An antic yet foreboding look at hurricanes and at the scientists and daredevil flyers who pursue "hands on" study of them in order to better predict their occurence.
Novelist and journalist Davies (Storm Country, 1993, etc.) takes a broad view here, detouring into scary anecdotes of recent devastation, still-shocking accounts of historical disasters like the 1900 Galveston storm (which killed 9,000) and the 1926 Miami hurricane (which nearly destroyed the city), and sundry meteorological discussion (like bizarre governmental attempts at "hurricane diversion" via cloud seeding). His primary narrative, though, concerns the reactive storm bureaucracy, ranging from the perpetually on-edge forecasters at the National Hurricane Center to the more gung-ho (if, he asserts, drastically underfunded) Hurricane Research Division of the Navy. Davies does a fine job of capturing the romantic lunacy of the storm hunters, who fly into the hurricanes in immaculate four-turboprop Lockheed P-3s and use a variety of techniques (from Doppler radar scanning to the Airborne Expendable Bathythermograph—an expensive, parachute-borne instrument that is dropped into the storm). But beyond Davies's subjects' determined macho camaraderie and his own wry prose—or his own machismo, as he flew into a hurricane himself—there is an undertone here concerning the grim inexorability of nature's fury: the scientists of the HRD and elsewhere fear a cyclic upsurge in "rapid intensifier" storms—Category 4 and 5 hurricanes like Andrew in 1992, Opal in 1995, and Mitch in 1998 (which Davies depicts heartrendingly as having essentially destroyed Honduras, besetting survivors with slow torment from mud slides and flooding). But this work primarily maintains an exciting, quick-moving feel, particularly the cool, precise cliff-hanger sequences in which the Lockheeds fly sideways through hurricane eyewalls.
Although the author's pursuit of so many tangential perspectives can be unwieldy, this is a solidly written, well detailed, and comprehensive book that will provide intellectual stimulation and armchair adrenaline to both eggheads and Perfect Storm jocks.