Sudden Sea
R.A. Scotti
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Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938* online

Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938
R.A. Scotti
Back Bay Books
304 pages
August 2004
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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I admit it up front, I am a weather freak. Nothing makes me happier than to sit in front of the Weather Channel and watch a severe storm front develop into a potential monster hurricane. Išve even lived through a few myself, though I rarely see any weather at all now in my Southern California locale.

But you donšt have to love the weather or ache for a good storm to find Sudden Sea an awesome read. This fascinating page-turner documents in full, glorious detail every minute leading up to what history has come to know as The Great Hurricane of '38, a devastating monster of a storm that rolled up and into the unsuspecting Northeast coast with a fury and speed even the most weathered forecasters and storm-watchers weren't prepared for.

Using the stories of dozens of eyewitnesses as well as documented reports from local newspapers, libraries and archives, author and former journalist R.A. Scotti weaves a thrilling, chilling tale of a day that would go down in infamy for thousands of Northeasterners ­ September 21, 1938. Most folks along the Atlantic seaboard woke up to another morning of sharply clear skies and calm seas, but soon people were sensing a disturbance in the air and the water, reporting unusual sky coloration, a bizarre and brain-piercing "echo" off the waters, unseasonal high swells, and other such phenomena that indicated something big -- really big -- was moving quickly toward their shores. Within hours, lives were turned upside down, along with most of the coastal lands along Long Island, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, as the hurricane bore down with a fury no one had ever witnessed or dared imagine before.

The author uses incredible detail to describe the people, places and things affected by this monster hurricane, and at times you feel like you are reading a thriller or horror novel. You can't stop turning the pages as Scotti's urgent writing style builds to an emotional peak that leaves you breathless but begging for more. The storm is described in full detail from its quiet, unassuming origin miles out in the Atlantic through its path of destruction toward Florida and ultimately up the Northeast where it struck land -- and beyond to its final demise as it moved into Canada and petered out. All the while we are introduced to people we come to care about, root for and grieve for as they deal with the loss and fear the mighty winds and ruthless storm surges bring. Hundreds were killed in this storm, and thousands became homeless in what history now describes as the fastest hurricane on record, and one of the five most devastating to ever strike the mainland United States.

I had no idea such a massive and deadly storm as this occurred in 1938. What a history lesson this book is, not just in the development of weather forecasting and the U.S. Weather Services, but also regarding the mood of a nation just out of one great tragedy, the Depression, and about to enter an even darker period as Hitler began his rise to power. Sandwiched between these two powerful moments in our historical timetable, this hurricane grew from a misplaced wind off of Cape Verde, Africa, to the unthinkable - a tropical cyclone of immense proportions that hit a part of the world once thought immune to such horrific forces.

Sudden Sea includes several maps to give the reader a real sense of the location the storm tracked, and there are also sixteen pages of black and white photographs that give the full impact of the loss, the wreckage, the force and the fury of this brutal storm.

It is the suffering of the victims and witnesses recounted in this book that truly grabs the reader by the heart, but it is the birth and empowerment of a force of nature that still defies our understanding and our control that refuses to let the heart go. Sudden Sea is both a gut-wrenching chronicle of a deadly storm and na historical epic of struggle, surrender and courage. And on both levels, it succeeds mightily.

© 2003 by Marie D. Jones for Curled Up With a Good Book

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