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Trojan Odyssey: A Dirk Pitt Novelby Clive Cussler
August 15, 2006
KEY WEST, FLORIDA
Dr. Heidi Lisherness was about to meet her husband for a night out on the town when she took one last cursory glance at the latest imagery collected by a Super Rapid Scan Operations satellite. A full-figured lady with silver-gray hair pulled back in a bun, Heidi sat at her desk in green shorts and matching top as a measure of comfort against the heat and humidity of Florida in August.
She came within a hair of simply shutting down her computer until the following morning. But there was an indiscernible something about the last image that came into her computer from the satellite over the Atlantic Ocean southwest of the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa. She sat down and gazed more intently into the screen of her monitor.
To the untrained eye the picture on the screen simply took on the appearance of a few innocent clouds drifting over an azure blue sea. Heidi saw a view more menacing. She compared the image with one taken only two hours earlier. The mass of cumulus clouds had increased in bulk more rapidly than any spawning storm she could remember in her eighteen years monitoring and forecasting tropical hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean with the National Underwater and Marine Agency Hurricane Center. She began enlarging the two images of the infant storm formation.
Her husband, Harley, a jolly-looking man with a walrus mustache, bald head and wearing rimless glasses, stepped into her office with an impatient look on his face. Harley was also a meteorologist. But he worked for the National Weather Service as an analyst on climatological data that was issued as weather advisories for commercial and private aircraft, boats and ships at sea. "What's keeping you?" he said, pointing impatiently at his watch. "I have reservations at the Crab Pot."
Without looking up, she motioned at the two side-by-side images on her computer. "These were taken two hours apart. Tell me what you see."
Harley examined them for a long moment. Then his brow furrowed and he repositioned his glasses before leaning closer for a more in-depth look. Finally, he looked at his wife and nodded. "One hell of a fast buildup."
"Too fast," said Heidi. "If it continues at the same rate, God only knows how huge a storm it will brew."
"You never know," said Harley thoughtfully. "She might come in like a lion and go out like a lamb. It's happened."
"True, but most storms take days, sometimes weeks, to build to this strength. This has mushroomed within hours."
"Too early to predict her direction or where she'll peak and do the most damage."
"I have a dire feeling this one will be unpredictable."
Harley smiled. "You will keep me informed as she builds?"
"The National Weather Service will be the first to know," she said, lightly slapping him on the arm.
"Thought of a name for your new friend yet?"
"If she becomes as nasty as I think she might, I'll call her Lizzie, after the ax murderess Lizzie Borden."
"A bit early in the season for a name beginning with L but it sounds fitting." Harley handed his wife her purse. "Time enough tomorrow to see what develops. I'm starved. Let's go eat some crab."
Heidi dutifully followed her husband from her office, switching off the light and closing the door. But the growing apprehension did not diminish as she slid into the seat of their car. Her mind wasn't on food. It dwelled on what she feared was a hurricane in the making that might very well reach horrendous proportions. A hurricane is a hurricane by any other name in the Atlantic Ocean. But not in the Pacific, where it is called a typhoon, nor the Indian, where it is known as a cyclone. A hurricane is the most horrendous force of nature, often exceeding the havoc caused by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, creating destruction over a far larger territory.
Like the birth of a human or animal, a hurricane requires an array of related circumstances. First, the tropical waters off the west coast of Africa are heated, preferably with temperatures exceeding eighty degrees Fahrenheit. Then, bake the water with the sun, causing vast amounts to evaporate into the atmosphere. This moisture rises into cooler air and condenses into masses of cumulus clouds while giving birth to wide-ranging rain and thunderstorms. This combination provides the heat that fuels the growing tempest and transforms it from infancy to puberty.
Now stir in spiraling air that whips around at speeds up to thirty-eight miles an hour, or thirty-three knots. These growing winds cause the surface air pressure to drop. The lower the drop the more intense the wind circulation as it whirls around in an ever-faster momentum until it forms a vortex. Feeding on the ingredients, the system, as it is called by meteorologists, has created an explosive centrifugal force that spins a solid wall of wind and rain around the eye that is amazingly calm. Inside the eye, the sun shines, the sea lies relatively calm and the only sign of the horrendous energy are the surrounding white frenzied walls reaching fifty thousand feet into the sky.
Until now, the system has been called a tropical depression, but once the winds hit 74 miles an hour it becomes a full-fledged hurricane. Then, depending on the wind velocities it puts out, it is given a scale number. Winds between 74 and 95 miles an hour is a Category 1 and considered minimal. Category 2 is moderate with winds up to 110. Category 3 blows from 111 to 130 and is listed as extensive. Winds up to 155 are extreme, as was Hurricane Hugo that eliminated most of the beach houses north of Charleston, South Carolina, in 1989. And finally, the granddaddy of them all, Category 5 with winds 155-plus. The last is labeled catastrophic, as was Hurricane Camille, which struck Louisiana and Mississippi in 1969. Camille left 256 dead in her wake, a drop in the bucket as compared to the 8,000 who perished in the great hurricane of 1900 that laid complete waste to Galveston, Texas. In terms of sheer numbers, the record is held by the 1970 tropical cyclone that stormed ashore in Bangladesh and left nearly half a million dead.
In terms of damage, the great hurricane of 1926 that devastated Southeast Florida and Alabama left a bill totaling $83 billion, allowing for inflation. Amazingly, only two hundred and forty-three died in that catastrophe.
What no one was counting on, including Heidi Lisherness, was that Hurricane Lizzie had a diabolic mind of her own and her coming fury was about to put the previous recorded Atlantic hurricanes to shame. In a short time, after bulking up on muscle, she would begin her murderous journey toward the Caribbean Sea to wreak chaos and havoc on everything she touched.
Copyright © 2003 Clive Cussler
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