Update to 'Hurricane History' adds Sandy, global warming and improvements in predicting storms

features@islandpacket.comAugust 5, 2013 


"North Carolina's Hurricane History, Fourth Edition," by Jay Barnes. University of North Carolina Press. 344 pages, with 167 illustrations, 51 maps, index. $35.00

Although this exhaustive work focuses on our neighbors to the north, almost every storm that hits them has first wreaked its devastation on us. In recent years, think of Hazel and Hugo, Fran and Floyd, Irene and our most recent visitor, Sandy. This is the fourth edition of this unique work, updating the record with descriptions of Isabel (2003), Irene (2011) and last year's Sandy.

Giant storms have been smashing into the Southeast for centuries, of course, but few records were kept prior to the establishment of the Weather Bureau in 1890. A storm in 1893 totally inundated Hilton Head Island, killing some 2,000 people and leaving 30,000 people in the area without homes. (The same course would be followed almost a century later by Hugo.)

While the big storms hit, on average, about once every four years, the period from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s saw as many as three a season, climaxing in October 1954 with the monster Hazel. Called "one of the greatest natural disasters," it struck North Island, S.C., ripped through North Carolina (high water at Calabash was 18 feet) and didn't peter out until it reached Canada. A year later came Hugo. Called "the most powerful hurricane to strike the U.S. in 20 years," it came ashore at Sullivans Island, ripped through the area, and it was only the beginning. Andrew, Dennis, Camille and Floyd were yet to come.

Which brings us to the new material in the book, the first 13 years of this century. Barnes describes the somewhat over-hyped Irene, and the more recent Sandy, whose impact was felt further north, and makes some general statements about the future. He doesn't think global warming is having much effect on the frequency or severity of the storms. He talks about improvements we have made in preparation for a hurricane, and a listing of things we have learned from past disasters. We are coming into hurricane season, and no one knows when the next big one will come ashore. "It's not a matter of if," he concludes, "sooner or later another big one will come."

"The Secret World of Red Wolves: The Fight to Save America's Other Wolf," by T. Delene Beeland. University of North Carolina Press. 256 pages, including bibliography and index. $28

A good part of this definitive and well-written study is taken up with the question of whether the red wolf still exists as a separate species. Until the 1800s they had lived in the forests of the American Southeast, but the gradual diminishing of their habitat, the hostility of the growing number of people who feared and hated wolves, and inbreeding with the coyote brought them to the brink of extinction.

Then in the late 1970s the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service started what was probably the first attempt to not only preserve a species but, after an extensive study, to reintroduce it into the wild. Almost all of the red wolves that exist today -- about 200 of them -- live in the Albemarle Peninsula of eastern North Carolina, and only about 120 live on their own. But while the number that are shot illegally is shrinking, global warming is causing more of the ocean to take over their land.

The book's cover shows a shy, friendly animal not unlike a dog, and while the author doesn't exactly make friends with them, she doesn't report any stories of them attacking humans. They live in extended family units, a pair will live together for life, and they subsist mainly on small animals, like squirrels and nutria. When confronted with humans they are likely to run away. They are referred to as "America's other wolf" because the gray wolf -- the one who ate Little Red Riding Hood's grandmother -- originated in Europe, while canis rufus originated here.

Author Beeland, a science writer who lives in Asheville, N.C., had never seen a red wolf when she began this book, but she is now a fierce advocate. At the end she says, "The red wolves are living connections to our continent's past," and she regards the animal as "a cautionary tale of what happens when we push a species too far into the twilight of extinction." But, at a time when public financing of such efforts is being slashed, and the sea level is rising, it's hard to show much optimism.

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