Storms We Remember

Older residents of Cavalier County kept scrapbooks or newspaper clippings of tragic events. In what must have been early 1976, the late Ila MacDonald invited me over to the house she shared with her sisters and brought out some clippings of a tropical storm that had destroyed Galveston, Texas, in 1900. Three relatives of their family had been killed in this storm, and there are memorial stones for this Elford family in the cemetery at Walhalla. Before going to Texas, the family had lived in what is now Harvey Township, and two brothers had a store on the west side of Main Street in Langdon. What was originally known as the Elford house in Langdon (later owned by Finnerty, Zettel and Howatt families) was built in the 1890s, weathered the cyclone of 1909 which destroyed several nearby buildings, and is still standing today.

Over the years the world has become aware of the hurricane season which spawned that devastating storm with a loss of about 8,000 lives and continues to wreak havoc on the Gulf Coast, Mexico, and southern and eastern states of the United States each year. In 1900 the head of the weather bureau for Galveston was a young man named Isaac Cline who did know a storm was eminent, but at that point in time there was little they could do to withstand the gale-force winds and the heavy rainfall they knew would accompany it. Because of the extensive loss of life and the fact that Cline himself survived, although his wife and some of the children in their family did not, the facts of the storm became known as Isaac’s Storm both in books and in more recent years in a movie.

Bob Ullyott wanted me to find the book “Isaac’s Storm” by Erik Larsson, and both of us read it around the time another memorable storm hit the same coastline - that one was known as Hurricane Katrina which arrived 16 years ago last Sunday. Newsreels of that storm are still playing as the same area is now battling Hurricane Ida, thought to be one of the most devastating of the storms this year.

Before Katrina there were other memorable storms, but 2005 was a year I felt like I had landed in the eye of a different type of storm. Our church was packing mission kits and needed twenty sweaters to match the other items already purchased for the layette kits. The lady who had told us year after year that she had everything under control for the mission kits had died the end of July, and in August there were a few loose ends so to speak. While I did not read patterns and had given away the yarn I used for afghans, hats, scarves, and doll clothes, I had hoped to make a few of the sweaters and sat day after day listening to the reports of the devastating hurricane season while trying to make the sweaters. The project seemed as hopeless as evading the rising waters in Louisiana and Mississippi. Media pictures of the situation plus knowing the need that the mission kits could fill kept me working. Between August and Christmas advice and yarn from other churches and friends resulted in our making 100 sweaters which were shipped to the area where the storm had caused damage. A Lutheran project titled Rise Up and Build followed to help clean up the affected parts of the south, and several of the volunteers for that project came from our part of North Dakota. In the process we learned a bit more about these storms.

Some of the storms had names chosen by the local weather bureaus, but as the technology of tracking them became better the national or international bureaus began naming them in alphabetical order by the 1950s with initially all of the storms given female names. There are memories of forecasters being questioned on this and responding that, to date, none of the storms had been classed as “hisacanes”. There may have been a year with all male names and then they adopted the alternating male and female names beginning one year with Andrew and the next with Anna or something similar. Since the storms seem to grow in the middle of the season, the most devastating ones are usually mid-way down the alphabetical list with the letter “I” - infamous for severe storms. Since 2003, eight severe storms have had “I” names.

The 2021 listing begins with Ana, Bill, and Claudette - which were relatively mild - followed by Danny, Elsa (first time on the name list and in honor of a character in “Frozen”), Fred, Grace, Henri, and now Ida. The next storms coming up are designated Julian, Kate, and Larry. 2005, the year of Katrina, had two late and larger damaging storms with Rita and Wilma going into November and December. Global warming does seem to have an effect on the strength of the storms. They also feel that long hot summers and glaciers melting are signs of a very damaging season ahead.

Katrina was a storm that left us with indelible pictures of residents stranded on roof-tops, collapsed bridges and roads, whole areas swept out to sea along the gulf shorelines, and debris clogging some areas sixteen years later. People living in the paths of the storms are now more aware of the dangers, but each year there are lives lost often by those attempting to escape the storm or being trapped in a house which collapses around them after a day or two.

There is (or was) a copy of the book “Isaac’s Storm” at the library for those who have not read it or seen the movie. Erik Larsson books usually have long lists of references and documents that support his research so you will know this is not science fiction.

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