I recently finished a story I’d like to tell about.
In 1941, during the dark days of Dunkirk, George Stewart, an English professor at the University of California-Berkeley, wrote a novel named “Storm.” It’s a fascinating tale of the genesis and life of a Pacific storm over a period of 12 days. What began as a small low-pressure area in Siberia moved down over China and into the Pacific Ocean, then made its way to the West Coast of California, where it unleashed devastating rain and snow from San Francisco into Nevada.
Not only does Stewart make the meteorology interesting, but woven into the weather are accounts of how the highway department, airlines, train system, telephone system and the electrical and flood control systems were affected by the weather.
The book is great reading on its own merits, but I’d like to mention two adjuvants to it that I found interesting.
First, at the time the book was written, the airline service was in its infancy, and air traffic controllers often had difficulty determining whether it was safe for a commercial airliner to fly. To make the decision, controllers had a checklist they used based on a line from Psalm 148.
Many are familiar with the line because it appears in the popular church hymn, “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah.” The line/lyric goes: From the earth, oh, praise Jehovah, all ye floods, ye dragons all; Fire, and hail, and snow, and vapors, stormy winds that hear His call.
Controllers would check along the planned route using this line as a mnemonic device for dangerous conditions: fire was lightning, hail and snow were icing, vapors were fog, and stormy winds were turbulence.
Second, in an obscure, four-volume set called “Manual in Meteorology,” Stewart read of a meteorologist who thought storms so personal that he gave them feminine names. Stewart liked this idea, and in his novel, he has a junior meteorologist give a name to the storm that is the central focus of the story. Because of Stewart’s book, military meteorologists who read it began giving feminine names to Pacific and Atlantic typhoons/hurricanes — a practice that was formally adopted by the U. S. Weather Service in 1945 (e.g., Hurricane Camille, Katrina, etc.).
In 1950, Frederick Lehrner and Alan Jay Lowe wrote a play about the California gold rush. In it, there’s a scene where a storm hammers the mining region. They wrote a song to tell about the storm, and the name they chose for it is the name Stewart used in his novel. Thus, in the Broadway play “Paint Your Wagon” is the wonderful song, “They Call the Wind Mariah.”
In his book, Stewart spelled the name “Maria,” but in the introduction, he explained that the name should be pronounced “in the old-fashioned English and American way,” rather than with the soft Spanish pronunciation. “So put the accent on the second syllable,” he said, “and pronounce it ‘rye,’” Lehrner and Lowe spelled it the way Stewart wanted it pronounced.
Kenny Chumbley, a lifelong resident of Rantoul, is a minister, author and publisher.