A woman came to my door the other day and said, “You’re the editor of Superstorm, right?” My assistant has been out on maternity leave and so I’m getting used to people I don’t recognize waltzing into my office. “Great book” the woman said and so of course she had my attention. She said she was from Gerristen Beach, a part of Brooklyn that was about 10 feet underwater after Sandy rolled through. Her family lost the house her father built. They are still putting their lives back together. She is a temp working in Operations for PRH at 375 Hudson Street. She loves this book. Me too.
We had just had our Halloween party back in 2012 in this building when New Yorkers started to realize the big bad hurricane was coming to get us. As she was working on Superstorm Kathryn Miles said the storm was like the shark in Jaws—yes, her story is that scary. Forecasters and their science were unable to make sense of this unprecedented system as it played out; seamen with all their traditional knowledge couldn’t predict what it would do; and the survivors whose lives it all but destroyed are still trying to pick up the pieces. This story is all about the unforgiving, fearsome power of nature—just when we thought we had it beat.
We meet Chris Landsea, the Science and Operations Officer at the National Hurricane Center who had been thinking the 2012 hurricane season was a quiet one—and pretty much over—until he and a colleague noticed what looked like the beginnings of an unusual tropical depression. But the picture the data delivered was not clear. Kathryn Miles’ gripping narrative soon demonstrates that we have a national infrastructure emergency that we haven’t yet noticed. It isn’t just that our bridges and schools are in danger of collapsing, our scientific data gathering, especially meteorological data gathering systems, are an appalling, neglected mess. Forecasters used to rely on a tool called the quick scatterometer which used microwave sensors to gauge winds speeds near the ocean surface. Then it broke. In 2009. Ever since we’ve been using a vastly inferior European data stream and have no plans to replace it. This of course is merely one example…
The New York Office of Emergency Management advised Mayor Bloomberg that all was fine on Saturday night, but then by Sunday morning had him calling for the mandatory evacuation of 350,000 people including the families of Gerristen Beach. Given the state of our forecasting infrastructure, this flip flop is perhaps not so surprising.
Kathryn Miles’ Superstorm is a gripping read, and it is also a necessary one in a time of increasingly unpredictable, deadly weather.
Read more about Superstorm by Kathryn Miles.