Island in a Storm: a book review

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:19 PM GMT on July 06, 2009

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Island in a Storm tells the riveting story of one of America's greatest hurricane disasters--the ravaging of Louisiana's Isle Derniere by the notorious Last Island Hurricane of 1856. If you haven't heard of Isle Derniere, there's a good reason why--the 13 - 18 foot storm surge of the Category 4 Last Island Hurricane completely submerged the 24-mile long, 5 to 6 foot high barrier island, which lay 5 miles off the central Louisiana coast. The resulting erosion by the pounding waves and wind-driven currents stripped away huge amounts of the island's sand, cutting a new channel through the 1/2-mile wide island. The author tells us, "During the 1856 hurricane, Isle Derniere was pushed beyond a tipping point from which it could not recover". Continued erosion during the 150 years since the 1856 hurricane has reduced the land area of Isle Derniere to less than 22% of what it once was (Figure 2).

The author
The book's author is Dr. Abby Sallenger, who heads the U.S. Geological Survey's Storm Impact research group, which investigates how the coast changes after extreme storms. The book is very clearly the work of a methodically-minded scientist, as the book quotes heavily from a broad range of historical sources throughout the text. Sallenger includes 50 pages of detailed notes and references at the end of the book. I found that the quotes were well-chosen and illuminating, and added a 19th-century feel to the book.


Figure 1. Track of the Last Island Hurricane.

A history book
Island in a Storm starts out as a history book, as we are introduced to the various people who will eventually be caught in the great hurricane. Sallenger spends six of the book's sixteen chapters setting the stage for the great disaster, and this portion of the story may drag on too long for readers who are disinterested in the history of Louisiana in the mid-1800s. I found it fascinating to read about the Yellow Fever epidemic that hit the region during 1856, which drove many of New Orleans' wealthy residents to seek sanctuary on the seemingly safe ocean front retreat of Isle Derniere for the summer. We are introduced to about six sets of characters during this initial portion of the book, and it does take a bit of effort to keep everyone straight as the book progresses into the storm's fury. The introductory chapters also devote a few pages to the meteorology of how hurricanes work, and the competing theories of the time. These pages do a good job giving the necessary background to understand what happened to Isle Derniere.

A survival and adventure tale
When we reach the main portion of the book, Sallenger presents a fast-paced and riveting description of some remarkable survival tales from this great disaster. We hear the story of how the hurricane's winds gradually tore apart all the homes and hotels on Isle Derniere, leaving the hundreds of people at the mercy of the storm surge. Many were swept away, but some survived harrowing voyages on pieces of debris during a dark and terrifying night. One group of survivors on the island managed to live by hanging on to a children's carousel, whose central post had been driven deep into the sand to anchor it. As the wind and water surged the around them, the desperate survivors hung onto the whirligig as it spun around. "The twirling and twisting, the dashing and splashing, the heeling and toeing, the flapping and floundering which ensued, would at any other time have produced a first-class comedy", one of the survivors relates. We also hear the remarkable tale of several ships caught in the storm. The crew of one ship driven aground by the storm leaped off their ship into the roiling storm surge in an attempt to seek shelter on the submerged barrier island. On another ship, "Captain Thompson could now view his cargo of livestock crowded onto the forward half of the main deck. The cows and horses and mules slid astern as the waves lifted and over-topped the bow. White water streamed through their hooves. The animals stumbled forward as the bow fell into holes and side to side as the vessel rolled".

A cautionary tale
The book ends with several chapters devoted to the aftermath of the hurricane. The survivors on the storm-ravaged island were not visited at first by relief ships, but by pirates eager to prey on the dead and the living. Relief eventually reached the 200 or so survivors on the island, and a romance leading to marriage is one happy outcome of the storm's wake.

Barrier islands are terrible places to build human settlements, and "the lesson of the flood was not forgotten," according to one of the survivors. The resorts on Isles Dernieres were never rebuilt. Sallenger notes that "such lessons are forgotten or ignored. In the last century and a half, the Village of Isle Derniere was one of only a few seafront communities that were destroyed or severely damaged in a storm and never rebuilt. The common practice is not only to rebuild structures on devastated coasts but also to make them bigger and more elaborate...We continue in the United States to develop extremely hazardous coastal locations, like the low-lying areas on the Bolivar Peninsula east of Galveston, Texas, that were wiped out in 2008 by Hurricane Ike. The extreme vulnerability of such locations today will only increase as the world's seas rise."


Figure 2. Graphic from Island in a Storm, showing the long-term deterioration of Isle Derniere into multiple islands, now called Isles Dernieres. The island lost 78% of its land area between 1888 and 1988, and the remains of the island migrated 2/3 of a mile northwards. Further destruction of the islands has been arrested by a large-scale dredging project that adds mud and shells from the nearby sea bottom. Image credit: Coasts in Crisis, USGS Circular 1075, 1990.

Summary
Sallenger's first-class story-telling of the remarkable tales of survival during the Last Island Hurricane make this a book well worth reading. My only gripe is that the book could have benefited from better graphics than the few black-and-white figures that are of mediocre quality. Nevertheless, Island in a Storm rates 3 1/2 stars (out of four). It's $16.47 from Amazon.com.

I'll have a new post Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning, when I plan to discuss why some El NiƱo episodes in recent years have had high Atlantic hurricane activity associated with them. As you may have guessed, there is no Atlantic tropical activity worth mentioning, and no models are predicting tropical storm formation over the next seven days.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting IKE:


See posts 726 and 731. I'm surprised 726, 727 and 731 aren't deleted because of quotes.


Holy cow!
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I'm thinking Ana's not going to form until July 20 I'm hoping I'm wrong about that though. So far this season is less active than 06
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morning everyone, yes Ike looks like we are getting the wet stuff once again today..it came a good poor down around 5 this morning...wow wtf did i miss last night?? lol looks like WU turned into Springer there for a while...lol...anyone seen surfmom lately? any surfers around head to Panama City for sure all west swell!!!!
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Quoting IKE:


I wouldn't be totally shocked if it's not August before there's a named system.

sorry for the multiple comments,I am new at this
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>The latest Ive seen a storm develop is Hurricane Allen August 14-19 which was the strongest Hurricane to enter the Yucatan...185mph
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764. IKE
Quoting victoria780:
The latest Ive seen a storm develop is Hurricane Allen August 14-19 which was the strongest Hurricane to enter the Yucatan...185mph


I wouldn't be totally shocked if it's not August before there's a named system.

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Quoting IKE:


I don't see an Ana for the next week. Maybe I'll be wrong though.
The latest Ive seen a storm develop is Hurricane Allen August 14-19 which was the strongest Hurricane to enter the Yucatan...185mph
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762. IKE
Quoting SpicyAngel1072:


What happened?


See posts 726 and 731. I'm surprised 726, 727 and 731 aren't deleted because of quotes.
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Quoting BahaHurican:
Morning, ya'll. I guess he just completely freaked out.... We figured as much last night when he went POOF! in the genuine sense of that word....

Ugh. Hope I never do anything stupid enough to get banned......

Fish, anyone???


What happened?
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Quoting IKE:
Speaking of vortfix.....

This blog has been banned by WunderBlogAdmin.

Attitude adjustment needed.

MEMO to WU: Please spare us of him.
Morning, ya'll. I guess he just completely freaked out.... We figured as much last night when he went POOF! in the genuine sense of that word....

Ugh. Hope I never do anything stupid enough to get banned......

Fish, anyone???
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 21516
Quoting IKE:


I don't see an Ana for the next week. Maybe I'll be wrong though.


I don't see it either... more likely to be towards the end of the month/beginning of next when the 'real' season begins, so to speak.
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758. IKE
Quoting Cotillion:
Not the latest ever Ana yet though, which was '85... still got a week or so for that one.



I don't see an Ana for the next week. Maybe I'll be wrong though.
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Morning all,,,,,looking for rain today for parts of Houston area,,,,,we hope!
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756. IKE
And good morning everyone.

This post is #19,671 for me on here. Twenty-thousand straight ahead.

More rain for me...looks nothing like the 6-8 inches I got yesterday though...so far...



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Not the latest ever Ana yet though, which was '85... still got a week or so for that one.

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754. IKE
Quoting Weather456:




I looked at the GFS, ECMWF, NOGAPS and CMC.

I'll change my statement to significant tropical development. CMC is the only one I see out of the models I looked at.

Those runs look like a low associated with the trough and it heads ENE.
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Good morning all!
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Good Morning...
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Quiet season continues.

Yep, a quiet early season continues
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Quoting IKE:
CMC is about the only model showing any development. It shows it off of the NC/SC coasts and heading out-to-sea.

Other models show nothing in the Atlantic for the next 10 days.

I don't believe the CMC. Looks like smooth sailing in the tropical Atlantic the next 7-10 days.

Quiet season continues.


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749. IKE
CMC is about the only model showing any development. It shows it off of the NC/SC coasts and heading out-to-sea.

Other models show nothing in the Atlantic for the next 10 days.

I don't believe the CMC. Looks like smooth sailing in the tropical Atlantic the next 7-10 days.

Quiet season continues.
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748. IKE
Day 37 of the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season. Season is now 20% over with, time wise.

146 days to go and it's over.
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747. IKE
Speaking of vortfix.....

This blog has been banned by WunderBlogAdmin.

Attitude adjustment needed.

MEMO to WU: Please spare us of him.
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Good Morning;

Tropical Update

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745. beell
721. Jedkins01 3:45 AM GMT on July 07, 2009

because warm air holds more moisture then cold air.

Morning, WU,
And just to make it even more interesting, some head-hurting morning-thinking to go with your coffee.
Bad Meteorology

Be very, very careful what you put into that head,
because you will never, ever get it out.
Thomas Cardinal Wolsey (1471-1530)
Member Since: September 11, 2007 Posts: 141 Comments: 16239
Morning, Cot.
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G'morning...

Fourth anniversary of 7/7 today; when terrorism reared its ugly head back over here after a peaceful hiatus...
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Quoting jeffs713:

Hint: Don't feed the trolls.

Ooops. Good Nite zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
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Wow, what happened to vort??? like he freaked out.... think he posted the message to the wrong board by mistake? He's usually all weather all the time, despite the IMUS in the a.m. tag.... lol

Well, since it seems we are not going to get any rain after all, I guess I will head to bed....

I'm actually kinda enjoying the heat after the constant rain last month LOL.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 21516
.
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Quoting jeffs713:


I'm not even going to bother trying that test. I know I will fail.



I am deleting my cookies and temp files after that test !!! Yikes ! J/K , maybe--

Night all, make it a good one.
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8185
Quoting Ossqss:


Yep, thanks for the sanity :)

BTW, here is a Sanity test if needed

Can't hurt, right? LoL


I'm not even going to bother trying that test. I know I will fail.

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Quoting futuremet:


Yes, do not, we must keep it civil here.



other one????
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Quoting jeffs713:

Hint: Don't feed the trolls.


Yep, thanks for the sanity :)

BTW, here is a Sanity test if needed

Can't hurt, right? LoL
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8185
Wow. That was quick.

Anywho, I am hoping I will wake up tomorrow and the tropical wave in the Caribbean will be an area of cirrus clouds, and there will be no bickering in the blog overnight. That said, I'm not holding my breath on at least one of those.

I have to admit that so far this season, the "WTF" outbursts have been less prevalent than last season at the same point. They get just as severe... but the blog is doing a better job of policing itself, and admin isn't having to nuke posters from orbit as often. Its a good thing, IMO.

Play nice tonight!
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...no more IMUS in da Evening..

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Quoting jeffs713:

Hint: Don't feed the trolls.


Yes, do not, we must keep it civil here.
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Quoting Dar9895:

Really!

Hint: Don't feed the trolls.
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Quoting vortfix:
You read it pal!
Not too hard to figure out.



deleted
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8185
Oh, show me the Women don't support me on this blog!

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Ahh, the first person to make it to my ignore list! Congrats!
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Quoting vortfix:
So, who supports homosexuals?

Do you Mothers feel comfortable with these people mixing on this blog?


Or do you Mothers realize these perverts are on here?


WTF are you on about?
This is a weather blog not Jerry Springer, or have you taken to much of your "special" medicine??

I don't care which "team" people in here bat for, It's a weather blog. That stuff doesn't matter in here.
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deleted -- My appologies !
Member Since: June 12, 2005 Posts: 6 Comments: 8185
What Mother that reads this blog wants their child to be GAY
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Quoting HURRICANECAT5:
THE TROPICAL WAVE IN THE FAR EASTERN ATLANTIC IS LOOKING INTRESTING TONIGHT. SHEAR IS NOT THAT PROHIBITIVE IN THE ROAD TO FOLLOW WATER TEMPS WILL ONLY GET WARMER. ALSO IT IS THE FIRST WAVE THAT IS AT 10N. THERE IS NOTHING ELSE TO WATCH AND THIS IS INTERESTING.

Really!
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Quoting atmoaggie:
OK, after a little more research at a couple of sources, supercells can get that high.

"Updrafts in severe thunderstorms are much stronger than in air-mass thunderstorms, and may reach velocities of 100 knots. These powerful updrafts often extend into the stable atmosphere, sometimes reaching elevations of 60,000 feet. The violent updrafts can suspend hail stones long enough for them to grow to considerable size."

Or maybe not:
"Radar often will paint side lobe returns off of strong hail shafts that give a false height on radar. Side lobe returns (sometimes referred to as a hail spike) was one of the indicators of hail in the pre-Doppler radar days when weather radars had a range/height scope. I personally observed returns that showed up at above 70,000 ft. but looking at IR photographs of the same storm, cloud top temperatures of that storm showed that the tops were below 40,000 ft. at the same time.

While there are several pilot reports of thunderstorms towering well above flight levels of nearly 40,000 ft. most forecasters believe that tops of thunderstorms rarely exceed 50,000 ft."

Anyone else?

Sorry, patrap, to discount what you would expect to be a valid data source (again), I just have a personal issue with data sources that claim to be able to effectively measure X and then infer Y, when the caveats say they cannot.




the problem here with this is that scientists try to make a world less complicated then it is, like as if the same rules apply everywhere.


For example thunderstorms with tops from 40,000 to 50,000 ft are common here in central florida for several months.

But yet hail becomes quite rare by July, in fact, there was a powerfull thunderstorm that dumped 4.32 inches here last wednesday in a half hour, produced a tornado warning, knocked out a lot of power from lightning, and had tops to 55,000 ft.

But there were was no sign of hail here, or no other reports even the smallest size.

This is very common during tropical invironments, what happens is the hail melts before making it to the surface, even large hail, causing the effect of massive rain drops that sting when hitting the skin.


the cause is a large amount of the atmosphere containing warm air, which causes a more moisture available atmosphere, because warm air holds more moisture then cold air.
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That's a rear window... tempered, not laminated.


Quoting Ossqss:


My forensic side tells me they wanted the insurance claim. No disrespect, but where are the , what should be big, dents in the metal around the window, roof or trunk ? The roof in particular. It takes much force to break a car window, its laminated with plastic. Kinda looks like a hammer force. Just my sceptical take. Not towards you ATMO. What do you think?

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oh well
good sleepin weather!
K8e OUT!
Member Since: April 26, 2006 Posts: 5 Comments: 3075

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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