Isaac’s Storm


I recently read or heard a headline “Atlantic hurricane season to be more active than normal.”  I get fear flashes.  My first hurricane experience was as a young kid in Bristol, Connie (missed us) followed by Diane (hit the Delaware Valley).  Both in August 1955.  I was eight years old.  I remember my father protecting our store’s plate glass windows with plywood, the winds howling down Mill Street,  the river rising, into the Mill street parking lot, then our warehouses filled with  the store’s GE appliances.  There were rows of refrigerators, washing machines, dryers and stoves.  The day after,  my father and an employee, Harry, moved the damaged goods to a building up town on higher ground.   I have a strange recollection that Harry was working in his undershorts.  Strange but vivid?    Were they insured?

In the late 1970s, Diane and I had bought a small riverside house in Yardley Borough.  We bought directly from the owner, I don’t remember any talk about flooding.  Certainly nothing had happened since Diane in 1955.  But it soon became obvious Diane’s waters had flooded our new house.  Windows were wracked; mud crusted beams in the basement.  Later renovations showed flood waters had reached about 3 feet on the first floor.

Years passed.  Ocassionally the river rose, particularly in the spring snow thaw.  We learned to read the Trenton station — on the telephone then the Internet. .  Normal river height was 9-10 feet.  At 17 feet water was crossing River road in Yardley.  At 20 it was in the back yard — up through storm drains.   At 23 our basement was filled with water. In 1996 there were high levels in the neighborhood but no damage to us.   The worse never happened.  Until 2004.

For the next three years, we flooded.  Some due to hurricanes.  Our basement filled with water, destroying electrical, furnace, and whatever we had left ground level or below.  So now when I hear “Atlantic hurricane season to be more active than normal,” I perk up.

For some reason, last week, I decided to reread, “Isaac’s Storm: a man, a time, and the deadliest hurricane in history.”  The author, Erik Larson, tells an amazing tale.  He writes, “This is the story of Isaac and his time in America, the last turning of the centuries, when the hubris of men led them to believe they could disregard even nature itself. ”


A short summary:  1900, a storm develops off Cuba, the National Weather Service reports it will track up the Atlantic Coast.  Cuban forecasters who  are not respected by the NWS are blocked broadcasting an alternative route. Isaac, the NWS man in Galveston, Texas, follows the Washington-party line. The storm must turn to the northeast.

The storm, a major hurricane, heads west, not northeast, and hits Galveston. About 6,000 die, the city is destroyed, Isaac’s  wife is lost in the waters, could we have predicted, prevented this?

Galveston rebuilds.  Just as New Orleans would rebuild after Katrina.  And on a smaller scale Yardley, my Rivermawr neighborhood, would rebuil after three floods in three years.  Some due to hurricane waters.

I worry about the coming hurricane season even though we elevated our house.  Our flooding is made worse (higher) by man made dams on the river in New York.  They are kept at 100% capacity and spill water in heavy rains.  Should the dams in NY be kept at less than 100% to povisde  space for some upriver rain?

And then there is global warming, higher ocean waters, hurricanes and increased flooding.  Should we have policies to slow man’s impact on global warming?