In the pre-World War II era, several hurricanes struck the United States with little or no warning and with deadly and destructive force. The deadliest was the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 with an estimated 10,000 deaths. Second on the list is the 1928 storm which struck south Florida.
That 1928 storm, which author Robert Mykle refers to as Killer 'Cane, took a reported 1800-plus lives. Many suggest that the plus to that number may be hundreds of individuals because local officials wanted to downplay the toll so as not to undermine real estate values and tourism. Mykle tells the story of that storm and its impact on south Florida, particularly the Everglades region, in his book Killer 'Cane: The Deadly Hurricane of 1928, often through the eyes of those who experienced the storm.
With one glaring exception, I found the book an interesting account of the south Florida region and how the storm affected those living in the area. As the author points out, the Everglades area was one of the last portions of the contiguous United States to be fully settled by non-native Americans. I learned much in the pre-hurricane accounts of the development of the area from the late 1800s until the time of the storm.
Mykle gives a thought-provoking account of how the settlement and alteration of the landscape of the Everglades compounded the tragedy of the hurricane strike. So too does he provide a glimpse of a not-to-distant past when the knowledge of storm dynamics and impacts was poorly understood, allowing such storms to strike with little warning.
If the author had stuck to the history and narrative of the events surrounding the storm, I would judge this book more highly. Unfortunately, his attempts to describe the science of hurricanes fall so flat that I recommend anyone reading this book to just skip pages 28-30 (the first pages of Chapter Two) altogether. If you are unfamiliar with hurricane formation and structure and wish to learn more, look up one of the good websites dedicated to these storms or a focus book such as Hurricane Watch: Forecasting the Deadliest Storms on Earth by Dr. Bob Sheets and Jack Williams.
When I began reading the book, the Prologue, which tries to describe the African genesis of some hurricanes, left me so ill at ease that I had to put the book down for a couple days. Even now I can't put an exact finger on how the science gets twisted, but I put it down to over-zealous use of poetic license.
When, I reached the second chapter, however, out came the pencil for margin notes. The science here ranges from just wrong to poorly stated to correct, but it takes a good knowledge of hurricanes or meteorology to distinguish the good from the bad. If you are new to weather and hurricane science, you can be led astray by what is presented here.
Referring to Florida: "fed by tropical southeast 'trade' winds bowing from the West Indies..." While the land position with respect to the seas in south Florida may make daily sea breezes common from the southeast, the region falls within the northeast trade wind belt of the Northern Hemisphere.
"Nature abhors a vacuum." I realize this phrase has been attributed to Galileo and Aristotle, among the most prominent minds, but it is completely wrong. That this phrase is still alive today shows how hard it is to eliminate wrong concepts once they receive wide attention. Mykle uses this phrase to suggest "low pressure...acts like a vacuum." Better he had said, like a "vacuum cleaner" -- which is closer to the truth.
Then he states: "Wind...loathes differences in pressure and rushes to correct any variance...." Even if we allow wind the emotion of loathing, the statement is misstated. Wind is air set into motion by differences in air pressure. Were it not for differences in pressure, wind would not exist, so I suggest that wind loves differences in pressure.
Another misstatement: "warm, moisture-laden air...creating powerful high-altitude thunderstorms..." Thunderstorms are not high-altitude clouds/storms but phenomena which reach to high altitudes from rather ordinary-altitude cloud bases. He also confuses the term Mesoscale Convective Complexes (MCCs) which are clusters of interacting thunderstorms usually found in the mid-continent, with mesoscale convective elements that are bands of thunderstorms providing the seeds of formation for tropical storms/hurricanes.
"The Coriolis effect maintains low pressure." is another incorrect statement. The turning of the winds due to the Coriolis effect may be a factor in determining how the winds blow around a low pressure cell, but the maintenance of low pressure in a storm requires a balance of low-level convergence of air with an upper level divergence of that converging, and rising, airstream aloft (or a greater divergence at the top of the ascending air column than convergence to produce lowering pressure). If the Coriolis effect were the only factor in balance with the pressure gradient, we would have purely rotational motion around the central pressure minimum, the geostrophic balance.
I could add more of these examples to this review, but would rather just suggest you skip this section of the book and focus on the historic aspects.
Were it not for the poor science attendant with the historical account of this storm, I would rate Killer 'Cane: The Deadly Hurricane of 1928 by Robert Mykle more highly. It is a shame that three or four pages can impact one's opinion of a book. If you want to read about the history of the Everglades region and the impacts of the 1928 hurricane on the region, then you will find this book an interesting read. But don't read it for the science.
Keith C. Heidorn, PhD
THE WEATHER DOCTOR
July 19, 2002