American writer O. Henry once penned, “We may achieve climate, but weather is thrust upon us.” After a long, hot and dry summer, the first week of September thrust the first taste of fall upon the Pacific Northwest. Higher elevations even got their first taste of winter.
It looks like summer is not done with us yet, but the big change in temperatures did get me thinking about the impact weather has on our lives. We all love to talk about the weather, and weather is a favorite subject of authors of both fiction and non-fiction alike.
Whether it’s the “super” El Niño that is predicted for this winter, hurricane season, tornadoes, blizzards or global warming theories that fill your thoughts and dominate your water cooler conversations, you can’t escape the impact of weather. This week, we’re taking a look at some of the best books that have weather as their main theme.
Weather-related books – Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson (Crown, 1999)
With great beaches, a thriving commercial port, restaurants and entertainment, Galveston, Texas was a city on the move in 1900. On September 8 of that year, the city was filled with vacationers and its bustling population of about 40,000, the largest in the state.
Although the U.S. Weather Bureau was in its infancy then, it issued warnings about a big tropical storm on its way. However, due to a series of events and the fact that Galveston residents were used to storms, the warnings were largely ignored. The result? An estimated 6,000 to 9,000 deaths and what still remains as the nation’s worst weather-related disaster in terms of loss of lives.
With meticulous detail, Erik Larson (author of The Devil in the White City, Dead Wake and Thunderstruck) weaves the events of this epic storm with the story of meteorologist Isaac Cline. It’s a true story that has all the elements of a fictional page-turner.
Weather-related books – The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger (W.W. Norton, 1997)
Meteorologists dubbed the storm that hit the nation’s East Coast in October 1991 “the storm of the century.” With waves of more than 100 feet, this “perfect storm” claimed the lives of 13 people and caused an estimated damage total of more than $200 million (1991 USD).
This book tells the true story of a small fishing boat, the Andrea Gail that was caught in the storm’s grasp. In addition to the personal stories, Author Sebastian Junger gives us a fascinating account of the fishing industry and of the science of predicting storms. He uses radio dialogues, eyewitness reports, data and interviews to re-create the tragic last moments of the Andrea Gail and her crew.
Weather-related books – The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin (Harper Perennial, 2004)
If you have ever experienced the eeriness of a “calm before a storm,” you may have some idea of what it was like on the morning of Jan. 12, 1888. The nation’s northern plains experienced the first mild weather in weeks. In fact, it was so warm that children left that morning for school without their usual boots, hats and mittens.
Later that day, however, everything changed. As an unprecedented cold front ripped through Nebraska, the Dakotas, and Minnesota, temperatures plunged and the wind took on hurricane force.
In telling the story of five pioneer families affected by this brutal snowstorm, Laskin gives us compelling details about the harshness of pioneer life, the danger of prolonged exposure to the cold and the beginnings of weather prediction in this nation.
Weather-related books – The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)
Timothy Egan follows the course of a different kind of blizzard — a black blizzard — in The Worst Hard Time. Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, Egan follows six families and their unrivaled trials during the Dust Bowl.
With the speed of 50 miles an hour, some Dust Bowl storms were strong enough to blast the paint off buildings and to dent cars. Hordes of grasshoppers devastated any crops that were left after the hailstorms and tornadoes. To some settlers, “it seemed on many days as if a curtain were being drawn across a vast stage at world’s end.”
Egan, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist, expertly blends the politics of the time with the pluck of the people who bravely endured an epic disaster that was both natural and man-made.
Weather-related books – Katrina: After the Flood by Gary Rivlin (Simon & Schuster 2015)
The 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina last month was a time of reflection for the nation. In this well-researched, well-written book, Gary Rivlin, who covered the hurricane in 2005 as a staff reporter for The New York Times, gives us eyewitness accounts of the early storm damage and the slow rebuilding process in New Orleans.
With an eye on the stark divisions of race, money and politics, Rivlin gives us keen observations and takes us deep into the fabric of New Orleans. Has New Orleans recovered? No, not completely. But the story of what has happened over the last decade in this incredible city – and what it says about America as a whole — is well worth your time.