Hurricane Force: Tracking America's Killer Storms
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Hurricane Force: Tracking America's Killer Storms

by Joseph B. Treaster

August 29, 2005
Peering through the latticed brickwork of The New Orleans police headquarters parking garage, New York Times journalist Joseph B. Treaster is watching the devastating power of a hurricane up close. Packing winds of 118 miles per hour, Hurricane Katrina is attacking New Orleans, uprooting trees, tearing down power lines, and flattening homes.


August 29, 2005
Peering through the latticed brickwork of The New Orleans police headquarters parking garage, New York Times journalist Joseph B. Treaster is watching the devastating power of a hurricane up close. Packing winds of 118 miles per hour, Hurricane Katrina is attacking New Orleans, uprooting trees, tearing down power lines, and flattening homes. Inside headquarters, phones are ringing off the hook as more and more people, trapped by the rising floodwaters, call for help. But rescue workers cannot leave the safety of the building until the hurricane has passed. From this harrowing vantage point, Treaster is poised to report on what may prove to be the most infamous storm in American history.

But as with all hurricanes, the story of this storm began weeks before, off the coast of North Africa. Treaster details the evolution of the storm as it unfolds in the sky above the Caribbean Sea and is anxiously tracked by the National Weather Bureau in Florida before it strikes. This is a complete behind-the-scenes account of one of nature's most terrifying and fascinating disasters.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Treaster's use of personal accounts keeps the reader's attention and ensures that the book will not just be read to fulfill school assignments.” —VOYA

“If you already own such well-researched and attractive titles as Patricia Lauber's Hurricanes(Scholastic, 1996) and/or Seymour Simon's Hurricanes(HarperCollins, 2003), you might think you could do without this. Think again.n” —School Library Journa

“There are many books on the subject of hurricanes, but the personal experience enriches this one and makes it particularly appealing for middle-school readers.” —Kirkus Reviews

VOYA - Sarah Cofer
Experts believe that hurricanes have become more frequent and more powerful. Thirteen hurricanes struck in 2005, breaking the 1969 record of twelve. Three of them (Katrina, Rita, and Wilma) were listed as category five hurricanes. Treaster, a New York Times reporter, covered Hurricane Katrina from ground zero. He sought shelter on the ninth floor of City Hall along with members of the emergency operations center. Treaster describes the wind and rain that hammered New Orleans and details several 911 calls describing house fires, building collapses, flooding, and drowning. Although his book largely focuses on Hurricane Katrina, Treaster also includes stories and facts about several other hurricanes including Andrew, Charley, Mitch, Rita, and the Great Hurricane of 1900 in Galveston, Texas. This book is a fast-paced, informative, and highly interesting read. Treaster combines facts, history, and first-person accounts of some of the most powerful hurricanes. The text moves quickly from one storm to the next, describing how hurricanes crush and damage cities. Treaster provides lots of factual information including the weather conditions that form hurricanes, tracking, calculating a storm's intensity, building a hurricane-proof house, and more. Pictures appear on almost every page as well as thermal images, satellite images, and weather maps. Text boxes filled with snippets from previous New York Times articles are included throughout the book. Treaster's use of personal accounts keeps the reader's attention and ensures that the book will not just be read to fulfill school assignments.
Children's Literature - Marilyn Courtot
Treaster, a New York Times (NYT) journalist, has been exposed to hurricanes since he was a young boy of five growing up in Florida. He has a healthy respect for and also a fascination with the power, beauty, and destructive force of these incredible storms. His story opens with an account of one of the most recent hurricanes to cause severe damage in the gulf coast region—hurricane Katrina. He was asked to enter the beleaguered city to report on the storm for the newspaper. His account pulls no punches as he describes the work of local authorities, state and federal response, the delays caused by erroneous news coverage, and the lack of preparation in Louisiana as compared to states like Florida. Along with the storm drama, readers learn about the origin of the word hurricane, the way storms form, the system of rating a storm's severity, the functions of the National Hurricane Center, and how storms are named. Some like Katrina which have created severe damage and hardship are given names that are retired forever from the naming list. Throughout the book excerpts from NYT articles are highlighted and further enrich the text. Since Treaster is a journalist, his story is eminently readable and, even though the book is text-dense and the type font is small, I just kept tuning the pages. I was also hooked on learning more about these storms and intrigued by the pictures. Students undertaking research about hurricanes and Hurricane Katrina in particular will find Treaster's book an excellent starting point—he clearly gives the background, sets the stage, and describes what happened in New Orleans. In addition, his extensive listing for further reading is divided into nearly twodozen sub categories, and there is an extensive index to his book. He ends by telling readers "Hurricanes are fascinating. But above all they are dangerous. ….unless I'm reporting on a storm, you won't find me trying to reason with hurricane season." The last part of the book contains a series of short chapters which are more like appendices. There is detailed information about the source of the NYT quotes, a description of a hurricane-proof house, a recap of the twenty-seven major storms since 1900, and a detailed time line of events leading up to and through Katrina.
School Library Journal

Gr 4-8 - Using books and other resources listed in his source notes, personal experiences growing up in South Florida and as a reporter for the New York Times, and material garnered from the newspaper, Treaster has created a serious scientific and socioeconomic look at one of nature's deadliest forces. From the tragic Galveston storm of 1900 to Katrina and Rita in 2005, he investigates the weather factors necessary to spawn these meteorological monsters, how scientists define their possible paths and potential power, and the drastic effects and aftermaths when they impact coastal areas. His follow-up includes precautions for the future (building more hurricane-proof housing) and a time line for Katrina. Sidebars touch on such topics as global warming and the disaster of the use of the Superdome as a hurricane shelter. For visual stimulation there are a number of colorful maps and diagrams, and photos aplenty (mostly in color). While the focal point is Hurricane Katrina and the lessons to be learned from it, the book contains other valuable data on fierce storms and the social upheaval engendered by them. If you already own such well-researched and attractive titles as Patricia Lauber's Hurricanes(Scholastic, 1996) and/or Seymour Simon's Hurricanes(HarperCollins, 2003), you might think you could do without this. Think again.-Patricia Manning, formerly at Eastchester Public Library, NY

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
The heart of this informative introduction to the deadly potential of hurricanes is New York Times reporter Treaster's own experience covering Katrina in New Orleans in 2005. Opening with a description of the city at the height of the storm, the author then builds a context, using examples from various major hurricanes to describe how they develop, how storm watchers follow them on the ground and in the air and how meteorologists and civic leaders define and prepare for the danger. Then he returns to his own experience and the aftermath of the storm in Louisiana and Mississippi. Full-color photographs accompany and sometimes underlie the clearly written text. Additional information-adaptations of Times articles-is provided in text boxes. Helpful endmatter includes a description of a hurricane-proof house, a map of major storms, a Katrina time line, source notes, suggestions for further reading, Internet resources and index. There are many books on the subject of hurricanes, but the personal experience enriches this one and makes it particularly appealing for middle-school readers. (Nonfiction. 10-16)

Product Details

Publication date:
New York Times Series
Product dimensions:
8.16(w) x 9.26(h) x 0.65(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

New Orleans, 2005

I t was an awesome storm. Howling gusts tore at the roof of the New Orleans

Superdome, peeling away long, narrow strips that sailed out of sight in a loopy trajectory in the wind and rain. Inside, thousands of people were camped on the playing field, the tiers of seats, and in the raw cement corridors. Rain poured in. People were soaked and shivering. But the worst was yet to come.

Hurricane Katrina had roughed up the outskirts of Miami and now it was hammering New Orleans—wrecking the city and setting the stage for massive flooding. Before the storm and the flooding were over, more than

1,800 people would be dead. New Orleans, a huge swath of southern

Louisiana, and the entire Mississippi coast would be in ruins. The damage would run to perhaps $135 billion, and Katrina would be remembered as one of the deadliest and costliest hurricanes in history.

From my lookout in the garage at New Orleans City Hall, I watched as a dangling traffic light shot across an intersection like a bullet pass, then swung back on its tether. Nearby, windows shattered and glass sprayed down on the sidewalk like lethal snow. It was 7:00 a.m. on August 29, 2005,

and the wind was clocking more than one hundred miles an hour, chewing at office buildings, homes, the Superdome—everything in the city.

As I peered out through the gaps in a latticed brick wall, a big sheet of twisted tin came skidding and tumbling at me, then spun away like an out-of-

control toboggan. Somewhere, there was the crash of glass—more windows were breaking. The metal garage door clanged against wrought-iron gates. It buckled like a prizefighter taking a punch to the midsection, shuddered, then straightened out, only to be banged and buckled again.

Outside, cars lined the sidewalks, parked nose to tail as they would have been on any ordinary day in the center of one of America's great cities, a city of jazz and Creole culture and old-fashioned houses with gingerbread and wrought-iron trim.

But on this day, New Orleans was not itself. The city and its people—at least those who had not fled—were tucked in, off the streets. The music had stopped. Clubs and restaurants were closed. Even the police were hunkered down. Water was rising in the downtown streets. Soon it would cover the tires of the parked cars; in some places, it would rise above their hoods. The wind and the rain owned the city. The storm had taken over.

That is what hurricanes do. They stop the world—your world, when they choose to come your way. They are among the most powerful, most mysterious forces on earth, and they have been terrorizing people along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico for centuries.

The Mayan Indians in Central America, whose civilization faded long before the first Europeans arrived in the fifteenth century, provided the word

Hurakan—probably the earliest version of the name we use today for these monstrous storms. Hurakan was the Mayan god of the big wind, and his image was chiseled into the walls of Mayan temples. In the Caribbean, the

Taino, Carib, and Arawak Indians cowered before an evil god they called

Hurican. Early explorers in the new world picked up the native names. In

Spanish, the word became huracan. In English it was hurricane.

Christopher Columbus got tangled up in hurricanes in the Caribbean in 1493

and 1494 and, according to his journal, was determined not to run into one again. "Nothing but the service of God and the extension of the monarchy would induce me to expose myself to such dangers," he wrote.

The ancients personalized the hurricane, believing that it was bearing down on them as punishment for something they had done—or not done. These days, there is more science and less superstition. Yet we humanize hurricanes with familiar names, and the big ones become folkloric characters,

their rampages woven into the histories of American towns and cities.

We may tell ourselves that hurricanes most certainly do not have minds of their own. But sometimes I've seriously wondered as I've driven through shattered neighborhoods and seen the way the wind has danced and teased and destroyed.

I grew up in south Florida and I've been through more than a dozen hurricanes. I survived the first when I was six years old. My mother and my younger brother and I had taken shelter with some friends in a dairy barn. It was built like just about every other big building in the region, with walls of stacked cement blocks and a roof of corrugated tin panels. It was warm and cozy—we had kerosene lanterns for light, and we stretched out on bales of hay. But the building was not as sturdy as we had thought. As the hurricane lashed the barn, it began to come apart, cement block by cement block. We all pushed to the front of the barn, where the walls were holding. We were terrified.

Abruptly, the wind fell off, and as the relatively calm eye of the hurricane passed over us, the grownups moved us all to a wooden farmhouse. When the wind came up again, the house creaked and the walls flexed. But the house stayed up. We all thought it was surprising that the farmhouse held up better than the barn. But that may have had more to do with the fickle nature of hurricanes than with the way the buildings had been constructed.

By the time Hurricane Andrew ripped through south Florida in 1992, I was a newspaper reporter working for The New York Times. I rode out the storm in

Coral Gables, a suburb of Miami. Afterward I steered my car around downed trees and power lines. Farther south, where Hurricane Andrew had struck with the greatest force, I drove past block after block of almost identical one-

story ranch-style houses. And I saw what I've seen many times. Some houses were in ruins, some had lost their roof. But others had barely been touched.

In condo towers, curtains billowed out of shattered windows on one floor, but just above and just below, there was no sign of damage. Mobile home parks had become fields of wreckage. But here and there stood an old model with little damage. Moving across Florida, the wind had nibbled here, passed up a house or two entirely, then delivered a few knockout punches and moved on.

Our culture is filled with references to these monstrous storms—in music,

movies, books, poetry, and paintings. Historians say an Atlantic hurricane inspired Shakespeare's The Tempest. In the Divine Comedy, Dante wrote of "the infernal hurricane," and Joseph Conrad wrote about the Pacific version of hurricanes in his book Typhoon. Artists like Winslow Homer and J.M.W.

Turner have captured the power and mystical qualities of hurricanes in paintings. A storm even shared some big scenes with Humphrey Bogart and

Edward G. Robinson in the classic movie Key Largo. More recently, Carl

Hiaasen, the author of Hoot and a slew of other Florida novels, used the chaos of Hurricane Andrew as the setting for a novel called Stormy Weather.

The hurricane season begins each year on June 1 and runs through the end of November. The life cycle of the hurricane has become a familiar part of the summer news for Americans: The discovery of a tropical disturbance far off in the Atlantic or perhaps somewhere in the Caribbean; a week or ten days of bulletins from the National Hurricane Center; preparations—from stocking up on flashlight batteries and bottled water to putting up storm shutters;

evacuation, the landing of the storm, palm trees flailing, buildings coming apart; then the aftermath: going home, picking up the pieces, rebuilding.

For most people who don't live on the Atlantic or Gulf Coast, hurricane watching is a spectator sport. They know there is little chance they will be involved. Still, they want to know what the hurricane is doing, whom it is hurting. It is like gawking at a pileup on the interstate. It raises the specter of death and the oh-that-could-have-been-me factor. For those in its path, when a hurricane comes blustering ashore, nothing else matters. And it is never forgotten.

Yet for all their fury, hurricanes begin life as fragile weather systems far from the towns and cities where they make their names. The first stirrings often come in the warm waters off the coast of West Africa.

Meet the Author

Joseph B. Treaster has been a reporter for The New York Times for more than thirty years. When Hurricane Katrina reached New Orleans, he was one of only a handful of journalists inside the city. He has won numerous awards for his international journalism and is also the author of a book for adults. Treaster lives in New York City.

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