Still holds the hurricane record

Still holds the hurricane record

January 25, 2020

Over the past few years we've seen the number of hurricanes go down, while their ferocity has increased. As far as the U.S. coastline is concerned, we've dodged a couple of bullets. The islands of the Caribbean, like Puerto Rico and Tortola haven't been so lucky.  Haiti is still recovering from a storm that met landfall four years ago.

But, the hurricane which still holds the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded was the storm I wrote about in the book Hemingway's Storm. In the book, Sam Cutler (a real person who I extrapolate into this novel) had to carve niches into his barometer because the printed scale stopped. After the storm, they recovered that tool, still intact and calculated a value 26.35 inches of Hg (Mercury), or 892 mb. With winds about 200 miles an hour, it sandblasted clothes and skin of those caught in its path.

The twisted rails (the high point of the island) and the road (somewhere beneath the water)

I took years to research this book before writing a single word. Most of what you read actually happened. Most of the characters were real people.

What follows is a small excerpt of what it was like for those World War I veterans on a little Island in south Florida. Building Highway One was a dream to connect the islands, by a government sponsored program giving World War I veterans a one-way ticket away from Washington D.C. But the living conditions were horrible, and the work for these unskilled laborers was grueling.

The work camp

Out in the Florida straits in the wee hours of the morning, this unnamed storm found both resources and power. In its greed to survive, it began whipping out circular forces of immense power. The slumbering counter forces were caught unaware. This greedy storm went unnoticed for the most part. No ships were in the area to see its strengthening greed. No land masses lay in its way to alert the public. It entered the Florida straits and chose to stay hidden by remaining small, yet powerful. 

What was once a simple storm had turned into a monster.

 

Harry woke to take a piss. Like most, he wouldn’t use the latrines. He preferred to walk across the camp and take his chances along the thin line of mangroves that grew along the edge of the shore. The clouds of morning were thick and gray, pressing down the air in a low swiftly moving ceiling. Harry could see wisps of mist blow onto land. The breeze was slight but constant and smelled of salt. What was normally a pastel ocean this time of day was now gray green and churning with black wavelets.

He finished his business and turned back to camp. Some of the vets had reinforced their shacks with two-by-four struts dug into the ground. He nearly tripped over a small unused pile of them as he shook off the cobwebs of a good rum-filled night’s sleep. Reaching a small clearing, he looked out on the water. He’d never taken the time to memorize the tides, but this looked like it was low tide. The sand extended out and a few starfish, caught unaware, lay in the wet sand. The waves were coming in regular rhythms parallel to the beach. He could see a few white caps on the edge of the horizon on what was normally a serene time of day.

He snorted and hocked his spit having finished his morning chore. It looked like the storm was here, and it didn’t seem so bad — just like the weather man had said. Most of the vets learned about the coming storm at dinner time. Word spread quickly and the crew seemed excited to have their first taste of a real Florida hurricane.

As Harry turned and headed back to his shack, a wind came from nowhere, blowing with a low droning whistle like the sound of some distant train. He wondered if that was the southbound hailing its exit toward Key West. But the wall of wind that followed confirmed his suspicion that the sound was not made by man. 

He’d only taken a few steps when the sky opened with rain that angled against his back. He’d been in the strange Florida storms where one side of the road would be drenched and the other side completely dry. His back became instantly wet. The rain drops were like golf balls pelting the man as he hastened his steps back to the shack.

By the time he’d reached the door, the rain had stopped as quickly as it began. A shaft of light appeared on the water.



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