Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on August 25, 2011
Issac's storm is the true story of the life and career of the head of the U.S. weather station in Galveston at the time of the watershed 1900 hurricane. This hurricane defined the city of Galveston and Issac Cline forever. Galveston has since taken a back seat to its neighbor to the north, Houston. Its economy has been tied to the beach tourist trade and its medical school, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. It never again attained its per-hurricaine commercial importance. Before the hurricane Galveston was the most important commercial and cultural center in Texas. It was developing its important cargo port status which moved all sorts of goods from the south and near west to and from the east coast and Europe. This was before Spindeltop when one of the most important trade goods was cotton. Since then the deep water port which the city of Houston dredged on the safer mainland has taken over all the port trade. Of course, it is now a petrochemical trade.
Issac is a rigid obsessive compulsive hard working and dedicated meteorologist working within the brittle confines of the U.S. weather bureau. He was militaristic in his loyalty, adherence to weather service culture, order and steadfast routine. Due to male egos including that of Willis Moore head of the U.S. weather service many more lives were lost than necessary. This was the single largest national disaster in U.S. history. First due to jealousy and competition with the Cuban weather service and the famous Belen Observatory Willis Moore forbade any communication over Western Union or AT&T Lines from Cuba with the U.S. weather stations. Therefore, the earliest warning about this storm as it approached Cuba never arrived at the New Orlean's weather station. The Cuban station first observed its potential danger to the Carribean and the U.S. gulf coast on August 31st when it would have sent a first wire had it been allowed to do so. By Wed.September 5th Jover in Cuba called the storm a "hurricane." There would have been time to evacuate the city before the storm hit on September 8th. Still no U.S. weather service received any news from Cuba, because they were precluded from using either the U.S. telegraph or phone lines. The Cubans according to Moore were alarmists and too ready to label a storm a hurricane. There was also the patronistic view that calling a storm a "hurricane" would frighten the women and children. Added to that horrendous bias and error, the business interests in Galveston chose a pollyanna view of the island's geography. The weather service acknowledged storm damage to Indianola twice from hurricanes that made landfall to the north and west of Galveston but downplayed the fact that the city was decimated and finally destroyed from the damage. The weather service and important business men of Galveston claimed that Galveston's unique geography protected it from hurricane damage when nothing could have been further from the truth. Even when the beginnings of the storm struck the coast and high winds and flooding began, Issac failed to become alarmed. Trains set out from Houston and New Orleans in the morning filled with tourists and business people only to become stranded after arriving. It would have been a simple precaution to telegraph the station masters and advise them to stop all departures to Galveston at the point of embarkation on Sept. 8th. This was not done, and at least 85 people drowned in the trains which bore them before the storm was over. Trains had to bridge the bay from Houston or points east on train trestles. These were particularly vulnerable.
Even after the hurricane wreaked such havoc in the city where it was responsible for at least 6000 deaths only the Houston Post properly criticized the U.S. weather service. The Post editorial stated that the weather service reports for the day represented a total failure of the U.S weather bureau. Even after the storm began to cause damage, Issac Cline failed to realize its danger and did not take proper precautions either for himself or his family.
Issac Cline paid dearly in personal loses for his failure. He lost his wife Cora and was transferred to the New Orleans station but with a salary bump and promotion. Still wearing his wife's diamond ring hanging from a chain around his neck, he never forgave himself. His younger brother, Josef, also a weather service employee became alarmed earlier than Issac and urged him to sound the alarm in the city. Issac did not do so and his relationship with Josef was forever marred. Josef for his conduct received a demotion and a salary reduction and was sent to the weather service station in Puerto Rico. Because Josef was right, but the service didn't like the fact that he was right, he was penalized. Josef was more accurate than Issac and the brothers barely spoke thereafter. Issac lost many friends and colleagues and realized he underestimated the danger of the storm. He had to walk the streets filled with funeral pyres daily, but the citizens never blamed him. They probably should have, but meteorological science was in its infancy.

Issac's Storm is rather dry until the hurricane hits and we watch his futile efforts to save his wife and children. There is little in the way of a rounding out of his character. His business like behavior which divorced emotion from his science may be partly to blame, because the research documents were rather skimpy. However, he did write a memoir from which some information could have been gleaned. There was a great deal of scientific data about storm systems, prevailing winds, and weather patterns that were hard to envision. I read and understand scientific data rather easily, but here I have to agree with other reviewers. This book would have been much improved with diagrams, charts, maps, and photos. All of these things exist especially the photos. We could have had a photo of Issac and his family for one. There were and are numerous photos of Galveston both before and after the storm, but none of them found their way into the book. Further, there could have been an internet interactive site with demonstration of the moving storm. The technology is there. When are we going to see this tool used in this way to coordinate with books. The author has seen the reviews but there has been no attempt to bring out a new edition amended with these items.
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