Early September brought storm clouds and restless waves to the shores of Galveston, Texas but Isaac Cline, the resident meteorologist for the US Weather Bureau, ignored these warning signs. He felt sure that it was a simple tropical storm which would bring rain and wind, but not anything dangerous.
Unfortunately, he was very wrong.
Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson outlines what happened on September 8, 1900 and why, from the growth of the massive hurricane to the devastating and long-lasting effects the storm had on Galveston and the surrounding area, as well as why the warning signs were ignored and dismissed.
The Galveston Hurricane completely destroyed the town and killed over 6000 people; many of those deaths could have been prevented if human arrogance and hubris had been set aside. The US Weather Service was in its infancy and struggling to be seen as relevant. The managers of the service, often political appointees, were terrified of an incorrect forecast that would make the department a laughing stock. They ignored messages from the more experienced meteorologists in Cuba (which the American weathermen thought were inferior) who warned of the possibility of a massive hurricane. By the time Isaac and the citizens of Galveston realized how bad it was, it was too late. The storm had laid waste to the town with no regard for status. Homes, businesses and hospitals were ripped from their foundations, train tracks ruined, ships in the harbor sunk and hundreds of people had been lost to the floods.
While this disaster took place more than a hundred years ago, the story continues to resonate with us as we live through more and more extremes of weather. Technology and weather forecasting have greatly improved, but in the end, nature always wins.
If you are taking part in the Online Reading Challenge this year, this book is a good choice for our October theme of climate change and extreme weather.