If the whole array of extreme atmospheric events is considered - tornadoes, lightning and thunder, heat waves, blizzards, hail storms, and so forth -the king of the beasts is certainly the hurricane. There is something frighteningly mesmerizing about these monsters. A satellite view from the silence of space shows them to be seemingly benign and billowy swirls of cotton candy. What one sees happening on the EarthÚs surface is a different matter altogether. The energy released from the average hurricane, one might be surprised to know, is equivalent to the energy discharged by about 100,000 hydrogen bombs. Is it any wonder then that hurricane ravaged coastal zones in the Florida panhandle look as if they underwent multiple nuclear detonations?
Flying through the ˘eye÷ of a hurricane is even more surreal. In this book: The Devil's Music, In the Eye of the Hurricane (Michael Joseph, London, 292 pages, $15.00 UK, ISBN:0718144198) Pete Davies provides this description: ˘It had an eerie blend about it of impassive poise and furious motion, a titanic stillness containing terrible energies. It soared up to a clearly delimited rim, and within that lay a blazing, spotless hole of a sunlit sky. Below, patches of sea boiled in a seething mayhem of broken water.÷ Forget about Dante's Inferno and Nietzsche's nihilistic ruminations from alpine mountain summits¨this is the real thing. It is hell incarnate and dadaist drivel cannot even come close to characterizing the ˘tropical cyclone÷, the proper meteorological ascription.
From personal and chronicled accounts of those who endured these storms, to a brief history of hurricane studies; from attempts at upper atmospheric modification to tame them, to the science of the computer models used to forecast their tracks and intensities, Pete Davies furnishes an impressive narrative on the science and sociology of the hurricane. With a penchant for making meteorological minutiae quite interesting, his book acts as a kind of primer for the general reader. We see how research scientists, pilots, technicians, government personnel and the media all work in collaboration to understand, predict and publicly manage these megatempests. It is a drama of sorts. An incorrect prediction of a hurricane's landfall location or inefficient evacuation procedures have the potential to cost many lives and millions of dollars in property damage. There is a sense of satisfaction in those scientists who successfully track hurricanes, a feeling of triumph in those who survive them.
Surely, a book that will make its readers think twice as they nonchalantly pass by the The Weather Network while channel surfing. ˛
Dr. Michael Morassutti is a forensic climatologist and freelance writer with Climet Systems (www.climetsystems.com). He works from Newmarket, Ontario.