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Hurricanes and Hubris

It’s my son’s birthday today (happy birthday!) and he loves the weather, so it seemed like a good blog topic for today. But to talk weather, I must backtrack a bit.
Note land-locking!
I grew up in Wyoming. If you know where it is, then you also know it is severely land-locked. Even the air over it is dry. So when my husband’s company sent us to the Gulf coast, first to Texas, then Louisiana, I experienced a bit of culture shock (if “a bit” equals a huge, heaping lot.)
While math is not my strong suit, I can calculate the difference between 3, 900 feet above sea level (where I grew up) and…sea level. When we moved to Houston and went up a whole 60 feet, I was so excited I almost planted a flag.
And then there are the people. When we left Wyoming behind, it boasted a statewide population of something over 400,000.
My hometown had a population around 2000.
Between 1990 and 2000, Houston grew by 950,000 people.
Twenty years ago, New Orleans had over a million people within its “greater” area (sadly, it’s shrunk since Katrina).
Yeah, a bit of a culture shock.
But the population and altitude were nothing compared to the weather shocks. Let’s see:
Wyoming=Dry (as toast)
Gulf Coast=beyond humid (I think I grew gills after moving here)
Gulf coast=hurricanes
As a kid, I can recall seeing stories of hurricanes on television, so I knew they were BAD. Knowing they are bad is not exactly preparation for moving into a hurricane zone. I’ll admit I panicked a bit for my first (if “a bit” still equals a huge, heaping lot).
Thanks to years of weathermen and handy hurricane tips printed on the grocery bags, I’ve learned a lot about hurricanes in the past thirty+ years—though I never got good at evacuating. I’m a hermit and I hate leaving home. (After riding out Ike, I realize I’m not that great at “sheltering in place” either.)
After 1900 Hurricane
The other reason this topic popped up in my head is that I’m researching a new book, so I’ve been reading Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson, which is about the Galveston Hurricane of 1900—still considered the deadliest storm to hit the US.
The late 1890’s and into 1900’s was a time of transition for men. Science was on the rise, with superstition and instinct falling into disfavor. The problem was, science didn’t know enough yet to replace instinct. And who really knows how much superstition is based on instinct?
Path of 1900 Hurricane
Men knew the Earth was round, but they didn’t know what it looked like from space. They sort of knew what air was, but didn’t know how or why it moved the way it did. There were no satellites to track storms, and the “laws of storms” were just theories based on severely limited data (a lot of just what could be seen).
While I’m a great believer in science, I also believe in instinct (and I can be superstitious on occasion).
When we moved to New Orleans, there was a weatherman called Nash Roberts. When storms moved into the Gulf, he and his dry erase board came out. No fancy computer graphics for him (though I’m sure he used all available data). He had an instinct for storms—one combined with a lot of scientific know-how—but a gut-level understanding about how storms behaved. It was both funny and comforting to watch his broadcasts. (He had a lovely, dry sense of humor that I still miss!)
Hurricane Ike
I wasn’t the only one to ask, “What does Nash say about [fill in the storm’s name here]?” and then make plans accordingly. I suspect he annoyed the NHS a little, but we all loved him because he was usually right.
I’m no weatherman, though I do have all the knowledge science can deliver to tell me when a storm is incoming. I will say, after my many years down South, I can feel a difference in the air when I step outside. I couldn’t begin to describe what it feels like, but the hair on the back of my neck will lift.
Is it the survival instinct or because I know there’s something out there? I honestly don’t know.
There were many warning signs available to the weathermen and people of Galveston and elsewhere, but their hubris, their pride in their science (and a lot of political maneuvering) had tragic results for Galveston. (Interesting to note that Hurricane Ike also forced weather forecasters to reconsider what they knew about storms.)
1900 Hurricane Memorial
It’s still not perfect, but I’m very grateful that we had the benefit of both science and wisdom when Ike made a beeline for us. And I’m grateful to those people who, through many ages of time, saw the storms and destruction and lost lives and wanted to know why they happened and how to warn and to prepare when Mother Nature throws a hissy fit.
It took many years of destruction, many lost lives, and determined study for those tips to end up on my grocery sacks.
1900 Memorial during Ike

And it took me a few years and a few storms to learn to listen to those warnings. Oops. But that’s another blog post.


You can read my so far, non-hurricane related books at 

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