History’s Most Tragically Inept Weatherman

Weathermen are often popular targets of derision. People love to make jokes about how often they are wrong while still managing to keep their jobs. But one man from Galveston, Texas probably deserves the title of “worst weatherman in history.” At a critical moment, his prediction and his unshakeable belief in his own abilities would have fatal consequences for the inhabitants of his city.

In 1900, Isaac Cline was the chief of the US Weather Service Bureau on Galveston Island. He was a very important meteorologist in his day, and he was one of the first climate scientists to advocate for the use of the scientific method in the prediction of weather. Unfortunately, the praise he received from his fellow scientists appeared to have gone to his head.

2.bp.blogspot.com
2.bp.blogspot.com

He had spent several years studying hurricanes, and had declared that it would be impossible for such a storm to cause harm to the city. The local authorities had so much faith in his knowledge of these storms that he was able to convince them not to construct a protective seawall on the island.

Isaac Cline was proved disastrously wrong on September 8, 1900. A major storm with hurricane had developed in the Atlantic, and Galveston’s Weather Bureau was warned of it on September 4th. Cline, and many of his colleagues, did not believe it was scientifically possible for the storm to make the turn it would need to take to reach the island. For three days, the storm strengthened from a tropical storm into a hurricane, while the citizens of Galveston remained blissfully unaware of its impending approach.

Isaac’s younger brother Joseph, also a meteorologist, had been insisting for days that the storm was going to hit Galveston, but Isaac discounted his fears. Finally, when the storm clouds began approaching on September 7th, he began to realize that he may have been mistaken about Galveston’s invulnerability.

To his credit, Cline did make a valiant effort to warn residents of the hurricane’s approach. He raised the hurricane warning flag without getting permission from the Washington, D.C. office, which was against Weather Bureau protocol. By the time he did this, it was too late. There was not enough time evacuate the city.

On September 8, the Category 4 hurricane hit Galveston. Waves as high as 15 feet flooded the city, and 135 mile per hour winds tore homes and buildings apart. By the time the storm was over, between 6,000 and 12,000 people had been killed and $30 million of damage had been done.

During the worst part of the storm, Cline and his brother stayed at the office, telegraphing Washington for help. When the lines went down, the pair fought the rising water to get to Isaac’s house. Believing their home was stormproof, Isaac’s wife had invited 50 friends and neighbors to take shelter there. But the house was soon destroyed when a railroad trestle was blown into it, and everyone inside was pushed into the flood waters. Isaac and his brother managed to rescue Isaac’s three children, but his pregnant wife was killed.

The next year, the Cline brothers and Isaac’s children moved to New Orleans when the Weather Bureau moved its Gulf Coast center there. He became a highly respected meteorologist, who eventually published a book that detailed his research on tropical storms and hurricanes. He vastly improved his forecasting abilities as well, as he successfully predicted several major floods in the region during his tenure.

The hurricane also changed Galveston forever. The city was raised by 17 feet with the use of dredged sand, and over 2000 of the buildings that were left standing were also raised in this process. Construction on the seawall that Cline had opposed, and that could have helped spare the city, began in 1902. It stands to this day.

Next Article
ADVERTISEMENT
  • President Jefferson’s Murderous Sheep

    Presidential pets often become as famous as their owners. There have also been a wide range of animals kept as White House pets, from an alligator to a wallaby to everything in between. One presidential pet stands out, though, but not because of its species. This pet is memorable because of its murderous temper. Thomas...

    Read More
  • The Plague That Caused People to Dance Themselves to Death

    On an otherwise unremarkable July day in early 16th century Strasbourg (now in France), a woman known as Frau Troffea ran into the street and began dancing. There was no music being played, and it wasn’t a holiday or day of celebration, yet, for reasons unknown, she felt compelled to dance. She continued her solo...

    Read More
  • The Plastic-Eating Caterpillar That Could Help Save the Planet

    An amateur Spanish beekeeper recently made a discovery that could have a major impact in our planet’s fight against pollution and global warming. While tending to her beehives, she removed some wax worms from them, since they are pests that are parasitic towards bee colonies. To get rid of them, she put them in an...

    Read More
  • This Town Has Been on Fire for More Than 50 Years

    The borough of Centralia is located in Columbia County, Pennsylvania. In the late 1800s it was a thriving anthracite coal mining town with a population of close to 3,000, but as of 2013 the population is no more than seven. The diminished population is the result of an underground coal...

    Read More
  • The World’s Most Glamorous Train

    The Orient Express has been noted as being the world’s most glamorous train, but how did it get that title?  Well, the story of The Orient Express takes off in the 1860’s when the concept of globetrotting tourism was still fairly new.  For years, the ultra-rich had been the only people that could afford to...

    Read More
  • The Earliest Evidence of Wine Making

    This new find definitely deserves a grand toast. Scientists have just recently discovered what is now to be considered the oldest known winemaking site on record. Archaeologists have just recently discovered ceramic jars which have shown evidence of winemaking during an excavation of two Neolithic sites called Gadachrili Gora and Shulaveris Gora. These sites are...

    Read More
  • Remarkable Future Mars Robot

    Reported to take off in only three years, making it the year 2020, a robot that is larger than an SUV will be blasting off from planet Earth to Mars.  The plan is to have this new robot mildly parachute down onto the red planet’s surface.  It will be guided at the end of its...

    Read More
  • Tiny Grasshopper Discovered in Van Gogh Painting

    Who doesn’t love a good mystery from over one-hundred years ago?  In recent mystery news, there was a tiny grasshopper discovered in one of the paintings of Van Gogh, being hidden from one-hundred and twenty-eight years ago.  Wonder what it all means and who discovered this tiny grasshopper?  We may never know the true meaning...

    Read More