When the Sky Breaks: Hurricanes, Tornadoes, and the Worst Weather in the World

When the Sky Breaks: Hurricanes, Tornadoes, and the Worst Weather in the World

by Simon Winchester

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New York Times bestselling author Simon Winchester looks at which way the wind blows in this exciting book about giant storms.

Simon Winchester is an avid weather watcher. He’s scanned the skies in Oklahoma, waiting for the ominous “finger” of a tornado to touch the Earth. He’s hunkered down in Hong Kong when typhoon warning signals went up. He’s visited the world’s hottest and wettest places, reported on fierce whirlpools, and sailed around South Africa looking for freak winds and waves.

He knows about the worst weather in the world.

A master nonfiction storyteller, Winchester looks at how, when, where, and why hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones, and tornadoes start brewing, how they build, and what happens when these giant storms hit. His lively narrative also includes an historical look at how we learned about weather systems and where we’re headed because of climate change. Stunning photographs illustrate the power of these giant storms.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425288054
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 01/31/2017
Series: Smithsonian Series
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 96
Sales rank: 502,810
Lexile: 1180L (what's this?)
File size: 65 MB
Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

Simon Winchester is the author of Viking’s When the Earth Shakes: Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Tsunamis, a 2016 NSTA-CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book. He is the New York Times bestselling author of adult nonfiction, including Pacific; Atlantic; The Men Who United the States; and The Professor and the Madman. Winchester was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to journalism and literature. Read more about him at simonwinchester.com


New York; Massachusetts; Scotland

Date of Birth:

September 28, 1944

Place of Birth:

London, England


M.A., St. Catherine¿s College, Oxford, 1966

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
The Biggest, Baddest Weather
My experience of Hurricane Sandy—or Frankenstorm, the Blizzacane, the Snor’eastercane, or any of the other outlandish names the press chose to give to the most devastating American weather event of 2012—confirmed what I knew as a homegrown weatherman: when trouble is in the offing, listen very carefully to the weather forecast.
We had been living in a basement apartment in New York City that had flooded once before, so the likelihood of a major storm surge in lower Manhattan was alarming, to say the least. This alarm was reinforced by a passage from one of my recent books. My own words suggested that something terribly bad was about to happen:
New York sits on stable geological features that rise well above sea level, but it has been tunneled into and bored through until it resembles an ants’ nest, and all its tunnels lie well below sea level. A storm surge coming into New York Harbor could flood the subway lines without difficulty. But far more goes on underground than subways: the telecommunica­tions cables and fiber-optic lines alone are vital for the running of the world’s financial industries: soak them in the water, and the world starts to fall apart.
Vulnerable cities are not merely going to slide slowly and elegantly under the sea, millimeter by millimeter. They are going to perch on the edge of inundation until a storm rages itself into an un­controllable maelstrom of fury, and a battering of huge waves breaches the dykes and the levees, and water courses into the city center in torrents, de­stroying all before it.
By Thursday, October 25, 2012, all the computer fore­casting models locked themselves into harmony. The predic­tions became more and more accurate, and the realization more and more acute: a giant storm would actually hit the hinterlands of New York City.
So we got out of town . . . and Sandy roared in.
Hurricane, the name by which this unimagin­ably huge and destructive weather system has been known in North America for the last three centuries, comes from the Carib word huracán, meaning a “great wind.” In other parts of the world, these terrifying, majestic storms are called cyclones or typhoons, depending upon whether they circulate in a clockwise direction (as they do in the southern hemi­sphere) or in the opposite (counterclockwise) direction (in the northern hemisphere). Cyclone comes from the Greek κυκλῶν, kyklon, which translates to “whirling around in a circle”; typhoon comes from the Chinese words for “big wind.”
Hurricane. Cyclone. Typhoon. What exactly are such giant storms? When, where, and how do they form? And why do such destructive forces even exist? To answer all these questions—an ongoing process, since weather science is an eternally evolving branch of knowledge—requires some very basic understanding of the Earth and the laws of physics that enfold it.
Though they may generate many headlines, hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons are in fact rather rare events. (For simplicity, I’ll just use the word hurricane from now on to include all these violent weather monsters.) Only about ninety-six such storms occur every year; roughly a dozen are even named. Most days in the world’s tropics, where these storms begin, are pleasing and peaceful; the chances of being affected by a hurricane are quite small. But when the big storms do develop, they can be terrifying, and for centuries they were every bit as mysterious as earthquakes and volcanoes.
As with so many of the world’s violent phenomena, hurricanes were long believed to be an act of God. Up until the nineteenth century, no one had any real idea of what these storms were. They arrived from the sea, where they probably had formed, and they soaked and destroyed whatever they passed over on land, then moved on, leaving behind misery and mystery.
But in 1821 a Connecticut saddlemaker and part-time weatherman named William Redfield noticed something: the way trees had been felled by a huge storm that had just passed across his state differed significantly depending on where the trees were. Trees in the eastern corner of Con­necticut, where the storm had first swept in from the Atlan­tic, had all fallen toward the northwest; but the trees in the far west of the state, where Connecticut meets New York, had fallen in a southeasterly direction. The astute Mr. Red­field surmised from this that the storm must have been a giant whirlwind—which is, of course, perfectly right.

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