I am reading R. A. Scotti’s Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938, lent to me by a friend. It reads like a mystery and I am enjoying it. An early chapter, “A Perfect Day” describes Westerly, Rhode Island, and a little of its history and local flavor. I have lived in or near Westerly at various times in my life…about 20 years total, so lot of the history, topography and culture is familiar to me, but I was surprised to read this:
The first of Westerly’s natural assets is bluish granite, considered by many to have the finest texture in the world. (I knew that much). In the nineteenth century when the Smith Granite Company, Westerly’s first and largest quarry, was buzzing, skilled stonecutters from northern Italy were imported to carve Civil War monuments and gravestones. Eighty percent of the memorials for both Yankee and Confederate soldiers are built of Westerly blue granite, and the masons who carved them established the roots of an Italian community that remains strong to this day.
The author is so engaging that I was almost unaware that she was slowly explaining weather patterns and how and why hurricanes form. And sometimes she throws in a little philosophy. For instance:
The official gauge of a hurricane’s destructive force is the Saffir-Simpson Damage Potential Scale. Storms are measured according to sustained wind speed, storm surge height, and barometric pressure and classified on a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being “catastrophic.” Only one Category 5 storm had ever reached the continental United States–Labor Day 1935. The Labor Day hurricane had been a tightly coiled tropical cyclone–small, swift, and singularly nasty. The Hurricane of 1938 was shaping up to be a big, sprawling mother storm–some five hundred miles in diameter, as big as the state of Ohio.
Although Galileo proved long ago that man is not the center of the universe, we tend to take weather personally. If it rains, it is raining on our parade. If it shines, it is shining for our benefit. Most days we go along blithely unconcerned that directly over our heads is a vast, never static sea of gases that we can’t control and only partially understand. That gaseous ocean is immense and mysterious, yet we largely ignore it until weather as formidable as an extreme hurricane strikes and we face a force infinitely mightier and more savage than ourselves.
It is a fascinating read.