Island in a Storm: a book review

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

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 beell:
Someone is attacking Portlight's work? I haven't seen any... but they could also be on my "special" list already.

I missed that also, Jeffs.

????


One blogger continues weekly in some way of attacking Portlight.....He knows who he is! Paul is getting very upset....and rightfully so!
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Quoting TampaSpin:
My friend a new low coming in the stock market...watch in the next couple of months...Government officals are trying to paint some rosey picture that just is not happening......


What I want to know is if the DOW can go Sub-Zero like the Our Governments Checking account?
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1167. beell
Someone is attacking Portlight's work? I haven't seen any... but they could also be on my "special" list already.

I missed that also, Jeffs.

????
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Quoting Tazmanian:
we have El Nino



Link


Taz ElNino will be short lived watch....for the quick turn around.
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My friend a new low coming in the stock market...watch in the next couple of months...Government officals are trying to paint some rosey picture that just is not happening......
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Tampa,

My question is... What ever happened to "If you don't have the money, then you can't spend it" ?
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we have El Nino



Link
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Quoting TheWeatherMan504:


LOL! Change out of your pocket...


It just went up $6,000,000 million since my last post....ching ching....
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Quoting TampaSpin:


It increases by $180,000 per second.....WOW! Thank you Government! Can't wait for change....LOL!


LOL! Change out of your pocket...
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Quoting TheWeatherMan504:
This makes me Cringe...

Link


It increases by $180,000 per second.....WOW! Thank you Government! Can't wait for change....LOL!
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This makes me Cringe...

Link
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Quoting TampaSpin:
I don't understand why some on this blog attack charity work of Portlight sponsored by WeatherUnderground and WeatherUnderground permits this from happening! This crap has to stop and stop now!

Someone is attacking Portlight's work? I haven't seen any... but they could also be on my "special" list already.
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I don't understand why some on this blog attack charity work of Portlight sponsored by WeatherUnderground and WeatherUnderground permits this from happening! This crap has to stop and stop now!
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Blog Update

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Quoting TampaSpin:


Your PROBABLY correct....but, thats what does happen...ITCZ blob will break to the North and when it does it has to maintain its own Spin....I guess everyone realizes that blobs that are embedded with the ITCZ nearly always have a spin but, that spin must break off and keep going to become a Storm.
Well, I didn't know so thanks for telling me.
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i found this on STL blog


on this site


Link



now here is what he said about it




The most recent MEI rank has now reached 48th highest out of 60, right at the quintile (upper 20%) threshold for MEI rankings for this season. I classify this as border-line moderate El Niño conditions for the MEI...

...Just like last month, the 3-month rise of the MEI is again the 4th highest on record for this time of year, exceeded last in 1997



here is what STL had too say on the MEI


like too the MEI

Link


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Quoting extreme236:


And being itcz convection it probably isn't gonna move out of the itcz.


Your PROBABLY correct....but, thats what does happen...ITCZ blob will break to the North and when it does it has to maintain its own Spin....I guess everyone realizes that blobs that are embedded with the ITCZ nearly always have a spin but, that spin must break off and keep going to become a Storm.
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im off for now.. goodnight all...
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Quoting extreme236:


Not according to the NHC surface maps...there is one at 40-41W right now.


yep your right... just went and looked. :) it looks good but i guess the reason why is because its embedded... oh well... if this could break away it looks good
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Extreme it would be considered a Wave but, that would be all it is....just a Wave!
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Quoting TampaSpin:


Yep your correct......it is embedded within the ITZ.....It would have to break away from the ITZ and secondly there is no vorticity return on the Blob either.....


And being itcz convection it probably isn't gonna move out of the itcz.
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Quoting Beachfoxx:
Ditto!
Either that or Duct Tape those fingers and no more dooms day postings! LOL
Wow - another use for the incredible, amazing Duct Tape! hahahaha


Duct Tape .......ouch......that crap hurts like hell when pulled off.....LOL
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Quoting extreme236:


Just itcz convection. Not a tropical wave.


Yep your correct......it is embedded within the ITZ.....It would have to break away from the ITZ and secondly there is no vorticity return on the Blob either.....
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1146. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
At 0:00 AM UTC, Tropical Storm Blanca (1002 hPa) located at 20.3N 117.8W or 470 NM west-southwest of the southern tip of Baja California Peninsula has sustained winds of 35 knots with gusts of 45 knots. The cyclone is reported as moving west-northwest at 10 knots.

Gale Force Winds
===============
60 NM from the center

Forecast and Intensity
=====================
12 HRS: 21.1N 119.1W - 30 knots (Tropical Depression)
24 HRS: 21.7N 120.4W - 25 knots (Tropical Disturbance)
48 HRS: 22.5N 122.5W - 20 knots (Low Pressure Area)
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Quoting SomeRandomTexan:
around 31 west that is a tropical wave..


Not according to the NHC surface maps...there is one at 40-41W right now.
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Wow!
Quoting Tazmanian:
wallet, found


Link
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Ditto!
Either that or Duct Tape those fingers and no more dooms day postings! LOL
Wow - another use for the incredible, amazing Duct Tape! hahahaha
Quoting foggymyst:
Tampa..bite your tongue! (lol)
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wallet, found


Link
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around 31 west that is a tropical wave..
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Quoting SomeRandomTexan:
SW, I'm no professional but here goes... it looks to be holding together pretty decently so far. The shear is low and it already has some west winds according to quickstat. I don't think there is a closed low there yet but this is the best looking wave to grace 35 west this year imo :)


Not a wave
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Quoting Ossqss:
Did anyone else in Central or SW florida just check out the ISS pass? It was really cool at -3.6 mag. Thanks for the reminder nrtiwlnvragn, it was well worth the peek.

The interesting thing was a meteor passed across as it was rising on the horizon. I just wanted to see if anyone else saw that or if I should change my soda :)


I live in West Palm and saw the ISS but no meteor.
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Tampa..bite your tongue! (lol)
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We needed it... only thing is now the grass is growing like crazy. Guess the lawn "girl" is going to have to do some yard work tomorrow!

Tampa, I'm really hoping for a "mild" H-season this year. Our beaches need a break, some time to let nature do its job and re-nourish the sands.... Since 2004, the erosion has been horrible, even Ike hit our shoreline hard and washed away a lot of sand, thereby decreasing the size of the beaches...
Quoting hahaguy:

For once we didn't get our daily afternoon storms here. I'm glad you guys up there are getting some rain.
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SW, I'm no professional but here goes... it looks to be holding together pretty decently so far. The shear is low and it already has some west winds according to quickstat. I don't think there is a closed low there yet but this is the best looking wave to grace 35 west this year imo :)
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I never looked at the shear maps , but just looking at the SAT , shear seemed to have slackened quite a bit in the Caribbean & Atlantic.
Member Since: April 29, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 8826
Quoting stormwatcherCI:
What about 35 W. It looks to have a pretty good spin to it.


Just itcz convection. Not a tropical wave.
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Quoting SomeRandomTexan:
My take on the western carrib blob is that it will be over land before it can do anything..jmo
What about 35 W. It looks to have a pretty good spin to it.
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My take on the western carrib blob is that it will be over land before it can do anything..jmo
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Quoting TampaSpin:
This years Tropical Season is very spooky and scary quite! I don't like this! Remember Andrew was in Late August. First named storm of the year.
Quoting TampaSpin:
This years Tropical Season is very spooky and scary quite! I don't like this! Remember Andrew was in Late August. First named storm of the year.
What do you think about the blob around 35W and the one in the western Caribbean ?
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Goodnight! The weather, thank God, will still be here in the morning...
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This years Tropical Season is very spooky and scary quite! I don't like this! Remember Andrew was in Late August. First named storm of the year.
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1128. hahaguy
Quoting Beachfoxx:
HaHa!!!

We got more rain today.... and things have cooled down considerably! Love it! Might even get a day at the beach before temps reach the mid to high 90's again!

For once we didn't get our daily afternoon storms here. I'm glad you guys up there are getting some rain.
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From the 8 PM NHC Discussion:
A TROPICAL WAVE IS ALONG 83W/84W S OF 21N MOVING W AT 20-25 KT. VISIBLE SATELLITE IMAGERY INDICATES LOW-LEVEL CYCLONIC FLOW AROUND THE VICINITY OF THE WAVE AXIS. THIS WAVE ALSO COINCIDES WITH A SIGNIFICANT AREA OF INCREASED DEEP LAYER MOISTURE OBSERVED ON TOTAL PRECIPITABLE WATER IMAGERY. SCATTERED MODERATE/ISOLATED STRONG CONVECTION IS AFFECTING MUCH OF THE NW CARIBBEAN FROM 12N-23N BETWEEN 78W-85W INCLUDING PORTIONS OF NICARAGUA..HONDURAS...AND CUBA.
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HaHa!!!

We got more rain today.... and things have cooled down considerably! Love it! Might even get a day at the beach before temps reach the mid to high 90's again!
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Quoting presslord:
I have no idea what you're talking about...we have a blog which stormjunkie runs...there are no multiple users...he entered the Main blog and made a statement...I saw it and responded in a lighthearted manner...frankly, I'm not too concerned with what you do or do not like...it's Jeff Masters company...and it's is blog...and both he and the company have enthusiastically embraced our work....if you don't like it, find another place to play....

I must have that person on ignore since I cannot find a reference...Don't worry about it Paul. Maybe "ignore" is in order here.
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. KoritheMan come too my blog
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creeping crawling along...the blog is moving slow
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1122. Ossqss
Quoting presslord:
Thanks Oss....kinda rainy and muggy here right now...


It has been quiet here like the tropics since the Fam has been on Vaca whilst I worked. I am in Command for the next 2 days until the boss gets back.

Just jumpin in and out...

L8r all, be well.
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HaHa...Bingo! Thanks! It was really interesting...
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1120. hahaguy
Quoting presslord:
I read a great book about a year and a half ago about a hurricane which impacted the American revolution...and, likely due to my advancing years, can't for the life of me remember the name of it...if any of you know, I'd appreciate a reminder...


Is it Hurricane Of Independence ?
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Quoting presslord:
I read a great book about a year and a half ago about a hurricane which impacted the American revolution...and, likely due to my advancing years, can't for the life of me remember the name of it...if any of you know, I'd appreciate a reminder...


Link
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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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