With Joe Bastardi stating an opening for an east coast hurricane is possible the next three weeks, it might be timely to submit this semi-humorous look at the dangers of an east coast hurricane versus the dangers of heeding Bill McKibben's Alarmism, from the view of a writer criticizing a writer, rather than a scientist criticizing a scientist.
Guest post by Caleb Shaw
I would like to venture two predictions which I believe have a, (as they say,) "high degree of probability" of proving true.
The first is that a terrible hurricane, as bad as the ferocious 1938 "Long Island Express,"
will roar north and bisect New England. True, it might not happen for over a hundred years, but it also might happen this September. The fact is, 1938 showed us what could happen. 1938 set the precedent.
My second prediction is that if such a storm happens this September, it will not matter if it a Xerox copy of the 1938 storm; Bill McKibben will call it "Unprecedented."
It really makes me wonder: Why on earth would such a seemingly smart person want to make such a total fool of himself? How can McKibben call so many events "unprecedented' when all you need to do is open a history book, and you can see so many other prior storms set precedents?
It leaves the poor fellow, despite his Harvard education and obvious altruistic impulses, wide open for attack from people far less educated. I could have made mincemeat of his arguments when I was only twelve, (and had very few altruistic bones in my body.)
At age twelve my interest in hurricanes was largely motivated by two things: First, hurricanes made things go crash, smash and boom, and I was the sort of kid who could endure "The Bridge Over The River Kwai," (including the intermission,) just for the train wreck at the end. (I was not alone. It might not be politically correct, but the entire theater burst into wild cheering and applause, when that train finally, finally wrecked.)
The second reason was that a hurricane might cancel school. I hated school. McKibben apparently loved what I loathed, for he went to Harvard, and there became ignorant where I became wise, for he doesn't even know what I knew at age twelve: The precedent has already been set. Wicked awesome hurricanes have hit New England in the past.
I hoped they'd happen again, but they never did. When I wondered why not, and studied the subject, (which McKibben seemingly has failed to do,) I ran across books by a meteorologist-historian named David Ludlum, who spoke of the time after 1960 as the "quiescent present." This suggested there were lulls in the activity of hurricanes in New England, and also active times. In other words, long before I had heard of such things as the AMO or PDO or sunspot minimums, I grasped the concept of "cycles."
I was disappointed to learn that New England might be spared force-three hurricanes for periods of time so long that people actually forgot major hurricanes ever did more than clip Cape Cod. During such long lulls an amnesia set in: Authorities stated, "New England is never hit by hurricanes," shortly before the 1938 monster hit. But that was only because they didn't study the past as David Ludlum did, didn't know of Saxby's Gale in 1815, or the Great Colonial Hurricanes of the 1600's. Those long-ago hurricanes set the precedent, and in many ways 1938 was just a copy.
Because hurricanes refused to happen after 1960, and refused to let me observe disaster first hand, at first I could only quench my boyish thirst for mayhem by reading boring books. I studied how the most powerful hurricanes had wrecked things in the past, and discovered a second thing that McKibben seems oblivious of. It is the simple fact that one of the ways the ecology of an area can be seriously damaged has nothing to do with man: Mother Nature does it.
McKibben seems to feel Nature exists in a steady state, and man is a thug who walks about wrecking things: Nature is balanced, and man is unbalanced. In actual fact the so-called "balance of nature" takes some very wild swings, often at mankind's jaw, and also at ecology's. Either Mother Nature is not the prissy twinkle-toes McKibben envisions, or else she has a Brother Nature who loves to splash and crash and smash, just as joyfully as a schoolboy.
McKibben can lecture all he wants about the proper maintenance and care of a forest, but a hurricane can come along and flatten the whole thing in an hour. Thick pines get snapped like match sticks, as anyone who saw what Hugo did north of Charleston can attest to. The same sort of blow-downs have happened, and can happen, in New England. When they happen the so-called "delicate ecology" of a forest gets hammered. The populations of some bugs, birds and beasts crash, as others soar. However this is not "unprecedented." This is reality.
Perhaps McKibben can be forgiven for failing to understand reality. He grew up in one of those unreal, sheltered places called a "suburb," where you are protected from nasty inner-city stuff. I grew up in a similar suburb, around eight miles away, and can attest to the fact Boston's suburbs can bore a boy to tears. Fortunately I grew up eight years before McKibben, and could escape suburbs due to a wonderful form of public transportation that existed back then, called "hitchhiking." You could go anywhere for free, and it was surprisingly safe (back then,) and all that was asked of you was that you tell tales, and listen to tales.
This enabled me to skip the bother of books. If the ride was long enough, (and I wandered from Montreal to Florida,) I could usually work the subject around to hurricanes, and get first hand accounts, not merely of hurricanes, but of Pacific typhoons. It makes me feel sorry for McKibben, for he got stuck in the rarified armchairs of Harvard and the New Yorker Magazine, and seemingly missed meeting the real salt-of-the-earth people who have been on boats in the bowels of a hurricane, or have fought the floods, or have battled to survive the jackstraw aftermaths. It is from such first-hand-accounts you learn the most, and see the precedent that has been set, and know something of what to expect.
It turns out that if you really want to learn about how a hurricane can destroy an ecology, you should ask a clam-digger on Cape Cod. Back in 1968 you could learn, from such fellows, of the 1938 Long Island Express, the 1944 Great Atlantic Hurricane
, 1954's trio of Carol, Edna and Hazel
, the amazing drenching rains of 1955's Connie and Diane
, of Donna in 1960
, and of the pounding surf caused by the bizarre loop of Esther in 1961
I was, of course, green with envy hearing about all the crashing and smashing and splashing I missed (or was too young to remember,) but right then a grizzled old timer would use a word you don't hear any more, "'Pshaw." He'd say Esther's pounding surf "t'weren't nothing, compared to 1893."
Look up the hurricane season of 1893
, when there were four full-fledged hurricanes prowling the Atlantic at the same time, with a fifth that barely missed making the quartet a quintet. It matched the 1998 Atlantic hurricane season
, when 4 Atlantic hurricanes were active on the same day. Then imagine the total fit McKibben would have, if the exact same season happened today. He would insist it was "unprecedented," and even if it was a carbon copy he would say it was all due to carbon dioxide.
However McKibben would likely then go even further.
It turns out shorelines are mobile things, and that the vast estuaries of salt marsh behind dunes are very vulnerable to the dramatic changes hurricanes bring about. Not only can dunes be shoved inland and smother marshes, but inlets get filled in as new inlets are abruptly gouged, and the brackish water behind the dunes can be made poisonously salty by inrushes of ocean, or poisonously fresh by feet of rainfall, and the ecology of the marsh gets hammered, with crashes in the populations of clams, bay scallops, oysters, and blue claw crabs. But would McKibben blame nature, if such a population-crash happened today? Not likely. He would likely jump to the conclusion man was the culprit.
Actually it turns out that, (once man outgrows his boyish delight in mayhem,) man is not all that fond of disaster, nor of the ruin of ecosystems that his livelihood depends upon. Man actually tries to built dikes and stop the sea. And here is where a real bad entity, according to McKibben, appears: The US Army Corp of Engineers.
(I don't know where McKibben gets off bad-mouthing engineers, especially when he himself is trying to engineer the entire planet's climate.)
The simple fact of the matter is engineers are given a thankless and fairly hopeless task: They are asked to control the awesome powers of nature. They, more than anyone else, know how rivers want to meander and shorelines want to shift. Their geologists often write the best papers about the forces of Nature, the power of Nature, the wrath of Nature, and the whimsical ways Nature wants to go the opposite way of ways that makes life easier for man. Unlike McKibben, engineers have first hand experience with how fine-sounding plans and altruistic desires go awry. Rather than "The Law of Unintended Consequences," they tend to simply call it "Murphy's Law." The amazing thing is not that, despite their best efforts, shorelines do shift and rivers do meander, but rather that so many disasters are averted.
One disaster they have managed to prevent (so far) involves the fact that the Mississippi River dumps 406 million tons of dirt at its mouth every year. (I'm not sure how many Manhattans that is.) As the water slows nearing the sea, the dirt settles out, not only building up the delta, but also building up the river's bed and the floodplains, until the mouth of the river gets to be higher than the river upstream, whereupon the river decides not to flow uphill, but rather to take a new route to the sea. In the case of the Mississippi the new route would be the Atchafalaya River. The Mississippi likely wanted to take that new route seventy years ago, which would have been an economic and ecological disaster for New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and the Delta. You don't just stop delivering 406 million tons of dirt a year, and expect a delta to not wash away, (even as a new delta grows to the west.)
In essence Mother Nature wants everyone to pack up and move. Not merely humans, but entire ecosystems. In the process it will not matter to her if historic districts vanish, along with the habitat of various endangered critters. A few creatures might even be unable to make the shift west, and go extinct, (in which case Mother Nature might get a tongue lashing from McKibben.)
In the face of this perhaps inevitable shift in the course of the Mississippi stand a group of puny engineers, who seem to catch hell no matter what they do. People upstream get mad if they allow erosion to occur, while people in the delta want more than the allotted 406 million tons of eroded dirt delivered each year, and get mad if shorelines wash away. The entire city of New Orleans is settling down into the dirt. Even as attempts to keep it a viable port involve dredging away dirt, dirt needs to be added. Engineers face delightful examples of Murphy's Law such as the MRGO channel, which was 650 feet wide when dug, but rapidly eroded to 1500 feet wide. Then the very same people who demanded engineers build that channel accused the poor engineers of contributing to Katrina's flooding.
Before Katrina, politicians demanded more money for levees, but the money strangely vanished in "administering" the levees, and the engineers didn't get enough to build with. Even more money needed to be spent on lawsuits with environmentalists who didn't like levees. Prior to Katrina the engineers were pointing out the precedent set by the 1947 hurricane, (and three earlier storms,) and the dangers New Orleans faced if levees weren't strengthened, but guess who got the blame, when the levees failed during Katrina?
Then along comes McKibben, after the fact, and he states the Katrina was "unprecedented." She wasn't. She was only force-three, and a force-four storm had hit New Orleans in earlier times. If anything was unprecedented, it was the bureaucratic bungling of people who were entrusted with preparing for the storm, and also McKibben's post-storm audacity.
Perhaps McKibben can be excused for using the word "unprecedented" so frequently, because no two snowflakes are alike, and this mean every snowflake is unprecedented, and unlike any snowflake that ever came before. However it is how he uses the word that irks me. He uses it like a bludgeon, to threaten people with, always ignoring factors that might allow people to relax. For example, while discussing Katrina he never mentions that other storms may have been as powerful, when they were as far out to sea as Katrina was when she reached level-five, but back when earlier storms blew up there were no satellites or storm-hunter aircraft to measure such storms with. He often follows his spiel about Katrina with a mention that Wilma, that same season, set "an Atlantic Ocean record for barometric lows," failing to mention that a sailing ship of the old days could not possibly measure such a storm, because they were destroyed.
None of us wants to be destroyed by a storm, but none of us wants to be panicked into a purchase either, which is what McKibben's railings often strike me as doing. Over and over he works himself up into a tizzy, promoting a sales-pitch he insists we must accept because "the offer expires soon," but I've endured too many commercials in my time to fall for that, especially when his evidence includes stuff I knew was false when I was twelve.
Part of the sales-pitch seems extremely ungrateful to me. In order to heap up the grotesquely one-sided and inaccurate evidence he employs, he need to get the evidence from somewhere, and often he gets the evidence from papers writen by, or including references to, the very same engineer-geologists he later scorns and derides as being know-nothings.
No engineer wants the humiliation of building something that falls down, and therefore they are constantly seeking how Murphy's Law might ruin what they build. This involves imagining their constructs being exposed to a worse-case-scenario, and in New England this involves hurricanes. In fact, if you want to become alarmed by what could possibly go wrong, engineers are often the people you should consult. It is due to engineers that much of our knowledge of coastal erosion and other geologies-in-flux exist. It was engineers who first had the need for the core samples from marshes, which show us layers of sand in the peat, which hint of monster hurricanes that occurred before history was written.
New England has a written history longer than other parts of the United States, including a record of floods along the Connecticut River clear back to the 1600's. Such floods had never exceeded 30 feet, until the 1938 hurricane, whose flood was truly "unprecedented," for its flood crested at 35 feet above normal.
A simple-minded conclusion would be that floods were getting worse, and levees must be built higher. (Another would be that the 1938 hurricane was a rare, once-every-400-year event, and nothing needed to be done for 399 years.) However the engineers looked into the problem, and came up with an amazing reason for the unprecedented floods. The reason the 1938 floods were worse had to do with the changing fashions of men's hats.
In the early 1800's men decided powdered wigs were no longer hip, and stove-pipe hats (such as the one Abraham Lincoln is often pictured wearing) were wicked groovy. These hats were made of the fur of beavers, which were then hunted nearly to extinction in the tributaries and headwaters of the Connecticut River. Thousands of beaver dams, which had formerly held back flood waters, no longer existed, and floods became worse.
Now, where do you suppose McKibben would go with that? Would he suggest engineers build flood-control reservoirs to replace the missing beaver dams? Or would he gnash his teeth about how mankind screws everything up, and how people should be moved out, and their towns be demolished as beavers were reintroduced?
Actually engineers suggested some older dams in New England should be torn down. Water power was no longer as economical as it had been, many old mills had gone bankrupt, and their mill ponds stood behind dams that were not maintained and were crumbling. Some dams had barely held through the 1938 storm. Unfortunately funds were not available, due to a major wars keeping engineers occupied overseas until the Korean War wound down in 1954. By then it was too little too late, as Connie and Dianne hit in 1955.
In parts of Southern New England Connie and Dianne's rainfall approached two feet, (which was "unprecedented,") and some old dams collapsed. Forty percent of Worchester was under water, and in places where the Blackstone River usually is seventy feet wide it grew to a width of a mile and a half. Despite the fact the rain was not as heavy to the north, the Connecticut River crested above thirty feet for the second time in its history. Even the meek Charles River reached "unprecedented" levels, and one of my earliest memories is of my mother looking out the window at that river in the back yard as the rain poured and poured and poured, and of her murmuring to herself, "What a rain!"
That got the engineers cracking, and, over the next decade and a half, New England's system of flood-control reservoirs appeared. I know a little about it, as my grandfather was an engineer, though he was more focused on Boston's storm drains. I know for a fact he was concerned about the environment, and was downright apologetic about a design flaw in Boston's system. When the storm drains originally were put in, it was quite normal for sewerage to flow into rivers, and when storm drains were overwhelmed by excessive rainfall the overflow went through the sewer systems, which was a good way of flushing the sewers out, until people started thinking sewerage should be kept separate and be treated. Murphy's Law had reared its head, and a design which once had been elegant and efficient now had to be reengineered, at great expense to the tax-payer. Mistakes like that made my grandfather cringe.
The new system of flood control reservoirs didn't make him cringe, because before the man died it had been tested by heavy rains, (which in localized areas were "unprecedented.") They work. It is highly unlikely the Connecticut will ever crest over thirty feet again. This is not only due to the engineer's dams, but also due to the fact that beavers, (without asking McKibben's permission,) have reintroduced themselves in New England, even to a degree where they cause flooding and are a nuisance in the very suburb McKibben grew up in. Also white tailed deer have returned to become a nuisance, eating people's flowering crabs, and, because hunting them is difficult in such close proximity to picture windows, coyote have returned to eat deer, and also to eat cats and small dogs, and occasionally to snarl at joggers. All in all, suburbs sound a lot more exciting than they were when I grew up, and when McKibben learned to detest them.
Besides controlling floods, engineers have worked with the more reasonable environmentalists to improve New England's rivers. The tidal basin of the Charles River used to hold dyes from factories up stream, and I can recall, during a long drought that afflicted New England in the 1960's, that the water in the Charles River's tidal basin was actually purple. It also reeked. It took guts to be a member of the Harvard crew, and row in that sludge. Now it is clean and the fish are returning. In other rivers salmon are returning, and engineers are working to remove older dams, and to design fish-ladders around dams that remain.
It seems clear to me that we are better off when we work with engineers to foresee what the future's threats might be, and to allow engineers to take steps that remove the threats, and enhance that which we enjoy.
If a hurricane as powerful as the 1938 monster returns this September, the wisdom of some of our developments will be tested. We have, after all, built cottages on dunes that tend to shift, despite breakwaters, and we have built neighborhoods on floodplains that are called floodplains because they flood, even with flood-control reservoirs upstream. Now that I am too old to enjoy the mayhem I yearned to see as a youth, I'd see it, and also see all sorts of examples of Murphy's Law.
It is important to consider Murphy's Law, when preparing for a storm. You prepare for the worst even while (if you are old) you hope no mayhem occurs. There are some things I think New Englanders should consider, but, before I go one word further I should do something McKibben fails to do, and state I am not an engineer. I don't truly know what I'm talking about.
One thing you're told over and over, as a writer, is that "you should write about what you know." It is close to being a Commandment.
Thinking about this, look at the start of McKibben's essay, "A Deeper Shade Of Green
," which appeared in the August, 2006 National Geographic (which had the tabloid headlines: "No End In Sight." "KILLER HURRICANES," and "New Orleans: Home No More.") McKibben begins with:
"This is the year we finally started to understand what we are in for. Exactly 12 months ago, an MIT professor named Kerry Emanuel published a paper in Nature showing hurricanes had slowly but steadily been gaining in strength and duration for a generation. It didn't gain widespread attention for a few weeks - not until Katrina roared across the Gulf of Mexico and..."
It may be a splendid introduction and demonstrate McKibben's skill at writing, but it annoyed the heck out of me at the time, because I'd been expecting, (due to my belief in "cycles,") the 2005 season to be like the 1933 season, which set the old record of 20 hurricanes in a year. McKibben's intro gave the impression of being precise, "Exactly 12 months ago," even while blurring things, "for a generation," and he failed to mention the precedent of 1933 at all.
However I now notice something else. In his intro McKibben is breaking the commandment, "Write about what you know about." He obviously hasn't studied the history of hurricanes, and is only repeating what others have told him. He uses the "appeal to authority," unaware that if you only repeat what Kerry Emanuel tells you, you are little more than a parrot, and, if Kerry is merely using you, you are in danger of being a puppet. To put it most bluntly, when a writer, even a gifted writer, relies on others rather than himself, he is in grave danger of being nothing but a dupe.
I was already aware of McKibben's alarmism before that article appeared. After all, the suggestion that Katrina proved that CO2 caused hurricanes was being spoken by Kerry Emanuel before Katrina even hit. It seemed a lie to me for anyone to state that hurricanes had become different, when there were so many examples of precedents in history books. It also seemed, due to my belief in "cycles," that, if the 1938 hurricane hit five years after the 1933 season, we should prepare for 1938-like monster to bisect New England exactly 5 years after 2005, in 2010. (FAIL.) However what aggravated me most was McKibben's absurd assertion that the way to prepare for a hurricane was to buy curly light bulbs, wobble about on bicycles, and live crunched cheek-to-jowl like students in a Harvard dorm (even as he himself enjoyed his gentleman-farmer, Vermont country-life.)
Therefore, back in 2006, I decided to out-McKibben Mckibben, and to incite a riot, (or at least alarm,) by yelling "fire" in a crowded theater, but by doing so in a way that didn't mention CO2 at all. Part of my essay was as follows, (and engineers will have to excuse me for writing about what I don't know about.)
"...Next time you drive down our shady streets, look up at the electrical wires, and imagine 10% of our beautiful trees blown onto those wires. (On some hills, imagine 100%.) Also understand there are far more trees in New England now than in 1938, (and far fewer roadside elms, which withstood wind better.) We tend to gripe when the electricity is off for six hours. Can you handle six days? How about sixteen? Or even six weeks?
Our builders have displayed amnesia for fifty years, and have built on riversides that were under twenty feet of water, and on dunes that were below raging storm tides, and atop hills that were scoured by winds over a hundred miles an hour. Add some shade trees crashing onto roofs, and we are likely to have some homeless neighbors, if we are not homeless ourselves.
We have also become far more dependant on computers and cell phones. Look carefully at the flat receivers up in cell-phone towers, and imagine them stressed as winds rise past a hundred. (In 1954 the WBZ radio tower was blown over by Carol
, resulting in new building codes for such towers.) Will we be able to telephone anyone, after a storm?
Cell phone companies go through great efforts to keep their receivers firmly anchored atop sturdy towers. Receivers must be able to withstand stresses such as thick, heavy, winter ice, for the receivers must be very carefully aimed to transmit correctly. The companies are aware of the power of wind, and competition forces them to try to be better than each other at repairing receivers bent ever-so-slightly out-of-line by hurricane-force winds. After storms their crews race each other to be back-on-line first, transporting mobile generators, and even mobile receivers, however repairs can be slowed if fallen trees and flooding make roads impassable. After a major hurricane one should therefore expect to have no phones for a while, besides having no electricity.
This sort of alarmist talk worries some, if only because they figure insurance companies may raise rates, if they hear about risks. However insurance companies should perhaps worry less about our barking dogs, and instead focus more on the integrity of their own high-rises. Both the Prudential Building and John Hancock Tower in Boston were built after the last major hurricane and before building codes became as strict as they now are. Both structures had design flaws that were exposed after construction, and old-timers can remember the windows popping out of the John Hancock Tower at such an alarming rate that the sky-scraper was more or less sheathed in plywood. Lastly, due to the experience of "The Big Dig," Bostonians are not entirely confident builders obey codes, even when codes exist and engineers respect them. Alarmists can therefore gloat about the situation insurance companies now find themselves in; after all, one of their skyscrapers falling down does a lot more damage than a barking dog.
Anyone who has been up in high-rises during a gale knows they do sway in a most alarming manner. One then hopes the engineers knew what they were doing, and also wonders what fatigue occurs to the metal and concrete which form a high-rise's trunk and roots, especially as decades of winter gales blast it, and the swaying building ages. (The 1978 blizzard's peak winds gusted to 125 mph on Cape Cod
.) Lastly, one knows the codes have become more strict, and one then wonders if this means the older buildings are suspect; after all, codes are made more stringent for definite reasons.
In actual fact no engineer wants his name attached to a building which comes crashing down, and the engineering that goes into such massive structures is amazing and, to some degree, reassuring. A building like the John Hancock Tower sticks up like a huge, flat sail, and therefore must have a huge keel, and it turns out high-rises are imbedded into astounding amounts of reinforced concrete. Such buildings are designed to withstand winds 25% higher than the worst ever recorded, in the area they are built.
However, if you are a true alarmist, you hesitate at those words: "The worst ever recorded." The worst winds recorded in Boston are recorded at Logan Airport, down at sea level. The tops of high-rises thrust up into winds which are far higher. Considering the force exerted by wind increases roughly 100% with every ten mph, construction costs also increase greatly if one builds a structure to withstand a wind only ten mph higher. Besides the pressure of wind, engineers also face the pressure of budgets, and therefore must decide "what they can get away with." Their decisions have been excellent so far, for wind has never toppled a high-rise, however a true alarmist notes no high-rise has yet been truly tested, especially in the north, where codes are not as demanding. No high-rise has yet faced a direct hit from a F-5 tornado, and Boston's have never been tested by a major hurricane.
Recalling the words, "the worst ever recorded," one hurries back to the data, and discovers there is no data involving a worst-case-scenario. A worst-case-scenario would take a major hurricane through Boston's western suburbs; when Donna took that route in 1960 it had been downgraded to tropical-storm status. The next closest pass was the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944, however it passed to the east, with its most devastating east-side winds away from Boston, over Cape Cod. The worst hurricanes of the last 30-year-stormy-cycle, the 1938 storm and Carol in 1954, both passed west of Worchester; however the 1938 storm, even with its center over the Connecticut River, was still able to sustain winds of 73 miles per hour, with gusts to 87, at Boston's Logan Airport
. One wonders what it's winds were like at the altitude of Boston's high-rises, and a true alarmist glances south to the summit of the Blue Hills, just south of Boston. At an altitude of 681 feet, on September 21, 1938, the Blue Hills anemometer registered steady winds of 121 mph, with gusts to 186.
If one transposes the tracks of Carol or the 1938 hurricane east, so they pass through the western suburbs of Boston, the city's high-rises would be exposed to tremendous stresses. When I asked an engineer whether such buildings were designed to withstand winds of 186 miles per hour, his reply was, flatly, "No." He did add that it was likely a high-rise's windows would give out before the steel beams, and stress would be greatly reduced once the wind could pass through the structure, rather than around it. I found this reassuring. It is much better to have glass, copiers, office desks, computers and filing cabinets raining down onto the streets of Boston, than to have it be entire buildings...."
Well? Does my writing out-McKibben McKibben? Are you alarmed? Should I be selling insurance?
At the very least my essay should provoke a response. Hopefully it will provoke preparations other than buying curly light bulbs, if a hurricane starts up the coast and, unlike Irene, doesn't dawdle over cold shelf waters, but rather stays out over the warm Gulf Stream, accelerates northward to over 50 mph, and only hooks inland at the last minute, like the 1938 monster.
However my writing likely also deserves the response of a good slap-down from engineers, and I deserve to be told to practice what I preach, and to "stick with writing what I know about."
If McKibben would only write what he knows about, he might avoid saying foolish things, like he did last year when he stated Irene had Global Warming at her core. The joke of it was that, due to dawdling over cold shelf waters and ingesting drier air from inland, Irene's eye wall collapsed and she soon didn't even have a core. Was McKibben subconsciously stating Global Warming's core was a nothing, like Irene's was?
If McKibben wrote what he knows about one thing he would write about is what growing up in the suburbs of Boston was like. I actually strongly agree with a lot of his views on that subject. Suburbs were suppose to be a green paradise, but always struck me as a hollow vacuum. However just because I don't like them, and moved on, gives me no reason to outlaw others from choosing to build them and live in them, should they desire to do so. Instead I should state what I find objectionable, and describe an alternative. McKibben does this rather well, but doesn't seem to like the fact people ignore him, and do what they please. It's a free country, but at times he seems to disapprove of freedom.
McKibben should also write autobiographical books, one describing Harvard when he attended it, and another describing the New Yorker Magazine and the changes it went through when he worked there. Those were two weird worlds, and I'm sure people would be fascinated.
Of considerable interest would be another book about the world of environmentalists. He wouldn't have to say whether he feels his trust was misplaced, or whether he feels his considerable talents were misused, or whether Emanuel played him for a dupe. A simple description of the world where some scientists got rich as others went hungry, and some writers got fame, fortune and flattery as others knew poverty, would suffice.
However one thing McKibben absolutely should not write about is the subject of hurricanes. It only makes him look odd, like Paul Revere galloping down the streets in the dead of night shouting, "Buy curly light bulbs! Buy curly light bulbs!"