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  • Written by Jack Williams and Bob Sheets
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  • Written by Jack Williams and Bob Sheets
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Forecasting the Deadliest Storms on Earth

Written by Jack WilliamsAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Jack Williams and Bob SheetsAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Bob Sheets


List Price: $13.99


On Sale: February 05, 2002
Pages: 352 | ISBN: 978-0-375-71398-9
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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The ultimate guide to the ultimate storms, Hurricane Watch is a fascinating blend of science and history from one of the world's foremost meteorologists and an award-winning science journalist. This in-depth look at these awe-inspiring acts of nature covers everything from the earliest efforts by seafarers at predicting storms to the way satellite imaging is revolutionizing hurricane forecasting. It reveals the latest information on hurricanes: their effects on ocean waves, the causes of the variable wind speeds in different parts of the storm, and the origins of the super-cooled shafts of water that vent at high altitudes. Hurricane Watch is a compelling history of man's relationship with the deadliest storms on earth.


- The story of the nineteenth-century Cuban Jesuit whose success at predicting the great cyclones was considered almost mystical.

- A new look at Isaac Cline, whose infamous failure to predict the Galveston Hurricane left him obsessed with the devastating effects of storm surge.

- The story of the Hurricane Hunters, including the first man ever to deliberately fly into a hurricane.

- A complete account of how computer modeling has changed hurricane tracking.

- A history of Project Stormfury: the only significant, organized effort to reduce the damaging strength of severe hurricanes.

- A unique firsthand account of Hurricane Andrew by both authors, who were at the National Hurricane Center when Andrew struck.

- A listing of the deadliest storms in history.


In the Whispering Pines neighborhood about twenty miles southwest of downtown Miami, Tom Ochmanski and his wife, Laurie, have put their one-year old son, Ryan, and two-year-old daughter, Caitlyn, to bed early in the evening. Whispering Pines is not in an evacuation zone and the Ochmanski house is a strong one--they think. Around midnight, Tom and Laurie and Laurie's mother, Lee Bolander, finally try to get some rest, but the howling winds wake them two hours later. As the adults sit in the living room, watching reports on their battery-operated television set, squalls of heavy rain and high winds became stronger and more and more frequent. By 4:45 a.m., winds are probably gusting to over 150 or 160 mph, and debris slamming into the house creates an almost deafening roar. Above this roar, parents and grandmother hear breaking glass in Ryan's bedroom. Tom rushes in to find the window shattered by flying debris and scattered around the room, but, remarkably, Ryan is not cut or hurt. Tom grabs him and Laurie gets Caitlyn from her bedroom and the entire family huddles in the living room, close to the hallway entrance. They hear the other windows breaking on the north end of the house. As Hurricane Andrew's eye wall moves directly over them, the screaming wind becomes even more terrifying. The Ochmanskis know when the wind shifts direction because the loud thumps of striking debris now come from the east side of the house.

Tom shines a large flashlight at the top of the front wall and sees it pulling away from the ceiling. This is a reinforced concrete tie beam connecting the walls to the roof, and these winds are doing their best to lift it right off the house. The family moves closer to the hallway door and starts praying. Suddenly and with a tremendous crash the entire front of their house slams inward, while the front half of the roof is ripped away. A large blunt object strikes Tom in the back, knocking him across the room. Laurie quickly crawls through the debris to the hallway, taking the two terrified children with her. She places Ryan and Caitlyn on shelves in the linen closet off the hall? way and crouches in the open doorway to protect them with her own body.

Where is Tom now? Where is her mother? Are they alive or dead? Laurie has only her fears and her prayers.

* * *

Great tropical cyclones are the largest and most destructive storms on the face of this planet; collective memory never forgets the passage of a powerful deadly storm such as Hurricane Andrew in South Florida in 1992. In the past, these typhoons and hurricanes struck without warning. Today, this never happens. We can forecast the great storms with increasing, often remarkable, accuracy. We can save lives and property--some lives, some property. However, we will never be able to stop these storms. The residents of shorelines of the world exposed to storms from the tropics, and the tourists who flock to these sandy paradises will always prick their ears when they hear the words, "A hurricane watch has been posted for. . ."
Jack Williams|Bob Sheets|Author Q&A|Author Desktop

About Jack Williams

Jack Williams - Hurricane Watch

Photo © Courtesy of the Author

Jack Williams was born in Jacksonville, Florida, and served in the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating from high school. After his military service, he attended Jacksonville (Fla.) University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history and government in 1962.

He began his journalism career at the Florida Times Union in Jacksonville while attending college, and subsequently worked at the Jacksonville Journal, the Rochester Times Union, and Rochester’s Democrat & Chronicle. In September 1982, when USA Today began publication, Jack Williams served as the weather page editor.

In 1992, as Hurricane Andrew battered Dade County, Jack Williams was in the National Hurricane Center, which was on the fringe of the strongest winds. He has flown into three hurricanes, and has chased tornadoes with researchers on the Plains. In January 1999 Williams was one of the half dozen journalists selected that year by the National Science Foundation to report on research in Antarctica.

He is also the author of THE USA TODAY WEATHER BOOK, which won The American Meteorological Society’s Louis J. Battan Author’s Award, and THE USA TODAY WEATHER ALMANAC.

About Bob Sheets

Bob Sheets - Hurricane Watch
Dr. Bob Sheets grew up on a small farm near Fairmount, Indiana, and attended Ball State Teachers College (now University). Upon graduation in 1961, he was commissioned into the U.S. Air Force and was sent to the University of Oklahoma to study meteorology. After finishing his Air Force tour of duty, he joined the National Hurricane Research Laboratory (NHRL), co-located with the National Hurricane Center (NHC), where he studied hurricanes, directing field operations and making more than 200 flights through the eyes of hurricanes. In 1980, after more than 16 years at NHRL, he moved into the National Hurricane Center, serving as a Hurricane Specialist, Deputy Director and finally, its Director from 1987 to 1995.

Since leaving the NHC after 33 years of government service, he has been a meteorological consultant where he provides on camera services for the Florida News Network and affiliates and the ABC network. Non-television work includes lectures and workshops on hurricane threats and preparedness, and serving on advisory boards at Florida International University and the University of Oklahoma. In addition, he has and continues to provide technical guidance for films and books concerning meteorology, with specializations in hurricanes, and was featured in the IMAX film entitled STORMCHASERS.

He received his B.S. degree in Mathematics/Physics from Ball State (1961) and his M.S. (1965) and Ph.D. (1972) degrees in meteorology from the University of Oklahoma. Dr. Sheets has authored dozens of published articles on hurricanes. He also has frequently been an invited lecturer at numerous Universities and other forums around the world.

His major honors include being an elected Fellow of the American Meteorological Society; the recipient of the U.S. Navy Distinguished Public Service Award; the U.S. Air Force Master Meteorologist Award; Life Time Achievement Awards from the National Hurricane Conference and the South Florida Hurricane Conference; the Governor's Award from the Florida Governor's Hurricane Conference; an EMMY award from the National Academy of Television Arts Society; Executive Excellence Award and Presidential Rank Award of the U.S. Senior Executive Service; citations from the governors of Maryland and Georgia; the ABC Person of the Week; the U.S. Department of Commerce Gold and Silver medals.

Author Q&A

Ten questions and answers from Hurricane Watch

Q: What Western Hemisphere hurricane killed the most people, and what war was going on at the time?

A: An unnamed hurricane (names didn't begin until 1950) killed more than 20,000 people on and around the islands of the eastern Caribbean Sea in 1780. This was during the American Revolution. Chap. 1, page 19.

Q: Sailors back to Christopher Columbus knew that "brick red" sunsets, the disappearance of the puffy clouds that usually dot tropical skies, and high, thin clouds moving in overhead were signs that a hurricane might be coming. But, they didn't understand why. What is the reason for these signs?

A: Air rises in a hurricane and then flows out of the top of the storm to travel a few hundred miles before it begins sinking. The air flowing out of the hurricane is humid enough to form the high, thin cirrus clouds. When the air sinks far from the storm it warms the air, which evaporates the puffy clouds. The sinking air also traps dust near the surface--even over the ocean--which causes the "brick red" sunsets. Chap. 2, page 50.

Q: When and where did the strongest hurricane of the 20th century hit the United States?

A: A hurricane with winds estimated as fast as 200 mph hit the Florida Keys on Labor Day 1935 with almost no warning. It killed at least 400 people, including 160 World War I veterans who were building the highway to Key West. Chap. 3, page 86.

Q: When was the first deliberate flight into a hurricane made and who did it?

A: On July 27, 1943, Col. Joseph Duckworth, commander of the Army Air Forces Instrument Flying School in Bryan, Texas, and Lt. Ralph O'Hair flew an AT-6, a single-engine, two-seat trainer, into a hurricane that was moving ashore near Galveston. The following year, larger military airplanes began flying into hurricanes and Pacific typhoons to to collect data for forecasters. Chap. 4, page 98.

Q: When was the first hurricane officially named, and what was the name?

A: The National Hurricane Center began naming hurricanes in 1950, using the Korean-War era international phonetic alphabet, which meant the first named storm was "Able," followed by "Baker," "Charlie" and so on. The Hurricane Center switched to women's names in 1953, and both men's and women's names in 1979. Chap 5, p. 130.

Q: Hurricane Camille, the second strongest to hit the USA in the 20th century, came ashore in Mississippi on Sunday, Aug. 17, 1969. What other event was going on in the United States that weekend?

A: That weekend Camille shared the headlines and televison news coverage with the "Woodstock Music and Air Fair" in New York's Hudson Valley. Chap. 6, page 151.

Q: When a big hurricane threatens the United States, why doesn't the government bomb it or do something else to kill the storm or turn it away?

A: Even the biggest bomb would be a mere pinprick to a hurricane. From 1961 through 1983, the U.S. government's Project Stormfury looked into many ways to try to weaken hurricanes, but scientists concluded they couldn't be sure any would work. Chap. 7, pages 157 through 178 is about these studies.

Q: Is it true that the low air pressure inside hurricanes makes houses "explode" when the storm passes over them?

A: No. In the past some meteorologists and engineers believed that low pressure caused buildings to "explode" from the force of the higher pressure inside pushing out. But they learned that wind flowing over a building fast enough can make the roof act somewhat like an airplane's wing, which creates a lifting force. If the roof isn't securely attached, this lifting force can pull it upwards and the winds can then blow over the walls, making it look like the building exploded. Chap. 8, page 186.

Q: In August 1992 Hurricane Andrew hit the heavily populated areas of Dade Counry, Fla., a few miles south of Miami with winds up to 145 mph, doing $30 billion (in 1992 dollars) in damage, making it the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history. Was it also one of the most deadly natural disasters?

A: No. Considering Andrew's strength and the large number of people in its way, the death toll was mercifully low. Andrew directly caused 15 deaths in Florida, 8 in Louisiana, and 3 in the Bahamas. Thanks to timely warnings, people evacuated from areas hit by storm surge. Many people survived having Andrew literally blowing their houses down around them by following "tornado safety rules" of taking shelter in places such as bathrooms. Chap. 10, page 259.

Q: Is it true that scientists generally believe that global warming caused by gasses humans are adding to the air has increased the number of hurricanes and made them stronger?

A: No. The number of hurricanes forming over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico was lower from around 1965 until 1995 and there's no reason to belive other parts of the world have had more typhoons or tropical cyclones (which are the same as hurricanes except for what they are called). In general, climate and hurricane scientists say they can't say what the effects of global warming will be on hurricanes. Chap. 11, pages 265-268.

Author Q&A

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  • Hurricane Watch by Dr. Bob Sheets and Jack Williams
  • July 31, 2001
  • Science - Meteorology; Science
  • Vintage
  • $15.00
  • 9780375703904

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