|Home | Welcome | What's New | Site Map | Glossary | Weather Doctor Amazon Store | Book Store | Accolades | Email Us|
Dr Isaac M. Cline:
|Isaac Cline |
Photo Courtesy of
NOAA/US Dept of Commerce
The nine-decade story of Isaac Cline began in the hill and valleys along the western foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee. Isaac Monroe Cline was born October 13, 1861 near Madisonville, Monroe County, the firstborn of Jacob and Mary Cline. At the time of his birth, Jacob Cline owned a small farm; however, soon after the Civil War ended, Jacob Cline sold this farm and leased a place at nearby Bat Creek. Isaac was the oldest of eight Cline children. His younger brother Joseph would follow Isaac's footsteps and become a meteorologist joining Isaac in the Galveston office that fateful day in 1900 when the Great Hurricane struck.
A bright and inquisitive boy, Isaac began attending the small local school at age four. At six, young Isaac was trapping muskrat, mink and otter to earn extra money. Isaac also took a great interest in books, particularly the works of Jules Verne whom Cline saw as a prophet of sorts. Reading Verne inspired Cline to dream of writing a book "on some scientific subject that would be permanently helpful to man."
At the age of sixteen, Isaac Cline left home to attended nearby Hiwassee College, where he studied mathematics, chemistry, physics, Latin, and Greek, the foundation of a classical education. He worked odd jobs on campus to pay for his tuition. After five years at the college, Isaac Cline had earned both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts degree. He initially entertained the idea of becoming either a preacher or a lawyer.
"I first studied to be a preacher, but decided that I was too prone to tell big stories. Then I studied Blackstone for a while and soon learned that I was not adept enough at prevarication to make a successful lawyer. I then made up my mind that I would seek some field where I could tell big stories and tell the truth."
In 1870 the US Weather Service had been organized as part of the Army Signal Corps. The Chief Signal Officer General William B. Hazen visualized a weather service with college-trained personnel who could be commissioned into the US Army. To fulfill this vision, Hazen wrote to numerous college presidents asking them to recommend men from their graduating classes who desired to make meteorology their profession. The president of Hiwassee College J. H. Bruner asked Cline if he would be interested in an assignment to the meteorology training program.
Cline "accepted with pleasure for it was just the kind of work I wanted." In July of 1882, General Hazen instructed Cline to report to the office of the Chief Signal Officer in Washington DC for physical examination. Passing the physical, Cline was ordered to Fort Myer, just outside the capitol city near the former home of General Robert E. Lee in Arlington, Virginia.
The Army Signal Corps was a cavalry organization and therefore trained its recruits, including those in the weather service, in horsemanship. Its meteorology training program inflicted full military discipline on its aspiring meteorologists. Instruction was given in military signaling with flags, torches and the heliograph. Students learned about the hardware and operation of the magnetic telegraph and the telephone. They overhauled telegraph apparatus to learn "what caused the 'click,' and strung wires over which that click would be heard thousands of miles distant," recalled Cline in later years.
But they learned more than the military and signaling arts. Cline recalled in his autobiography:
"Subjects bearing on meteorology, the taking and recording of meteorological observations and the uses to which they could be applied called for study every minute of our time. Good progress in studies meant early assignment as assistant observer on some station, and this was our immediate objective. The instruction was crammed into us so rapidly that many could not keep up and make the required grades. Such distinguished physicists and mathematics as William Ferrel, T. C. Mendenhal, and Cleveland Abbe were among our instructors."
"Stations for observing the weather were being opened in different parts of the country. Assistants who had made good records on stations were selected to take charge of the new stations. To meet the demand for assistants at stations, a rigid examination was held. The 16 passing with the highest grades were to be assigned to stations and the others were to remain for further instruction. I passed 16th and was notified that I would be assigned to the Little Rock, Arkansas."
As part of the examination, applicants were asked to state a preferred area of research related to meteorology that they would pursue in addition to their regular weather observation work. Cline requested a line of research that would ultimately be beneficial to humanity. Upon his assignment to Little Rock, he was informed that his research would focus on the relationship between weather and the Rocky Mountain locust, which had been destroying crops in the US Plains region. Cline reported for duty in Little Rock as an assistant weather observer with an monthly salary and allowances of $60 plus an annual clothing allowance of $120.
The regular work of an assistant weather observer involved taking frequent weather observations during the day: the first at 5 am and last at 11 pm. Special additional weather observations were taken during the growing season. These data were transmitted via telegraph to Washington and others were received during the day. Another duty was to decipher these raw data and prepare bulletins from the information for commercial interests.
An interesting aside to Cline's story. At the time of Cline's posting in Arkansas, Alexander Graham Bell was making great progress in the development of the telephone, and exchanges were opening in many large US cities. Little Rock was selected as the location for one exchange, and to finance it, stock was offered at $100 per share. Several of Cline's colleagues bought one or more shares. They tried to persuade him to also purchase a share. But Cline would not take the step:
"I told them that in my opinion the telephone might be used successfully in talking over distances of one or two miles but that would be the limit. I could not visualize that within my lifetime telephone conversations would be carried on successfully around the world. The boys who bought stock and held it became wealthy in a few years. In twenty years one share that cost $100.00 had paid stock and cash dividends to the amount of $50,000.00."
The study of weather effects on the Rocky Mountain locust proved a dry avenue as the insects disappeared from the region. As a result, Cline looked for another line of weather-related research. Cline saw the field of medical meteorology as one area in which there had been little research. It also fit his desire for research that would help people. In addition, the Medical Department of the University of Arkansas, rated as one of the best medical schools in the country at that time, was located just three blocks from the Weather Service Office. They offered a three-year course and Cline enrolled.
Studying in his spare time, Cline earned a medical degree from the University of Arkansas becoming an MD in 1885. He continued to pursue his interest in medical climatology for many years, only giving it up after the 1900 Galveston storm to concentrate on research on tropical cyclones.
A few days after Dr Isaac Cline received his medical diploma in late March 1885, he was promoted to take over the weather station in Fort Concho, Texas. (Fort Concho was located on the fringe of a region marked on the maps of that time as the Great American Desert.) The assignment increased his pay to $75 a month. In addition to duties as weather observer, Cline had to complete the transfer of telegraph equipment to the Southwest Bell Telephone Company or US military posts along the Mexican border. A cottage located near the Fort Concho reservation served as both the weather observation station and Cline's sleeping quarters.
Financial investors in the new and rapidly growing town of Abilene, Texas on the Texas and Pacific Railroad felt the addition of a station would be a good addition to the town. They lobbied the Chief Signal Officer to open a weather observing station in Abilene. He agreed informing them that the weather observing station at Fort Concho would be moved to Abilene and assigning Cline as its officer in charge.
In Abilene, Isaac Cline met Cora May Ballew, "a beautiful, brilliant, and cultured girl," whom he married on March 17, 1887. Their first child Allie May was born later that year on December 10. In his spare time and with the help of Cora May, Cline also edited and published a daily and weekly newspaper.
In 1888 the Texas Legislature debated a bill to establish a Texas State Weather Service but adjourned without passing it. Brigadier General Adolphus Greely, the new Chief Signal Officer, wrote Cline that a Texas Section of the United States Weather Service would be established in Galveston. Greely wanted Cline to be in charge of establishing the Galveston weather station and organizing the Texas Section of the US Weather Service. In March 1889, Cline transferred command of the Abilene station and left for Galveston.
Keith C. Heidorn, PhD, ACM
THE WEATHER DOCTOR
September 7, 2000
For more information on Issac Cline and the 1900 Galveston Hurricane, see these articles:
The Weather Doctor--Weather Almanac, September 2000: Wasn't That A Mighty Storm?
The Weather Doctor--Weather Events: The 1900 Galveston Hurricane
The full text of Isaac Cline's storm report appeared in Monthly Weather Review (September 1900): Special Report on The Galveston Hurricane of September 8, 1900.
Reminescence of Cline on the early years of the US national weather service can be found at Personal View of Issac M. Cline.Finally, The Weather Notebook has devoted three programs to the event:
To Purchase Notecard,
Now Available! Order Today!
The BC Weather Book: