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Posted December 2, 2002
All You Need to Know About Hurricanes
This book chronicles the historical development of scientific knowledge concerning the nature and behavior of hurricanes and the parallel advances made in forecasting and prediction. I was pleased but not surprised to see Ben Franklin credited with the discovery that big storms, such as hurricanes, do not necessarily move in the same direction that the winds are blowing. Franklin was also among the first to chart the Gulf Stream and to understand the relationship between brilliantly-colored sunsets and major volcanic eruptions. The book presents a chronology of hurricanes in the Americas replete with detailed observations about the storms including some that had significant historical outcomes. The painstakingly slow growth in knowledge of hurricanes accelerated greatly in the days after WWI, a pattern that continues to this day. Aircraft equipped to measure atmospheric pressures and wind speeds, radar, satellite technology, fast computers, and courageous pilots have contributed dramatically to understanding hurricanes and to forecasting their paths, arrival times, and wind speeds. The authors should have avoided using relative humidity as a synonym for water vapor. Water vapor, not relative humidity, condenses to rain, and condensation of water vapor is known to be the major internal energy source for these big storms. Andrew, 1992, was very important to the modern study of hurricanes. It forced a thorough reevaluation of hurricane preparedness, hurricane resistant building practices, and of how ground level wind speeds are predicted from measured upper altitude winds speeds. Once a building is breaking apart, all sorts of solid objects become airborne missiles that can inflict additional damage on impact and set additional flying projectiles into motion. Interior water damage and catastrophic structural failures of walls and roof are significantly reduced or eliminated by impact resistant shutters that protect against windows breaking. Given our knowledge of hurricane behavior and forecasting skills, the tragic outcomes inflicted by the Galveston storm of 1900 and Camille should not be repeated. Sophisticated technological skills are the good news. The bad news is that coastal development has placed many more people in the hurricane danger zone and raised the ante on potential property damages. In spite of impressive forecasting abilities, property damage tolls continue to rise. The book should appeal to anyone with a basic curiosity about hurricanes and should be of special interest to coastal planners, officials, and policy makers with responsibility for the safety and well being of the public.
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Posted September 23, 2011
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