Over all of the years since I started in the TV weather business I have had particular presentations for schools and other public speaking engagements that I really enjoyed explaining to the audience. We are often so preoccupied with our own lives and interests that we only want what we would call good, pleasant, and even perfect weather for whatever we happen to be doing. I have always been a fan of history, not memorizing the dates but hearing the fantastic stories from days of old. My source for these stories is a paperback book written by Patrick Hughes called “American Weather Stories” and was published by the U.S Department of Commerce through NOAA’s Environmental Data Service. I’ll do my best to write this just as I would tell these three stories to a room full of people not knowing what to expect from me.
Christopher Columbus has been credited with “discovering America” even though he never set foot on the North American continent. The author relates the tale of Columbus’ return from his 4th and last voyage to the new world in the summer of 1502. He was with a group of thirty ships and was returning to Spain after having sold all of his Island properties in the new world. This was to be his retirement nest egg.
The fleet was led by a Spaniard named Francisco de Bobadilla. As they approached the Island of Hispaniola they saw the signs that a hurricane was approaching. They asked for safe harbor to ride out the storm, but the Harbor Master refused the request. Bobadilla sailed the fleet away heading for Spain. Columbus took his ship to a small island cove to ride out the storm. The crummy ship they gave Columbus survived the storm and he sailed on to Spain. Out of the 30 ships that left with Bobadilla twenty of them were sunk in the storm losing over 500 men and obviously the gold and other cargo they contained. I have imagined a more detailed back-story that explains what really happened. Bobadilla was considered a mortal enemy of Columbus. My guess is that he resented Admiral Columbus and his influence over King Ferdinand and especially Queen Isabella. This upstart Italian had all of the financial backing and recognition while the Spaniard who thought that he should get his country’s praise went wanting. He could have pulled off the same thing as Columbus, but instead went off headstrong into oblivion. What was good weather for one was bad weather for the other. I go back to the famous Ben Franklin quote: “Some people are weather wise and some are otherwise.” Ignore the weather and you may be risking it all. Respect the weather and you may live another day.
Weather, specifically another hurricane, played a big roll in making one of the most famous pairings in history. Let’s go back to the Island of Martinique in the French West Indies and a small village called Trois Islets.
It is the month of August in 1766. On the 13th of the month the village was demolished by a powerful hurricane. A wealthy planter named Joseph-Gaspard Tascher lost everything in that storm and now his family, that had standing and influence on the island, was suddenly poor. One of his daughters, Marie Josephine Rose Tascher, decided to go back to France rather than stick it out with her now poor family. A gutsy move on her part and a monumental turning point for her life. She later married, but her first husband wasn’t the one to help make her famous. Rather, it was her second husband that made her a household name throughout the world then and now. That man later became the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and she was his Empress Josephine.
One of the first hurricane-related stories I encountered that included an American is about a young man, 15-years-of-age who wrote a letter to his father describing a hurricane that struck the Island of St. Croix in the West Indies. (I guess if you don’t like hurricanes you shouldn’t live in the West Indies.) The storm ravaged the Island August 31, 1772. Here is just a snippet of his letter that belies his young age. “Good God! what horror and destruction! It is impossible for me to describe it or for you to form any idea of it. It seemed as if a total dissolution of nature was taking place. The roaring of the sea and wind, fiery meteors flying about in the air, the prodigious glare of almost perpetual lightning, the crash of falling houses, and the ear-piercing shrieks of of the distressed were sufficient to strike astonishment into Angels.” The local planters were so impressed by his description that they took up a collection to send him to school in America. He attended King’s College (Columbia University now) in New York in 1774 just as the revolutionary war preparations were being made. Oh, his name was Alexander Hamilton.
If it weren’t for that hurricane we probably would not have had the benefit of Hamilton’s great leadership when our fledgling country needed it most. Hamilton was our first Secretary of the Treasury, aide-de-camp to General George Washington during the Revolutionary War, and not so proudly died after being shot in a duel by Aaron Burr.
There are many weather-related stories that show how other events could have turned out differently, but I will save some of them for a future column. Just a little tease for that column is that the stories relate to the death of one president by violence and another by what I believe to be his own ignorance. Just some food for thought.
Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].