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 Niño 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 tropical2009:
this is completely a shame. this blog is ruined by a bunch of people who cant follow rules. this used to be a good place to blog, but I find it hard to find a knowledgeable post here anymore. only a few here are qualified the rest are just hobbyists without any degree.

i suggest that all the lurkers just
read Jeff Masters entry itself w/o the blog posts.


read storm w posts...he is knowledgable
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Eye forming?

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Quoting TexasHurricane:
jeffs713

Yeah, I kinda wonder that to. It is just not doing anything right now (in the Atlantic)...

Can't help but wonder about the storms that do eventually form, will they be intense or will we have a lot of "small storms" - one after another...
Hi TexasHurricane. Are still having trouble wit "quote" ?
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Quoting reedzone:


I didn't say it wouldn't recurve, but it won't till it passes 60W, may not even recurve at all with this pattern of zonal troughiness. We may not even have the storm at all lol.
Since all of these conditions rely upon models far out, I carry a lot of skepticism. I know there is not much currently there to talk about, but lets revisit the "future model scenario" when there is at least something truly there for it to pick up on.
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jeffs713

Yeah, I kinda wonder that to. It is just not doing anything right now (in the Atlantic)...

Can't help but wonder about the storms that do eventually form, will they be intense or will we have a lot of "small storms" - one after another...
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Quoting hunkerdown:
Or he could hit it on all of us and then he would be in a room of his own where he cold post and answer all to himself.
Great idea, since he is the only one interested in his own opinion.
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Quoting hunkerdown:
Then that would favor a form of recurvature.


I didn't say it wouldn't recurve, but it won't till it passes 60W, may not even recurve at all with this pattern of zonal troughiness. We may not even have the storm at all lol.
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Quoting stormwatcherCI:
Myabe we should all hit that button. Hmmmm ?
Or he could hit it on all of us and then he would be in a room of his own where he could post and answer all to himself.
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Quoting jeffs713:
246. Quite the contrary. I just get another opportunity to press the magic "Troll-b-gone" button, and poof! Troll no more!

I love that button. ;)

On more tropical things... I have a distinct feeling this quietness in the tropical Atlantic is just the Atlantic basin priming up for a surprising season. I'm not going to try to predict anything specific, I just think that the longer it stays quiet, the more potent the storms will be (it is kinda like shaking a bottle of soda up... eventually, it will let loose once the cap is loosened).

Oh, and kids, remember the mantra of this blog during hurricane season...

DON'T FEED THE TROLLS!
Myabe we should all hit that button. Hmmmm ?
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257. Skyepony (Mod)
Antarctic temperature and global sea level closely coupled over the past five glacial cycles

E. J. Rohling*,1, K. Grant1, M. Bolshaw1, A. P. Roberts1, M. Siddall2,4, Ch. Hemleben3 and M. Kucera3

Abstract

Ice cores from Antarctica record temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide variations over the past six glacial cycles1, 2. Yet concomitant records of sea-level fluctuations—needed to reveal rates and magnitudes of ice-volume change that provide context to projections for the future3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9—remain elusive. Reconstructions indicate fast rates of sea-level rise up to 5 cm yr-1 during glacial terminations10, and 1–2 cm yr-1 during interglacials11, 12 and within the past glacial cycle13. However, little is known about the total long-term sea-level rise in equilibration to warming. Here we present a sea-level record for the past 520,000 years based on stable oxygen isotope analyses of planktonic foraminifera and bulk sediments from the Red Sea. Our record reveals a strong correlation on multi-millennial timescales between global sea level and Antarctic temperature1, which is related to global temperature6, 7. On the basis of this correlation, we estimate sea level for the Middle Pliocene epoch (3.0–3.5 Myr ago)—a period with near-modern CO2 levels—at 25plusminus5 m above present, which is validated by independent sea-level data6, 14, 15, 16. Our results imply that even stabilization at today's CO2 levels may cause sea-level rise over several millennia that by far exceeds existing long-term projections3.

1. School of Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton, Southampton SO14 3ZH, UK
2. Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, 61 Route 9W—PO Box 1000, Palisades, NY 10964-8000, USA
3. Institute of Geosciences, University of Tübingen, Sigwartstrasse 10, 72076, Tübingen, Germany
4. Present address: Department of Earth Science, University of Bristol, Will's Memorial Building, Queen's Road, Bristol BS8 1RJ, UK

*Correspondence, e-mail: E.Rohling@noc.soton.ac.uk
Link to abstract: http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v2/n7/abs/ngeo557.html
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246. Quite the contrary. I just get another opportunity to press the magic "Troll-b-gone" button, and poof! Troll no more!

I love that button. ;)

On more tropical things... I have a distinct feeling this quietness in the tropical Atlantic is just the Atlantic basin priming up for a surprising season. I'm not going to try to predict anything specific, I just think that the longer it stays quiet, the more potent the storms will be (it is kinda like shaking a bottle of soda up... eventually, it will let loose once the cap is loosened).

Oh, and kids, remember the mantra of this blog during hurricane season...

DON'T FEED THE TROLLS!
Member Since: August 3, 2008 Posts: 16 Comments: 5906
Quoting StormW:
TROPICAL WEATHER SYNOPSIS JULY 06, 2009 ISSUED 12:50 P.M. EDT


Thanks for the Update !! Going back to my rain dance now !! Have a Good Afternoon all.
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Keeping posting your blog Storm some of the best information on the web.


Quoting StormW:


Guess you don't listen very well...do ya?

I already told you, I can't read. AND, this is a TROPICAL WEATHER BLOG...I'd say my blog is directly relevant...questions? Maybe you'd like to read my credentials as well?
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Quoting reedzone:


More likely the Carolinas, cause that end sticks out more :)
Then that would favor a form of recurvature.
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Considering Storm use's a link to his blog sparingly he fits the criteria and is following the rules of the blog.
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Quoting WeatherStudent:


Yup, especially for The Sunshine State.


More likely the Carolinas, cause that end sticks out more :)
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Quoting slickasatick:
funny that I posted a post that was 100% true and relevant and then everyone pounces with ad-hominem attacks against me. i guess if you disagree with the god Storm, then you are a heretic huh?

Wait, is that you Doc Masters ?
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Quoting slickasatick:
funny that I posted a post that was 100% true and relevant and then everyone pounces with ad-hominem attacks against me. i guess if you disagree with the god Storm, then you are a heretic huh?



yea obviously.
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Quoting StormW:


Guess you don't listen very well...do ya?

I already told you, I can't read. AND, this is a TROPICAL WEATHER BLOG...I'd say my blog is directly relevant...questions? Maybe you'd like to read my credentials as well?
He/she has proven they can't read.
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I agree more with Levi, while it can still recurve after reaching 60W, the pattern at that time will favor a westward track IF this ghost storm comes to life. He even stated the graphics, which is proof. Not saying that IF it happens, it won't recurve, but like Levi said earlier, not till it reaches past 60W which makes it a bit uncomfortable for the East Coast.. that's IF it happens..
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243. JRRP
3)No monomania
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Quoting slickasatick:


soliciting traffic to your own blog is not allowed, but if you are part of the select few, you can break the rules and admin wont do anything about it.

From "Rules of the Road"-

10) Seriously, no spamming. Spamming includes but is not limited to, trying to sell products, trying to solicit traffic for your own blog, trying to solicit traffic for other commercial entities, etc. Do not post links to your own site unless they are directly relevant and even then, use sparingly.
Go back where you came from, and I am not going to say please
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You dont need ot justify yourself to him or anyone else on this blog Storm. I appreciate all of your posts knowledge and insights
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Quoting K8eCane:


i wouldnt
i think you should have the last word
Agreed.
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Quoting StormW:


Guess you don't listen very well...do ya?

I already told you, I can't read. AND, this is a TROPICAL WEATHER BLOG...I'd say my blog is directly relevant...questions? Maybe you'd like to read my credentials as well?


i wouldnt
i think you should have the last word
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Quoting extreme236:


And you care why?
Cause he is a TROLL !!!!
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Quoting vortfix:
I'm already at the bar and LMAO over this blog!

You younguns should get outside for some fresh air while you're out of school and enjoy some of the real weather!
Not what happens in the fiction world of models.

here here
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StormW,
Keep up the good work. Your analysis and opinions are highly regarded and always welcome.
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Quoting Drakoen:
I think Levi is wrong. Storms coming from the Tropical Atlantic have a decent shot of getting recurved.


I would have to agree with you on this Drak. When I resarched hurricane tracks, I found that most of them curved out to sea harmlessly, which is NORMAL. Hurricanes are one of natures way of transporting equatorial heat to the polar regions.....
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Quoting slickasatick:


soliciting traffic to your own blog is not allowed, but if you are part of the select few, you can break the rules and admin wont do anything about it.

From "Rules of the Road"-

10) Seriously, no spamming. Spamming includes but is not limited to, trying to sell products, trying to solicit traffic for your own blog, trying to solicit traffic for other commercial entities, etc. Do not post links to your own site unless they are directly relevant and even then, use sparingly.


And you care why?
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Im four days from being wrong. I better start planting the corn.
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Quoting slickasatick:


soliciting traffic to your own blog is not allowed, but if you are part of the select few, you can break the rules and admin wont do anything about it.

From "Rules of the Road"-

10) Seriously, no spamming. Spamming includes but is not limited to, trying to sell products, trying to solicit traffic for your own blog, trying to solicit traffic for other commercial entities, etc. Do not post links to your own site unless they are directly relevant and even then, use sparingly.


Define blog....blog on this website or blog on another website?
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Quoting slickasatick:


soliciting traffic to your own blog is not allowed, but if you are part of the select few, you can break the rules and admin wont do anything about it.

From "Rules of the Road"-

10) Seriously, no spamming. Spamming includes but is not limited to, trying to sell products, trying to solicit traffic for your own blog, trying to solicit traffic for other commercial entities, etc. Do not post links to your own site unless they are directly relevant and even then, use sparingly.
Shoo. Your opinion is not required. He is one of the few who do know what they are talking about. Bye.
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i just get the feeling that some think their word should be the LAST word

with that i'm off my soapbox
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Quoting Drakoen:
I think Levi is wrong. Storms coming from the Tropical Atlantic have a decent shot of getting recurved.

It depend of high pressure but it a bit rare to see a CV storm formed while they had high ridge, it occurs 1 storm every 2-6 years.
and since when is any forecast on here set in stone?
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its like i commented on them and some wanted to blow me out of the water.
this blog is hilarious
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well i surely hope no one thinks that just because i commented about the three "thingys" that i thought they would form. Some on here are VEEERRRYYY touchy about things like that
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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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