Friday, September 8, 2017

Storm warnings: past and present


First there is this from today's edition of The Writer's Almanac, but why the article was published at that site, and what it has to do with writing and writers is beyond me; in any case, I offer the article as a timely reminder of the past and a cautionary tale for the very near future for millions of people here on the Gulf coast:


A Category 4 hurricane hit Galveston, Texas, on this date in 1900 . The city is located on a low, flat island off the coast of Texas, about 50 miles southeast of Houston, and in 1900 it was a bustling port city. On this late summer day in 1900, Galveston was packed with tourists and vacationers, in addition to the town’s 40,000 permanent residents. People were aware of a strong tropical storm that had hit the Florida Straits on September 5, and Cuban meteorologists tried to warn their American counterparts that the storm was strong and damaging. The U.S. Weather Bureau ignored the warnings, convinced that the storm was on a curved path that would take it up the Eastern Seaboard.

With the limited technology available to forecasters at the time, it was very difficult to predict which way the storm would go, and the bureau deliberately avoided using the word “hurricane,” for fear of causing widespread panic. As a result, the people on Galveston Island weren’t warned until the central Weather Bureau office in Washington, D.C., sent out a warning on September 7. The weather seemed fairly calm, so most people on the island disregarded the warning.

The highest point on the island was only nine feet above sea level, and there was no sea wall because no one believed it was necessary. The hurricane brought a storm surge 15 feet deep and submerged the whole island, knocking buildings off their foundations. Telegraph lines and bridges to the mainland were destroyed. There was no escape and no way to call for help. A survivor later told the New York Times : “I managed to find a raft of driftwood or wreckage, and got on it, going with the tide, I knew not where. I had not drifted far before I was struck with some wreckage and my niece was knocked out of my arms. I could not save her, and had to see her drown.” Another survivor said: “It's a sight I hope I shall never see again.

Destruction and desolation; wreckage strewn everywhere, chaos, and that voice still ringing in my ears, ‘Save me!’” The Great Galveston Hurricane killed 6,000 to 12,000 people, and remains the deadliest natural disaster in United States history.


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And here is a personal postscript:

The horrors of the Galveston storm might never be repeated, but the prospect of what might happen because of Hurricane Irma has me on pins and needles. Moreover, the predicted track for Hurricane Irma continues to change, and I will not be surprised if the storm moves up the west coast of Florida. So, because of that possibility, I remain concerned here at Casa Davis on the northern Gulf coast, and I will have my personal flotation devices standing by in case of emergency. Well, because of God knows what might happen, Informal Inquiries might be silenced for a while. Bon voyage!






15 comments:

  1. Wishing you well, Tim, and hoping that Irma swings wide of you. Stay safe!

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    1. Margot, thank you. I've learned over the years through multiple storms that predictions about tracks are often useless. So, time will tell the tale.

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  2. R.T.--I hope it turns north and east and spares everybody more pain and misery.

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    1. Fred, what will be will be. Thanks.

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  3. We haven't been this worried about a hurricane since Ivan...hopefully we'll just get a lot of wind and rain, without the t-storms and extended power outages..

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    1. Stephen, I think most casino patrons and most communities dealing with hurricanes have one thing in common: no winners.

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    2. By the way, Stephen, the eye of Ivan went over my neighborhood in the middle of the night. I was not amused.

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    3. I can imagine not! By the time it hit us, Ivan had dropped to a depression...even so, the damage was enormous.

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  4. i sincerely trust and hope that you and Stephen don't suffer from this hurricane...

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  5. Mudpuddle, Stephen, Fred, Margot, et al: I am putting a wry, sweet spin to the stormy prospects by looking for a copy of a certain film to watch this weekend -- https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irma_la_Douce

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    1. Every time we're under a tornado warning, I have the wicked desire to watch "Twister", with Helen Hunt...I'm not sure if it's to laugh in the face of danger, or take solace from the blue-skies ending.

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    2. R.T--that's an odd choice. I think I would have picked Key Largo with Humphrey Bogart.

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    3. What can I say, Fred? I'm odd.

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    4. R.T.--really? I never noticed that.

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