The name of Isaac Monroe Cline is best known today as the central focus of Isaac's Storm, the best-selling history of the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900. That book, however, focuses on but a few days in the 93-year life of Isaac Cline. Storms, Floods and Sunshine is Cline's autobiography, written (and personally typed) when he was in his early 80s. The great hurricane, which so greatly affected the second half of Cline's life, forms but a single chapter in this book. Although he lost his wife (plus his home and all personal possessions) and nearly lost his three daughters and brother in the storm, Cline gives surprisingly little insight to the events surrounding the storm. Perhaps the event was just too painful to remember.
In the book's Forward, Stuart O. Landry sums up Cline's life succinctly:
"From plow boy to principal meteorologist of the U.S. Weather Bureau, with medicine and art on the side, sums up the life work of Dr. Isaac Monroe Cline, one of New Orleans' truly remarkable men."
The book focuses mainly on Cline's career as one of the pioneer weather forecasters and scientists in the early years of the US Weather Service/Bureau. It highlights his professional achievements which included early forecasts of freeze warnings for agriculturists, early research on storm surges and flood forecasting. For the latter, Cline received Cabinet commendation for his work during the Great Mississippi River Floods of 1927. Storms, Floods and Sunshine includes long excerpts from Cline's research tome Tropical Cyclones. When not discussing weather forecasting, storms and floods or those aspects of the early history of the Weather Service/Bureau of which he was a part, Cline writes of his recreational sidelights and their importance in his living a full life:
"The keynote of my life has been the utilization of time -- particularly the efficent [sic] use of "recreation time". And this is the theme of my book."
Today we generally look to biographies and autobiographies for a deeper understanding of the subject's emotional makeup and personal life. The reader of Storms, Floods and Sunshine looking for this side of Dr Cline will be disappointed. Cline was a focussed and proud man, but not one to show much emotion, at least in public. It is perhaps best exemplified in the manner in which this taciturn man described the death of his wife during the killer hurricane.
"My wife's clothing was entangled in the wreckage and she never rose from the water....Some weeks later the body of my wife was found...under the wreckage on which we had made the fight for life and won. Even in death she had travelled with us and near us during the storm."
She is never mentioned again in the text. Cline raised his three young daughters alone, never remarrying, and makes very little mention of them in the book except that they married well.
Cline devotes several chapters to discussing his favourite recreation: collecting and restoring art. He relates how he built major collections of American portrait art and Oriental bronzes. Many of these were eventually to find homes in major American art galleries. Cline concludes the book with several chapters musing on the true location of the Garden of Eden, the story of some New Orleans voudou practitioners, observations on the recently ended Second World War and his thoughts on living a long and productive life.
Although Cline does not show us much of the private man, the reader will likely form a very different picture of Cline than that presented by Eric Larson in Isaac's Storm. As with any autobiography, there is a good deal of self-justification and promotion, but Cline generally backs the praise he has received with quotes from newspapers or letters.
Storms, Floods and Sunshine: An Autobiography is a good book about the life and professional times of a successful man whose life covered nearly a century, spanning the critical years in American history from the Civil War through the Second World War. I recommend this book to those interested in meteorological history and the history of the early US Weather Service/Bureau. But I caution the reader that the style is typical of such books written over a half century ago and not the style of today. This book forms a good complementary picture of Isaac Cline, filling in the full portrait from the more narrowly focussed Isaac's Storm.
I commend Pelican Publishing Company for reprinting Storms, Floods and Sunshine as part of their three-volume reprint history of the Great Galveston Hurricane in its centennial year. (The others in the series are: The Story of the 1900 Galveston Hurricane edited by Nathan C. Green and The Great Galveston Disaster by Paul Lester, both originally published in 1900.) All are worthy additions to the storm or natural disaster historian's bookshelf.
Keith C. Heidorn, PhD, ACM
THE WEATHER DOCTOR
September 26, 2000
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