Savadove and Margaret Thomas Buchholz present a scenario that has a major hurricane making landfall in the Garden State much like the 1821 Hurricane some 184 years earlier. They call this hurricane, Hurricane Gabriel. During this passage, they describe the storm as it goes through its various stages of development as well as the behind the scenes work done by weather forecasters and other important entities such as emergency management to prepare and protect residents from Gabriel.

Great Storms is a perfect fit for the set of books I've reviewed this month because it combines a story telling and epilogue of a Storm of the Century with a historical reference of Hurricane Watch. If you live in New Jersey, particularly along the coast, this book is a must have. It is a great read, and the kids will enjoy the pictures. Add this book to your collection as well.

In The Eye of Hurricane Andrew

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