4 out of 4 stars
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A blizzard of epic proportions devastated America’s east coast in 1888 when it unexpectedly struck weeks past the usual season for snow. Only one man saw it coming, a man who had spent years developing a system that was accurate far beyond what was available even for the Signal Service Corps – the agency responsible for weather forecasts and warnings. Ordered to keep silent about his system and his absurd prediction, Will Roebling told only his family and close friends. Then “The Great White Hurricane”, as this infamous blizzard is known, struck. Who of Will’s acquaintances took measures to prepare? Who trusted Will enough to believe in a coming doom that was so far from what any reasonable person would expect?
Timothy R. Minnich has written a novel that does justice to the incredible events of late 1888 in Blizzard!! The Great White Hurricane. He captured the atmosphere of the time in New York so well that I felt like I was following along with the characters in their lives. Not only did Minnich immerse us in the lifestyles and events of people in those days, he used spelling, grammar, and punctuation fitting for the times. Quotation marks were used differently, and the use of commas was in continual flux. An example is a question mark followed by a comma inside the quotation marks at the end of a spoken sentence. I’ve usually seen a double hyphen used in books published in those days, but as I said, comma usage was still debated. This is just another way Minnich pulls the reader into the late 1800s.
The book starts with a lot of meteorological and forecasting information, some quite technical. It was fascinating enough to make me go look up more. This caught my attention: That’s the height in the atmosphere throughout which the horizontal velocity divergence is zero. Really? Zero? I had to go find out more about a layer that apparently doesn’t interact with the other layers.
The characters are wonderfully detailed with actions suited to their personalities. I enjoyed Will’s attempts at romance and his conversations with his older female landlady who was happy to give him advice. Office politics, survival information, friendships, questions of ethics, and of course, plenty of suspense are here as we follow not only Will’s life, but also those of his friends, his co-workers, and others he met due to the trauma of those days.
I highly recommend this to anyone interested in history, weather, and the question of whether or not “I was just following orders” is a good defense. It was quite difficult to believe Will wouldn’t do his best to inform the public about the impending danger of this horrific blizzard. Once I thought more about it, I acknowledged that military members absolutely must obey without question because those of higher rank usually have information that the lower ranks do not. Adding to that, weather forecasting technology at the time was not entirely reliable, which meant that it would be a rare person who would believe him.
This definitely gets a well-deserved 4 out of 4 stars. I was so engrossed while reading that, when my roommate interrupted my reading once to say it was time to go, I actually almost said, “We’re not going out in that, are you crazy?”
Blizzard!! The Great White Hurricane
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