The Power of Hurricanes

Finally, I finished Isaac’s Storm by Eric Larson. I know it has taken me an incredibly long time to finish, and there are several reasons for that; one of which is the first 60 or so pages of meteorological history I had to weed through at the beginning. The second portion was the ending, which dragged on a bit much for me.

The 2005 hurricane season is still fresh in the minds of many Americans even three years later, especially the federal bureaucracy that hindered and still prevents New Orleans from recovering fully. The 1900 storm in Galveston, Texas, faced similar problems, though in relation to the Weather Bureau, which was in its infancy at the time. Political infighting between the Weather Bureau and forecasters in Cuba caused delays in storm advisories and other notices headed for Texas and other regions west of Florida.

There really won’t be a spoiler alert for this review because I do not intend to get into the intricacies of the bureaucracy and its failure to alert the residents of Galveston that a major hurricane with winds over 100 mph was headed in a westerly direction. Isaac, who lead the Weather Bureau office in Galveston at the time of the storm, was considered one of the best forecasters in the bureau and he prided himself on his abilities. However, the 1900 storm fooled even him, which to me signals that humans take too much pride in their abilities to realize their own limitations.

Accounts derived from letters, newspaper accounts, and other records make up the bulk of Larson’s research, but I think my main problem with the book was the drab writing. I was plugging along slowly because the descriptions did not jump off the page at me as much as I had hoped, even when Larson was recounting the storm’s destruction.

I am not a major nonfiction reader by any imagination, though some will intrigue me enough to read them without a problem. This one was a bit tough to get through, taking me over a month to read for a mere 273 pages. If people are interested in the weather, the history of weather and meteorology, and historical accounts, I say pick up this book. Otherwise, steer clear.