Katrina, Ike, Harvey, Irma, Maria, Etc.

 

Note:  In addition to books available in the collections of Fontana Regional Library and the NC Cardinal consortium I used articles from databases in NC Live.

In recent weeks three category four or five hurricanes devastated multiple Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico,  the Gulf coast of Texas  and the whole state of Florida.  Remnants of Irma made their way into Western North Carolina toppling trees and damaging power lines and buildings.  Historic flooding are part of both hurricanes Harvey in Texas and Irma in Florida.   NOAA (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) had already charted nine weather events in the United States this year that cost at least a billion dollars each before the two hurricanes landed on our shores. (1)  In this blog I am not concerned with the cause of these horrendous storms but why the cost of them goes up exponentially every time another one makes landfall in heavily populated areas.

hurricane

Having lived in both the Ohio  and Mississippi Valleys, I am familiar with the damage and loss of life caused by rivers rising out of their banks and strong winds generated by tornados.  The difference between  a hurricane and tornado and is the extent of the damage and the geographic size of the storms.   The latter can do serious damage to a limited area; a hurricane, on the other hand, can travel thousands of miles and can be as large as Irma, which was over 400 miles across,(2)  and its damage is the result of very  heavy winds (according to Saffir–Simpson hurricane scale,  a category 5 hurricane  can have sustained winds of 157 mph. Compare that  with a F5 tornado on the Fujita scale, which can have wind speeds up to 318 mph.) and torrential rain and storm surges that cause heavy flooding, especially near shorelines.  And, of course, widespread power outages. (3)

Catastrophic weather events have part of our country’s history for years.  Not only have hurricanes laid waste to states bordering the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, but the middle of the country has to deal with tornados and flooding from streams in the Missouri and Mississippi Valleys. Texas has had the misfortune of having to deal with all of the above.

There is no doubt these storms are growing in size and power whatever the reason.  And, because of the growing population living where hurricanes usually make landfall, the damage they do is putting a burden on federal, state, and local governments, and therefore on us, the taxpayers as well.   Damage from these storms not only affects residential neighborhoods but often industrial and business section of cities too.  Anyone who watched the television coverage of Harvey in Houston and felt the effects on their pocketbook of the gasoline pipeline being closed for a few days because of floods in Harris County, Texas, knows this for a fact.

The winds and rain from hurricanes can cost business and industry millions of dollars.  Two years ago five scientists published an article in the science journal Natural Hazards entitled “Vulnerability of an industrial corridor in Texas to  storm surge.”(4)  The area studied in this article was the Houston Ship Channel Industrial Corridor which is laden with storage tanks containing toxic materials that can be released in a serious flood.  True to their warning, Business Insider passed along an AP report on explosion and a fire at a Houston suburban chemical plant as a result of flooding from Hurricane Harvey.  An mile and half buffer was established around the Arkema plant and the approximately 5,000 people nearby were warned to evacuate. (5)  In its September issue Oil Spill Intelligence Report® reported three major oil spills and 20% of the nation’s oil refining was of offline as a result of 51 inches of rain pouring down on the greater Houston area. (6)

If you have lived in a residential area affected by a severe storm that toppled trees and power lines over a wide area, the resulting power outages for a majority of people whose homes were nearby is arduous.  I lived in one such city about twenty-four years ago when we were hit by an ice storm.  Our house was without electricity for five days.  Friends who lived two blocks to the west were deprived of power for three weeks because workers for the power company had to go into each back yard on their block to fix the problems. In the current era, utility companies use modern technology, such as weather radar, to predict where most outages will occur and mutual assistance from other utilities to help with power restoration. (7)

Local governments have implemented stricter building codes to mitigate structural damage that is the result of hurricane force winds.   These ordinances do help cut the cost of rebuilding.   What hasn’t happened, according what I have read, is building restrictions  in floodplains.  As hurricanes increase in size, the more moisture that comes from their clouds means more flooding.   Katrina, Ike, Harvey, and Irma are cases in point.  Eastern North Carolina, Florida, Louisiana, southeastern Texas, and other places that are below or barely above sea level are targets for devastating flooding.  Hurricane season isn’t over for this year yet. We’ll see what the remainder of 2017 and next year’s season brings to those areas who are the most vulnerable.

(1) https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/events/US/1980-2017   According to NOAA, the estimated cost for these nine events is  $10 billion.

(2)According to Simon Winchester in his book, Pacific, Typhoon Tip in 1979 was  1380 miles wide.  Winchester, p. 246.

(3) A news report from Miami told of residents of a high rise apartment building camping in the their parking lot after they been eight days without power.   WLOS, September 20, 2017.

(4)Daniel W. Burleson, et al., “Vulnerability of an industrial corridor in Texas to  storm surge,”Natural Hazards (77): 1183-1203.  NC Live

(5) Frank Bajak, Reese Dunklin, and Emily Schmall, Associated Press, “Harvey ignites a second fire and explosion at Houston chemical plant,” Business Insider, September 2, 2014.

(6)Oil Spill Intelligence Report®, September 11, 2017, pp. 1-2. NC Live

(7)Jump, Peter and Janneke Bruce. Electric Perspectives; Washington28.3 (May/Jun 2003): 22-39. NC Live

For further reading:

Heidi Cullen, The Weather of the Future

Verne Huser,  The Rivers of Texas

Simon Winchester,  Pacific : silicon chips and surfboards, coral reefs and atom bombs, brutal dictators, fading empires, and the coming collision of the world’s superpowers

and the articles cited above.

LARSON’S BESTSELLERS

Erik  Larson is one my favorite non-fiction writers, probably because he has written on a variety of subjects.  Larson’s books first appeared  in the early nineties, but the first to become a bestseller was Isaac’s Storm: a Man,  a Time and the Deadliest Hurricane in History (1999).  Larson followed that book with best sellers in 2003,  2006,  2011, and 2015   After reading these books, I surmise Larson might agree with Robert Morgan’s statement, “Sinners make the best characters.”  Sinners abound in these stories.

The Galveston hurricane of 1900 is the subject of his first bestseller, Isaac’s Storm.  That storm killed thousands of people and cut off communication between Galveston Island and the mainland, despite Isaac Cline’s claim that the sea wall would protect the population and property from any storm.    When Cuban meteorologists predicted a  severe hurricane brewing in the Caribbean was going to follow a westerly passage, enter the Gulf of Mexico, and threaten the south coast of Texas, the West Indies office of the United States Weather Bureau in Havana downplayed the Cubans’ forecast. By the time Isaac  Cline, in Galveston, realized what was happening and tried to warn his superiors in the Weather Bureau in Washington of the severity of the storm, it was too late.

Larson’s second bestseller, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, is set in Chicago in the last decade of the 19th century.  The city has a successful bid to hold a world’s fair in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas.   The books focuses on two men:  Daniel Burnham  and Herman Webster Mudgett, better known by his alias H. H. Holmes.  Burnham was one of America’s most famous architects, Holmes was to become  America’s most famous serial killer .   While Burnham was in charge of transforming Jackson Park on the south side of Chicago in the fairgrounds for the Columbian Exposition, as the world fair was officially called, Holmes was enticing young women to his building nearby and taking their lives.  The “White City” was the name associated with architecture and landscaping of the  Columbian Exposition and Holmes claimed the Devil was to blame  for his killing people; ergo, the title.  The way Larson weaves the two stories is the reason the book has been a best seller ever it was published.

Thunderstruck, Larson’s third bestseller in a row, combines the stories of Guglielmo Marconi, who invented the wireless radio, and a murderer who leads the British police in  a chase that leads from England to Canada.    On one hand the reader is introduced to Hawley Crippen, an American doctor practicing in London who suspected of murdering his wife; on the other,  reader meets a young Italian inventor who is trying to win the race to successfully develop the wireless telegraph.  Like in his previous book, Larson alternates between the two stories as the reader is trying to figure how he is going to bring  them together.   This book reads like a fiction thriller.

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, the family of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd, finds themselves living in the pre-war Nazi society.  As Hitler’s political party ramps up its crusade against the Jewish population of Germany and Nazi thugs mistreat America citizens, Dodd gets concerned enough to cables back to the State Department in Washington reporting what he seeing. But his communications are all but ignored.   To complicate things, his young adult daughter is carrying affairs with leaders in the Nazi party.  As Dodd witnesses Germany moving closer to war, the United States government continues its isolationist policy.   This book reminds me of William Shirer’s Berlin Diary.

During World War I, before the United State became involved, the British liner  Lusitania left New York on 1 May 1915 bound for Liverpool.  The German Empire had earlier issued a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare on ships carrying war supplies to the Allies. This meant that German submarines would torpedo these vessels without warning or without regard for the safety of civilians.  Because of this, the German Embassy published ads in the New York papers warned civilians, especially Americans, not to travel on the liner because she was carrying munitions.     UBoat 20 fired one torpedo without warning into the Lusitania, but there were two explosions, one following right after the other, and the big liner sunk in only 18 minutes taking nearly 1200 people with her.    Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, published this spring, is the story of that tragedy.

All the above listed books make good summer reading!