© 1997, Arthur Herzog
L*S*I*T*T* (in softcover: Takeover)
Glad to Be Here
Make Us Happy
How to Write Almost Anything Better and Faster
Seventeen Days: The Katie Beers Story
The Woodchipper Murder
Vesco: From Wall Street to Castro's Cuba
The B. S. Factor
McCarthy for President
The Church Trap
The War/Peace Establishment
The author wishes to thank the following organizations and
individuals for their invaluable advice and technical help.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: Dr. J.
Murray Mitchell, Ed Weigel, NOAA Geophysical Dynamics
Laboratory, Princeton, New Jersey; Harold Frazer, NOAA
Environmental Research Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado: Carl A.
Posey, Sam O. Honess.
Institute for Environmental Studies, University of
Wisconsin: John Ross, Drs. Alden McClellan, E. W. Wahl.
National Academy of Sciences: Drs. Charles E. Fritz, John
Center for the Study of Short-Lived Phenomena, Smithsonian
Institution: Charles Citron, Shirley Maina, David Squire, James
C. Cornel. I might note that the Center, with reports on
natural events, partially inspired CRISES.
National Center for Atmospheric Research: Dr. Stephen
Dr. Jerry Grey, Brad Byers, Mae Megaha, Charles Crum, Dr.
Gregory Herzog, Naomi Rubenstein, William E. Bernard, Jr., Judy
Peiffer, Dr. Michael Bad, Diana Grant.
Special thanks to Drs. Mitchell and Grey and to Ross
Wetzsteon and Don McKinney for reading the manuscript.
And especially to Dr. Perry.
We have seen that when a people in peril can save themselves
only at the cost of a quick and dramatic change in their habits
and beliefs, they usually prefer to perish.
L. Sprague and Catherine de Camp
Citadels of Mystery
Misty Dawn. Gray ocean. A colorless cloud covered a distant
mountaintop like a ragged hat.
Tito rested at the tiller while José, Carlos and Joao
brooded by the lines. Normally six men worked the stubby craft
but the two cousins had jobs in Funchal that day and didn't want
to come. The brothers had gone to sea anyway, because four
could handle the traineira when the water was calm and the
The cousins were right not to sail, Tito thought bitterly.
He himself did not enjoy working as a laborer, but at least the
cousins would be paid. He glared at the flat gray sea. At one
time, a line with one hundred hooks brought up fifteen espada or
more and you needed a crew of six to pull them up. The ocean,
generous then, was selfish now. The brothers had drifted since
midnight, dropping the weighted lines, retrieving, rebaiting the
hooks with squid, dropping the lines once more, and all the
ocean had yielded was a meager pile of black fish, hardly enough
for the brothers Pestana to feed their families.
This was their last attempt before they went back to port.
The spada swam more than half a mile down and the fishermen had
the lines out to the last foot, deeper than they had tried
during the night, deeper than was usually needed. But Tito felt
desperate. there had to be many espada taking the bait even
then. The ocean could not continue to be so cruel....
The Portuguese seized an espada almost angrily. Named for
the sword, it looked more like a club when held by the tail. To
Tito, the fish had always seemed like an accident of God. It
had the large head, wide mouth and brutally sharp teeth of a
barracuda. the body was almost that of an eel, three feet long
or more, three inches high and only a half-inch thick. The
peculiar shape, he believed was due to the ocean pressure under
which the animal lived.
Still, though ugly, the black creatures made good eating
and the islanders prized them. Tito could have sold catches
many times as large as the one before him. But even in good
years, espada weren't really plentiful. If they had been,
Madeira could have exported them like its sweet wines. But as
far as Tito knew, the espada swam in the deep Madeiran waters
only, and the outside world was hardly aware of its existence.
The sun would be up in a minute and it was time to return.
Pulling together, the men raised the lines, one by one, coiling
rope as they lifted. A few more spada landed on the pile but
the harvest stayed scanty. Only the end of the last line
remained when Joao spotted the brightness in the pallid water.
He pointed, gasping. A few more pulls and it thrashed on
the deck. Certainly the odd fish was an espada, but different
from any they had encountered. Instead of being coal black, the
fish was bright red. Its jaws opened wide, as if in surprise.
"What has God done?" Tito asked in a low voice.
"The fish must be diseased," José said.
"Disease? What disease? I have heard of none."
"I do not know. A fungus perhaps?"
"There is no sign."
"Could the fish have been attacked by another?" Carlos
"That is silly. There are no wounds, no marks of teeth.
Even if there were, why would it turn the color of cooked
"Some strange condition of the seawater?" Joao suggested
Tito shrugged. He stared with fascination at the
apparition. It had almost stopped moving. "It is a very
horrible fish when bright red I do not like it."
"It is a fish created by the devil," Carlos muttered. He
tried to smile at his brothers, who stood in a group at the
"What shall we do with it?" Shall we bring it back to
Funchal?" José cried.
"I do not think so. Who would buy espada any more
believing them tainted? Better that we not even speak of it, or
no market will be found for the other fish. Let us not bring
it. Let us return it to the ocean." He sighed.
None of the brothers Pestana wanted to touch the
frightening fish, so they cut the line which had only a few more
hooks in any case. Tito started the outboard and they moved
away, leaving the fish to toss in the wake. In their haste,
they failed to notice that two other red espada caught on the
line, had bobbed to the surface.
Rising, Lawrence Pick followed an invariable routine. Having
glanced regretfully at his empty bed, he exercised furiously
before a tall mirror, not out of admiration for his muscular
frame but to keep his movement clean and precise.
Brought up on a farm in northeastern Pennsylvania, Lawrence
Pick still looked at the weather not as something that decided
if you did or didn't take an umbrella but as an all-important
part of life, determining when planting or harvesting was done,
or if you worked outside or inside that day. Without thinking
much about it, he followed the weather closely.
...freakish weather prevails throughout the country as
it has for the last few weeks; with drought in the far
West, a heat wave in the south, exceptionally heavy
snows in the Midwest, hail and high winds in the
Northeast, and in the mid-Atlantic states, more rain.
It's another nasty day in Washington, I'm afraid, with
temperatures in the low forties and the rain that
began falling earlier, predicted to last until
evening. Joggers, forget it again. But there's hope
for tomorrow, folks. Would you believe it? The
National Weather Service predicts sunshine! Well, it
had to get better because it couldn't get worse. John?
You said it. Turning to sports....
Having finished his exercises, Pick turned off the TV and
stood a moment before the bedroom window, cursing the elements.
After calisthenics he liked to jog a few miles, but the
weatherman was correct — he'd been rained out again. Well, he
was late, having overslept because he'd worked into the night.
Work, work, too much work, the windshield wipers seemed to
be saying as he drove out of Chevy Chase for downtown
Washington. Well, nobody forced him, it was his own fault that
he took on so much and had trouble delegating authority. True,
the position was sensitive and mistakes could be costly, but
still, he let the work ethic govern his existence. Recently,
even his boss had lectured him on overzealousness. Rufus
Edmunston blamed Pick's social life, or lack of one. The
Director had remarked in the easy, garrulous manner he affected,
"I don't deny you're good at your job, Larry, but you fret too
much. You'll lose perspective sooner or later. You don't have
enough fun. We all need distractions, especially us in the
front lines. You don't even have a steady girlfriend, right?
At your age! You're by yourself too much and it makes you
gloomy. There are zillions of nice girls in Washington and a
handsome guy like you could have his choice. Why don't you find
a gal to live with, Larry You could even marry again. It's not
against the law, you know."
"Maybe it should be," Pick replied with a grin that faded
just as it began.
Edmunston laughed and replied, "Yes, maybe so."
Pick watched the wipers sweep steadily. The old man would
probably accuse him of worrying when he opened the sealed
envelope Pick had left with his secretary the evening before.
The envelope had been marked "Secret and Urgent" and the
secretary had locked it in the safe for the night. It concerned
a recent Siberian earthquake that the Russians had failed to
report. Pick could have delayed a few days to see what happened
before alerting his boss, but that might give the Sovs, as he
called them, time to destroy evidence in the event (unlikely, he
admitted) that the earthquake had been induced by a nuclear
bomb. Besides, it wasn't in the Deputy's character to
Therein lay an important difference between Edmunston and
himself, Pick mused. Often the Director failed to move on
things. Edmunston had what amounted to a conviction that all
problems could be solved with patience, and even solve
themselves mysteriously in ways that nobody predicted. The
Director was against rushes to judgment, crash programs,
frenetic activity in general. Pick had to agree that it could
be better to do nothing than something, when you didn't
understand what the somethings might lead to, but just the same
there were instances when Edmunston's cautionary stance was a
disguise for lack of knowledge, or an exercise in the self-
proclaimed optimism which the Director wore almost like a cloak
to protect himself against old age.
For Pick, Edmunston sometimes failed to grasp the
importance of events because he had lost touch with the latest
in science. At sixty-three, the former physicist hadn't been on
the "bench", as scientists call laboratory research, in more
than two decades. He had moved from one major executive job to
the next until, as Director of CRISES, he occupied one of the
most sensitive and prestigious scientific-establishment posts in
the country. Still, Pick judged his own scientific expertise to
be superior. He occasionally feared that the day might come
when Edmunston would fail to recognize an urgent situation for
what it was and would advise waiting at a time when delay could
Lawrence Pick believed himself to be on the front edge of
his field. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, he was
an engineer but only in the broadest sense. He had a double
master's in engineering and environmental science from Harvard,
and a Ph.D. in engineering from MIT, where he had become a full
professor before the age of thirty. He had joined NASA as a
senior satellite specialist and then the Department of Defence
Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a connection which,
as few except the Director knew, he still maintained. Ecology,
space travel, energy technology, computers, advanced engineering
— he was versed in all. For his papers, patents and concepts,
especially as related to space, he had earned, he knew, the
respect of his peers.
But what good was all that if he wasn't happy? All work
and no play makes....Edmunston was right, the engineer needed a
woman to lighten his life. He was only human. Pick was forty —
too old to live alone. Maybe a steady girlfriend would be good
for him, even a wife. But the mere thought of marriage evoked
bittersweet memories of long legs and clinking bracelets.
Several years ago she had departed his bed and board because he
failed to make time for her. The next wife, Pick dreamed, would
Simple tastes, pleasant ways, sweet
disposition...loving, gentle, tolerant of his foibles...she'd
wave goodbye in the mornings....But why should she put up with
him either? he asked himself and became suddenly dispirited,
which he blamed on the gloomy skies.
CRISES (Crisis Research Investigation and Systems
Evaluation Service) had been established when even politicians
concluded that an organization specializing in disaster, present
or future, was increasingly necessary because catastrophes
seemed to have become a permanent part of life. The job of the
multidisciplinary body was to identify, study and warn of
potential environmental hazards be they natural calamities like
hurricanes and earthquakes, or unidentified diseases, or those
phenomena at least partly attributable to man, the atmospheric
inversions. The group was also meant to calculate the costs of
avoiding disasters and of recovering from them. CRISES, in
short, was to provide what Rufus Edmunston liked to call "a
total global trouble picture."
Pick entered the gray Georgian building and glanced
automatically at the innocent displays. A sign explained that
CRISES was a respected body and a member of such groups as the
International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSI). It was, but
only its non-covert section A papier mâché globe showed the
orbits of communications and weather satellites. On a large
wall map, current international problems were identified by
printed cards coded by color — blue for astrophysical, green for
biological, brown for ecological, red for econopolitical. A
rear-end projection screen, running continuously, presented a
2,000-year chronicle or natural disasters such as:
Quake killed more
largest number of
Germany & Bubonic plague
More than 500,000
in 1831 alone
1 million dead
Indochina plus tidal wave
Worldwide 21,640,000 dead
Yellow paper drooled from a teletype machine. Pick walked
over to look at the bulletins which had gone out that morning.
EVENT 710-95 — ECOLOGICAL — CORPUS CHRISTI HARBOR OIL SPILL
At 1230 GMT 9 Nov. the U.S. Coast Guard reported a major
oil spill in the 4.83 kilometer harbor area of Corpus
Christi, Texas. A total of 5,000,000 liters of Arabian
crude oil with a high sulphur content is thought to be in
The oil's source is unknown, but it is thought to have been
a vessel. There is little or no wildlife present in this
highly industrial area.
EVENT 711-95 — BIOLOGICAL — MALARIA OUTBREAK IN INDIA
India Public Health Services reports a severe outbreak of
malaria in the northern states. The numbers of those
presently afflicted with the disease may exceed 1,000,000.
EVENT 712-95 — GEOPHYSICAL — HEAVY WINDS BATTER VOLCANO
713-95 — GEOPHYSICAL — ICELANDIC ARCTIC PACK ICE
During the last two weeks the dense tongue of Arctic pack
ice that extends south to the coast of northwest Iceland
near Cape Horne and makes sailing difficult or impossible
has suddenly retreated. Such a retreat in fall months is
EVENT 714-95 — CAMEROON DISASTER
This small West African nation has been struck by another
calamity. As happened in 1986, carbon dioxide has welled
from Lake Nyos in Northwest Cameroon. The gas asphyxiated
some 1000 individuals, some survivors of the earlier event,
and an estimated 2000 cattle. The bulk of the gas released
is attributed to volcanic activity.
EVENT 715-90\95 — ATLANTIC EARTHQUAKE
Earthquake activity, as reported earlier, continues in the
A plaque presented CRISES' motto: "The Future Is Our
The tourists and schoolchildren who came to look at the
lobby display never seemed to notice how strongly the elevators
were guarded by alert-looking men in the inconspicuous gray
uniforms of CRISES' security force, or to wonder why. The hook-
nosed man seated at the desk ranked as a captain. Pick had
never liked him. His name was Nash and he had a cliché for
everything. "Morning, Dr. Pick," Nash said heartily. He spoke
with a southwestern twang. "Wet enough for you?"
"I'm renting an ark from Hertz," Pick returned.
Upstairs, his attractive but buxom secretary, Gwen,
repeated, "Wet enough for you?"
"Can't anybody think of anything new to ask about the
rain?" Pick complained.
Gwen followed him into his small, plainly furnished office
with the morning paper and the mail, placing them on his desk.
She said in a confidential tone, "You had a call at nine sharp
this morning from a man named Blake at the National Weather
Service. He said it was important, but wouldn't say why. He
sounded young and excitable to me."
"Later," Pick said in a distracted voice.
"Coffee?" she asked, solicitous as always.
He glanced at the clock which said 9:25. He wanted coffee
but knew that before he could drink it the phone would ring.
He skimmed the Friday morning paper standing up. The news
would please the hearts of progress-loving recession-fearing
Americans. Jobs at 175 million...national output tops three
trillion...stock averages at an all-time high...
Project Independence was in full swing with power plants of
every type opening all over (a photo of one showed fire
breathing into the night). Pick frowned. Prosperity was fine,
but at what price?
Stop it, he told himself. The phone rang. "Pick," he
"Larry, come in for a minute, will you? Now?"
It was impossible to deduce anything from Edmunston's
scratchy voice. "Sure, Rufus," he said.
Edmunston's office, as compared to Pick's, could have been
located on another planet. It had heavy draperies, an Oriental
rug, a richly-hued conference table, dark wood paneling covered
with the awards citations, memberships, degrees, honorary
degrees and photographs of the physicist with well-known people.
The Director, who sat in a winged leather chair at a large
polished desk with a single report on it — Pick's — was as
different physically from his Deputy as he was temperamentally.
Edmunston was a thin, almost birdlike figure with scrawny arms
and legs and long white hair. His Deputy, towering over him,
was six feet three with shoulders rounded as though accustomed
to carrying a heavy burden. The tapered waist and the arms
packing his shirt sleeves suggested that the man was in good
physical shape. The head, with flat ears and dark hair combed
straight back, had something of the massiveness of a Roman bust.
Lawrence Pick was undeniably handsome with a square jaw, a long,
straight nose, large black eyes and a wide mouth that
characteristically drooped slightly at the corners when he was
upset. The mouth drooped now.
Edmunston waved the engineer to a leather chair across from
him and said lazily, "Some weather, huh?"
"It's all anybody talks about."
"Can't blame them. Never seen so much rain in my life."
the Director pressed a switch concealed beneath the edge of the
desk. The button activated a device that created an electronic
screen which blocked any listening devices aimed from the street
to other buildings. the screen was used only when necessary
because nobody could be positive about the effects on the health
of those exposed to it. The room was also searched frequently
for bugs. None had ever been found and it was doubtful that
anybody beyond a small, closed circle knew that CRISES,
seemingly open, had a covert function. Nonetheless, security
was invoked when certain matters came up.
Edmunston leaned forward and pushed the report back and
forth on his desk. He sighed. "Larry, about this earthquake
thing. Why do you always have to get so goddam excited?"
"Look, Rufus," Pick said, as though his answer were
rehearsed. "The Sovs are in clear violation of the Helsinki
Agreement. It specifically states that all earthquakes of the
magnitude and intensity of this one or greater must be reported.
The Sovs have said nothing. The Siberian quake was in a remote
area and below the level where the international seismological
network could easily pick it up. We wouldn't have known about
it at all except for our own special monitoring devices which
the Sovs aren't aware of, so far as we know. That kind of
earthquake conforms exactly to the type that could have been
triggered by a low megatonnage nuclear weapon detonated along a
"Yes, yes," Edmunston said impatiently.
Pick knew his exposition was too detailed but went on
anyway, to avoid misunderstanding. "Don't you see, Rufus? An
induced earthquake like that could be a dress rehearsal for
starting one undersea. It could cause a tidal — seismic — wave
which could destroy naval ports like San Diego or Diego Garcia.
An earthquake could be an important weapon."
"Gorbachev has peaceful intentions."
"Maybe he does, but suppose he's thrown out. Can we rely
on their military?"
"As I've said, you worry too much," Edmunston grumbled.
"I'm paid to worry, Rufus. The Sovs should have reported
that quake. They didn't and it makes me suspicious. I cna't
Edmunston said slowly, "And now you want to use the hot
line to query them."
"Yes. In such a way that they don't understand how we got
The Director blew air through a round hole he made with his
mouth. "God, how I miss cigarettes. Larry, maybe I haven't
learned much in all these years but one thing I'm sure is that
it's a mistake to get worked up before you have to. Look how
the birthrate in Southeast Asia has suddenly started to decline
after years of prediction that Spaceship Earth would crash from
the sheer weight of the passengers. Take the coming famine on
the Asian subcontinent. You had the whole place crazy with
plans for emergency relief and, presto, there were good monsoons
and no famine. Bangladesh is exporting rice now. That
surprised you, didn't it?"
"I guess so." Pick had the feeling Edmunston was toying
"Or, just a few months ago, you were convinced that a red
algae tide that was about to kill the bottom fish in the Gulf of
Mexico and give half of Texas respiratory infections — that was
you, wasn't it, Larry?"
"You know damn well it was, Rufus."
"And the infected plankton just disappeared."
"We all make mistakes," Pick said. He ran a thick hand
through his dark hair. "I'd rather err on the side of safety
than do nothing at all. Uncertainty isn't biased toward
optimism, God knows."
"A sense of urgency isn't the same as certainty," Edmunston
countered. He hesitated and said crisply, "The Soviets reported
the earthquake last night. The Science Adviser called this
morning to tell me. Thank God I hadn't called him yet, like you
wanted me to do."
Anger closed on Pick like a clamp but he tried not to show
it. "You might have told me sooner, Rufus," he answered. He
was thinking that Edmunston seemed all too eager to please the
Science Adviser. Did the old man want the job himself when the
The Director said easily, "I wanted to make my point.
Don't you understand, Larry? The S.A. is down on us. Too much
excitement, too many false alarms. I think the White House
wants to close Fort Davis. It's just looking for a good excuse."
Pick protested, "But the facility is practically new!
Closing it down would be a grave mistake. I don't trust the
The Director shrugged. "All I know is that if we cry wolf
too often, heads will roll around here." He flicked his finger
toward Pick so rapidly that the motion was barely perceptible.
Then, as though to soften the impact, he went on expansively.
"Have a laugh or two, Larry. Get a date this weekend and go
away somewhere. Jesus, If I were your age, I'd make sparks fly,
I'll tell you that."
"Thanks," Pick said grumpily.
"Yessir, women are about all that counts in the end. Why,
you could even marry again, Larry."
"You told me that."
"I did, didn't I? Well, think over what I've said."
Edmunston switched off the electronic curtain. It was a signal
Dr. Bertram Kline was weary after ten-hour days with the
computer and the pouches under his eyes hung even lower than
usual. His wife, Jody, looked at him and asked, "What's the
matter? You seem upset."
"Tired is all," he said in his dry voice.
"You're always tired on Friday — that's not it.
Something's bothering you. I can tell."
Kline rarely discussed his work with her. Chemistry bored
lay people because they couldn't understand it, and he could not
communicate the excitement he sometimes felt. He said with
difficulty, "I'm a little frustrated, I guess. I've been
running a series of tests and the results won't add up. I don't
"Can't you be a little more specific?" she asked him
patiently. He sighed and plunged in.
In 1974 the largest single experiment in science until that
time took place, with an armada of forty research ships gathered
in a box of ocean and atmosphere 800 miles from West Africa.
This was GATE (GARP Atlantic Tropical Experiment), spawned by
GARP (Global Atmospheric Research Program). Emerging from GATE
was the conclusion that the tropical seas, as one writer put it,
are the "main boiler houses of the whole weather machine,
absorbing the sun's rays and heating the air from below. The
cloud clusters are strung out like rows of smoking chimneys
across the oceans."
Then came FGGE (pronounced "Figgy"), the First GARP Biological Experiment
to obtain a complete data set for the entire planet. The project involved not only ships
and planes but five geostationary weather satellites,
from the U.S., USSR, Japan and
Europe. FGGE also used the World Weather Watch weather stations tied together by
the hot lines and computers of the Global Telecommunications System and augmented
by observations from commercial ships and planes. Balloons and automated buoys
were added to the meteorological arsenal. The samples, taken the summer before, had
arrived belatedly because in the manner of science, somebody had neglected to send
And in 1994, came the World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE),
pronounced "woecee?), aiming to capture still
more oceanic data. The W O C E results
were being analyzed in the labs and computers and so it was that a package containing
plastic vials of Atlantic seawater ultimately arrived at the National Center for
Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, where Kline worked as a chemist,
studying the relation between pollutants and trace gases in the atmosphere and the
topmost layer of the sea.
" Nigel Calder, The Weather Machine, Viking Press, p. 49.
Kline had worked with the water a full week, subjecting it to a battery of tests
involving, pressure, spectronomic analysis, atomic structure valences, acidity, the
ability to absorb various molecules, and so on. All of which required a high-speed
computer, a team of young assistants and total concentration. When he had finished,
Kline was uncertain of what he had found.
He told his wife, "It's,
well, like a deviation so small that you can't really measure
it. Long columns of numbers that seem to make sense but don't, quite. It's like
something's happening out there but I can't prove it."
He sought language that Jody
would understand. "I've told you the ocean breathes?" She nodded. "It inhales, or
used to. I've got the funny sense it's
started to exhale."
He looked so serious that she tried to make a joke of it.
that inhales have to exhale, sooner or later?"
He smiled sketchily.
"Say, I hadn't thought of it that way. Only...."
He bent his head and sat limply. "Jody, I'm imagining things, terrible things.
Dead algae. Dead plankton. Dead fish, billions of them, their carcasses strewing the
sea, stinking up the world. Dead...."
She watched him with alarm. "Bert! I'm worried about you. I'm afraid you're
getting your old trouble back. It's
been a dozen years. Overwork...."
he said sullenly.
"This could be real. but I can't get a fix on it.
too subtle, and I'm not good enough."
"Not good enough! You're the best there is." She went on insistently,
got to tell
understand you. I won't have you sit on this, whatever it is."
"Whom can I tell? I can't prove it and without proof nobody will
believe me. The
implications are unbelievable. Maybe you're right. Maybe it's me."
"No. Share it with others. There must be somebody you can share it with. Think."
He said with reluctance, "There's an outfit
in Washington that might listen, I guess."
"Good," she said. "Write a report and we'll
mail it tonight.
with luck it'll
get there Monday."
N othing is gained in blaming the luckless victims in Wildwood Homes for the calamity
that grim Sunday. They didn't create the storm the media described again and again
as "freak", nor did they build the cheap, cellarless frame houses that offered pathetic
protection when the funnel roared over the treetops and probed the ground.
though late and confusing, warnings had been issued for central Virginia,
including the town of Huntsboro. Had the residents of Wildwood Homes listened,
passed the word and found refuge in either the nearby church or the school as
instructed; had they observed in their own homes the most elementary precautions, like
opening the windows a crack as a safeguard against the precipitous drop in pressure a
tornado brings, or gone to the center of the room or even better, a closet, more than
lives might have been saved.
They might have been saved anyway if the tornado had deviated by only a short
distance. The homes in Dellwood Estates, directly across the street, were older, more
expensive and better constructed; they had cellars where most of their occupants went,
needlessly as it turned out, for the storm didn't
knock down so much as a TV antenna in
that section. Those in Dellwood who chose to risk a sudden turn by the tornado were
rewarded by a spectacular if ghastly scene.
One of the observers, Rick Stewart, a thirty-
five-year-old proprietor of a
drugstore, unoriginally described the tornado's sound as "like a fleet of big jet plants."
Cheryl Conner, a housewife in her twenties, said the roar was "what I imagine an
erupting volcano must make." Tuffy Beccero, a trained nurse whose skills were vital
during the emergency, reported, "I never heard a noise like that and pray I don't again."
To twelve-year-old Pinky Fleet, "It whirred like the devil's
None of the witnesses had seen a tornado except in pictures and they were
astonished by the amplitude of the deep growl and by the forward speed, estimated at
40 mph, with which the one-legged giant raced toward the uninhabited houses until
seemed to fill
the sky. Being the stuff of clouds, a twister is white until
it touches down
and becomes dark from the dirt and debris it sucks up, including in this case, houses.
The storm struck the Wildwood section at 4:49 P.M.
The weather had been perfect for a tornado. Warm and wet air, the result of the
unusual heat wave hovering over the South, had been pulled northward into the path of
a fast-moving storm that had already left a trail
of toppled tress and crumpled trailer
parks through Oklahoma and Kansas. Towering thunderstorms formed as the wet air
was pushed aloft by the advancing cold front. The air sucked in to feed these storms
carried not only heat and moisture but also the spin of the earth itself.
darkened and began to spin ominously. Here and there, pendulous billows sharpened
into whirling columns that reached for the ground.
As early as the day before, satellite
photos of the two weather fronts had been
studied at the National Severe Storms Forecast Center in Kansas City, Kansas and at
the National Meteorological Center in the World Weather Building, Oxon Hill,
of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Given the time of year — too late, normally, for tornadoes — and the fact that
the area was not associated with them, nothing worse than severe thunderstorms was
expected. Only when instrumented balloons penetrated the advancing wet air on
Sunday morning did the surprised meteorologists realize how warm this layer was.
Even so, tornado probability seemed low and no action was taken until barometric
pressure dropped sharply over parts of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. That signal
could not be ignored; it resulted in a tornado watch at 1 P.M. By then, cloud cover had
thickened so as to interfere with further identification from satellites and Washington-
based radar. Localities were on their own.
At Huntsboro, the warning, received by teletype at the police station, was
broadcast to the town's two patrol cars and at the local radio station, W H U N, where
disc jockey Andy Braden periodically put it on the air. At about 3:15 Braden's phone
rang. The caller was the county's volunteer Civil Defense Director, Burton Dickson,
who had been using the home as a command post, placing and receiving calls about
the possible tornado. Nothing had been sighted until moments before when Tinker
Wheeler, a farmer who grew hothouse tomatoes, reported in. Wheeler swore that
sized hailstones had demolished two of his greenhouses. More importantly,
the farmer claimed to have seen an ominous funnel sticking out of a cloud, as though it
were giving birth.
That put the tornado, if such it was less than ten miles away.
Urgency edged Dickson's voice. "Can you broadcast that right now. And keep
broadcasting." Dickson gave Braden instructions on what to do in a tornado and
Braden put them on the air as well. Hoping he had more listeners than usual, he
repeated the message until
the power failed and the station went off the air.
The speed of a tornado's inner rotary winds is unknown, since instruments have
not withstood them, but 550 mph is cited in the literature. Whatever the exact figure, a
tornado is the most violent storm on earth. (Hurricanes release more energy but over
a much larger area.) That year, 1,247 had already struck the continental U.S., making
the Huntsboro twister number 1,248. when the year ended, 1,309 tornadoes had
touched down; before that, the record year was 1974 when over 1,200 tornadoes
But that day the only cipher mattering was one — a single tornado that broke the
dreams of many. The storm skirted the virtually empty downtown area and with a
furious outcry bore down on the Wildwood section, whose residents were most home.
Rocking crazily in the premature darkness, the tornado turned black from the dirt that
whirled inside. At the housing development's edge the storm seemed to hesitate,
pivoting on its one leg, and then listed forward like a tree about to fall.
Despite the warnings carried by the police, the radio and word of mouth people
to prepare and some did not know of the tornado's existence at all until
great grinding cry announced it. But when the storm came it was too late to seek
refuge in school or church. Something in the American attitude toward private property
and the protection of one's own home and perhaps resentment toward more fortunate
neighbors, would have forbidden the Wildwood inhabitants from sheltering themselves
in Dellwood right across the street — if indeed the imperative to seek safety had been
But people had no such impulse. Interviews conducted later by a sociologist
proved that they refused to believe that the storm was a threat to them — to others,
maybe, but not them. In fact, the initial response of many was to go outside and watch.
When the tornado, cracking with lightning, resumed its tottering march and whole houses disappeared inside its maw, people moved fast
but no time remained for precautions such as to place mattresses on the floor and crawl beneath them, or to open windows to equalize the pressure drop. One of the first
homes in the storm's path belonged to a barber named Frank Kuhn, who ran outside when he heard the faint din and returned
His three children — six, eight and eleven — still
watched "The Flintstones" on TV, while Jessie, his wife, put a pie in the oven. Kuhn
shouted at her, pulled the children to the floor and grabbed a table leg. The roar came, windows burst, walls buckled and seconds later the structure no longer existed: Every wall was down and twisted pipes bubbled. The furniture had been destroyed too. Frank still
had the table leg but the table had
disappeared. His arm was broken. The screaming children escaped serious injury but the heap on the floor was Jessie, a piece of wood impaled in her head.
A few houses away, young Billy Harris ran outside ignoring the cries of his eight-months-pregnant mother, who couldn't
move fast enough.
Billy flew through the air and vanished into the vortex, his arms and legs threshing about, almost as if he were trying to swim. His hair was straight and his mouth open in a scream that couldn't
be heard. The last anyone saw of him was when a bolt of lightning lit
up the tornado's cone.
The mother remained unharmed but a beam fell
on her husband, killing him instantly.
The dog whimpered safely in the debris, helped by a
low center of gravity.
The storm made effortless ruin of whatever it encountered. The awesome power can be conveyed by the fate of a family that took refuge in
their car. Had they left
the windows open a crack, they might have been saved: when the windshield shattered an adult and two children were pulled
into it and battered to death. Several people, unwise enough to stay outside to take pictures or to try to put the unforgettable sound on tape, were killed by flying objects, or crushed and even dismembered like the elderly man who was decapitated; the head was never recovered. But it was hardly safer inside the houses: exploding gas burned a woman alive and another was dragged by windy arms until
her stomach ripped open.
Cooking implements, Levitz furniture,
bicycles, lawn mowers, suitcases, TV antennas, toys, curtains, curtain rods, books, glassware, dishes
— sucked from their usual places, the appurtenances of life became dangerous, capable with the storm's fury behind them of putting out eyes, breaking bones, tearing soft flesh. Where could people hide from the very air? The tornado, with its frightful
roar, destroyed the development that had been
known as Wildwood, though there was hardly anything wild about the place until
The tornado raged off to the countryside, where it leveled several more houses and caused additional fatalities before at last subsiding.
Within the six-block area of Wildwood, nothing worth saving remained. They talked briefly of rebuilding the place, but in the end the structures were bulldozed and the area became a park. That, as a sort of chance result,
was of itself
welcomed by the people of Dellwood. The treeless, lawned
expanse across the street offered them a clear view of the hills.
The following summer they could expect cool breezes to blow over empty land.
Following the notion Edmunston had put in his head, Lawrence Pick spent the weekend
resolutely attempting to have a good time. He telephoned a woman he knew and set
off with her in his old camper, bound for nowhere in particular.
If you don't know where
you're going, any road will take you there, he thought dejectedly, but he was
determined to have fun for a change.
The pursuit of pleasure stranded them at a garage for two hours when the car broke down. A seaside resort 100 miles south of Washington
sounded perfect for the long romantic walks on the beach, but abnormally high tides left
no sand to walk on and it being nearly winter, the shops were
closed. At last they located a second-rate motel. The only nearby restaurant was dark, and after driving endlessly in a downpour, they settled on a diner and hamburgers. Pick had bought a bottle of whiskey and back at the motel they gamely tried to party.
She was, he felt
sure, as glad to be rid of him as he was of her when they said goodbye on Sunday.
The next morning, when Pick turned on the TV the bland-faced weatherman was talking of a tornado that had struck the afternoon before in
not too far from where he had been. "...claimed fifty-
four lives in all.
Rescue workers still
combed the wreckage this evening but the
task is virtually
completed. That storm was a freak in several respects. It came very late in the year for a tornado, and there is no record of a tornado
ever having hit that particular section of Virginia before. A tornado watch had been in effect but the storm struck an area somewhat different than meteorologists anticipated. It was very severe. The tornado raced along for about five miles and vanished as quickly as it had come. Luckily, heavily
populated area were spared, with the exception of a crowded development, where most of the casualties were."
Jesus, thought Pick, watching the footage. The violence of which nature was capable never failed to awe him.
On Monday mornings Pick took stock of the world. At 9:30 sharp, the heads of the various departments at CRISES met in the small
auditorium on the ground floor with a security guard posted outside, and one-by-one rose to discuss the most pressing problems before them and the countermeasures they recommended. It was not just for movie stars to be temperamental: so were these men and women, leading scientists all.
Pick had to be tactful
if he disagreed but with his unobtrusive manner, logical mind and impeccable information, he usually succeeded
in winning the others over.
he went through a pile of papers Gwen had assembled. CRISES served as a clearinghouse for advanced scientific
every sort; the organization encouraged experts to send in their ideas and theories, no matter how farfetched they seemed. It was for this reason that an airmail special delivery letter from Colorado was in the stack.
The name Bertram Kline was familiar enough to command Pick's immediate attention. The NCAR chemist explained that he just run a test
series on sea sample from the tropical Atlantic and was concerned that a subtle and mysterious change in oceanic chemistry might be taking place.
In his brief report, Kline noted (needlessly for Pick) that the oceans absorb about half the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere —
excess because industrial
was constantly adding CO 2 to the air as a result of the burning of fossil
mainly coal and oil.
Kline's research suggested that instead of accepting the gas, the
sea had begun returning it to the atmosphere.
Kline was tentative to the point of apology and Pick would probably have
dismissed the notion as absurd had it not been for the chemist's reputation for
scrupulous accuracy. Even so, his theory had no real basis that Pick could see.
There were other reports too — like one from a University of Southern California
named R. Havu, who had investigated why Californians were failing
to respond to a new earthquake warning system. Havu suggested that people had lost
faith in science and scientists.
Turning their backs on rationality,
they took refuge in
meditation and mysticism. Immersed in inner, not outer, space, they were obsessed
with themselves. Pick agreed and thought about Havu, "Good man."
Later that day, as also happened every Monday, Pick would meet with
Edmunston to review the reports and decide which, if any, merited attention. He was
about to write his comments on a buff sheet when the intercom buzzer sounded and his
secretary said, "Mr. Blake is here."
"Mr. Benjamin Blake, from the Weather Service. We made an appointment,
remember?" Gwen whispered.
Pick recalled something about an excitable young man. He glanced at his
watch; it was almost lunchtime and he was hungry. "Okay," he said reluctantly.
Blake was of medium height and weight with brown hair and brown eyes. In his
tenor voice he asked needlessly, "Dr. Pick? I'm Benjamin Blake. When I called on
Friday, I asked for a senior scientist
and they switched me to your office. I didn't
right now that you're the Dep-p-puty," he stammered.
I am," Pick said with a small smile.
mean that senior. I meant somebody lower down. I could talk to someone else if you'd prefer."
"Take a chair,
please." The engineer pointed and sat down himself.
"You're with the Weather Service?"
said Blake. He still
had a little
acne. Pick put him at about twenty-two.
"Is it Mister or Doctor Blake?" Pick inquired.
Blake shifted and said regretfully,
I'm just out of graduate school. I only have a Master's degree, with honors. I'd have gone on if
there were scholarship money around in my field.
get my Ph.D. some day. If I had it now, maybe they'd listen. As it is, I'm going over people's
"Understood. It happens all the time. Anything you say will be confidential,"
Pick replied as he studied the nervous young man. Blake
but what could he have to say? Nothing of importance surely. Scientists could delude themselves as easily as others about the
value of information they possessed.
I'm with the Air Resources Lab," Blake went on. "I read a report....Maybe I'd better start over. We have a weathership — we used to have several of them before Congress cut the budget — called Oceanographer. This fall
it was in the tropical Atlantic doing routine tests..."
"Where?" Pick asked sharply.
"The tropical Atlantic,"
Blake repeated, looking confused. "About midway between Africa and Brazil."
"Wasn't that the location of the W O CE work carried out last summer?"
"WOCE was conducted a little
nearer to Dakar," Blake said with hard-won authority.
He waited and when the engineer failed to reply,
continued. "Anyway, a routine test on the content of atmospheric carbon dioxide just above the sea surface was performed. It isn't
the kind of test that's
done very often because the results never vary except in the long term, only...only this time they....That's why I'm here, because my b-b-b-boss, his name is Dr. Polchak, doesn't take the findings seriously. He thinks the sudden CO 2 increase was due to undersea
So did the shipboard m-m-m-meteorologist."
Blake fell silent, as if
trying to get himself under control.
"I think the numbers are too high to be explained that way," Blake protested.
"Why?" Pick said. He was leaning forward now, his big hand resting on the pile
of reports that contained Kline's.
"I know it sounds nutty, but I've always been interested in atmospheric CO 2."
The tone turned confessional.
"I used to write science fiction, or tried to. You know, a
runaway greenhouse is just about the only really conceivable way the world could end, so I
tried to make a story about it,
but I wasn't able to figure out a manner in which the human race could survive, so I was minus a narrator and I didn't
how to finish the story. I'm sorry — I shouldn't
be going on like this. Anyway, the greenhouse effect is interesting when you build in man-made thermal
pollution due to the consumption of fossil
fuels. I've learned a lot about it.
When I get my Ph.D. that'll
be my subject.
I'm working on my thesis now. I
realize, of course, that the term 'greenhouse effect',
coined by the British scientist
Tyndall back in the 1860's, is a misnomer," the young man went on
"though scientists continue to use it.
The main effect of a polyethylene greenhouse — glass, too, but who can afford glass — is to protect
plants against windchill.
The term I prefer is 'blanket effect'."
"The solar energy that penetrates is mostly short wave, w-w-while what the earth emits is in the visible range, infra-red radiation, largely absorbed by water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and chlorofluorocarbons, the so-called 'greenhouse gases'."
Blake's eyes glazed and
Pick understood. Carried away, Blake delivered a lecture. "But the problem isn't thermal heat produced by man as many suppose, including scientists."
"Shame on them," said the engineer.
"We contribute no more than one-ten thousandth of solar heat absorbed at the surface, about 350 watts per square meter, driving the
clouds, winds and storms...Oh, my God!" The young man clapped a hand to his mouth, as if realizing he wans't in a seminar.
"You know your stuff,"
Pick complimented brusquely. "What precisely is the point?"
"I reviewed CO 2 numbers. It seemed to me they were on the sus-sus-suspicious side.
There could be CO 2 buildup limited to the tropics. Sup-pose an undersea volcano, or
more than one, released so much CO 2 that it acted as a trigger on the tropical ocean
so that it poured the gas into the atmosphere? I've gone over the literature and
there's no reason to think such a thing couldn't
happen. A CO 2 buildup like that might
cause a heat pocket which could account for the high-pressure heat the Southeast's
been having, and some of the other crazy weather the country's had. I told that to
Polchak, but he only smiled. In fact,
In Pick's brain, the conclusions of Kline and young Blake fused as though
welded by an acetylene torch. A too-acidic ocean gives up CO 2. The gas causes a
heat pocket. The result is crazy weather, like the late-season tornado. Was it
possible? And then what? He said carefully,
"How can the tropics be heating up when
northern latitude temperature seems to be falling?"
Blake replied lamely, "Could there be cooling in the temperate zones and
heating in the tropics all at once? The cold winters — 1976-7, for instance — could be
"Quite a theory," Pick said with a feigned chuckle. "Can you support it?"
Blake's voice was alarmed. "No, but I might be able to model it with a
"You can model anything on a computer with the proper assumptions, can't
you?" Pick replied. "Can you suggest anything at all in the way of irrefutable physical
"Are you suggesting that because of the so-called CO 2 pocket, North American
weather has been worse than it's
"I guess so."
"Can you explain that?"
"There you are," Pick sighed. "No, in the absence of other evidence it seems to
me that your boss is undoubtedly right — undersea volcanic activity caused an
upwelling of CO 2."
"But the amount..."
"How many parts per million did the report show?" Pick asked and Blake told
him. "I don't think that's significant by itself,"
the engineer said with a frown. "Oh, by
the way, have you told anyone else about your idea?"
"Only Dr. Polchak," Blake said, lowering his head.
Pick's tone turned fatherly.
"Good. Well, I don't think it's worth worrying about.
But let me know if anything else turns up about this. Oh, do you happen to have a copy
of the CO 2 report for my files? In confidence, of course."
With obvious reluctance Benjamin Blake pulled an envelope from his inside
jacket pocket. "It's
a thermocopy. You won't...if
safe with me."
He thanked the junior climatologist for coming in and walked him to the door.
Blake seemed half-relieved and half-disappointed not to be in on the ground floor of an
Back at his desk. Pick ran a hand through his hair. As he reviewed the
situation, the edges of his mouth pointed down. In the matter of a very few minutes a
matter had presented itself.
Many responsible scientists believed that global cooling began about 1940 and
was continuing. Another group, smaller but equally responsible, thought the earth's
thermometer would point in the other direction. The disagreement ultimately resulted
from differing opinions on the effect of atmospheric carbon dioxide. though CO 2 existed
in the air only as a trace gas, it impeded long, or infra-red, radiation from bouncing
back into space after it had reached the earth. By the mid-1980s planetary warming
due to the "greenhouse effect" had generally replaced cooling as a source of scientific
concern and for the first time, the problem entered public consciousness. "...the
greenhouse effect is one that has to be a threat to all of us and we have to look for
alternative sources of fuel,"
said Democratic vice presidential
candidate Lloyd Bentsen
in 1988, and the other candidates echoed him. It had become recognized that the
combustion of fuels based on carbon put more and more CO 2 into the atmosphere, a
well-documented fact. If the CO 2 blanket became too dense, too much infra-red
radiation would be retained and the world would become hotter. Critics of energy