The weather furnished a field where I could tell big stories—and tell the truth

Posted by | January 7, 2014

In the tragedy of the Galveston hurricane of 1900 — the most fatal natural disaster in U. S. history — more than 6,000 souls perished. Yet that number would have nearly doubled had it not been for the efforts of Dr. Isaac Monroe Cline. Cline, born in 1861 near Madisonville, TN, was the weather-forecasting pioneer who went on to become the world’s foremost authority on hurricanes, or tropical cyclones, as they were called.

“Father and mother often told me that I was a problem and hard to handle even before I could walk. My inclination for research evidently developed at an early age; they said I investigated everything that came within my ken. …

“Stormy weather was of frequent occurrence in this locality (Madisonville, TN). Forked flashes of lighting and rolling thunder, vibrating through the hills, fascinated me. Father would refer to the thunder as Jupiter Pluvius announcing the approach of the corn wagon, because at the season on the year when thunder storms were frequent rain was generally needed for the corn crop.

“One Saturday night a tornado, with its funnel-shaped cloud and destructive swirling winds, moved down the Fork Creek Valley. Many residences were destroyed and several people were killed. The destruction was so great that messengers were sent out over the surrounding country for help. Father went early Sunday morning to render what assistance he could and took me with him.

Isaac Monroe Cline, weather forecaster“The brick residence of one of father’s friends had been demolished and some of the family killed. A child was asleep in a bed on the second floor of the building. The tornado picked up the bed with the child and deposited them, with the bed intact and the child unhurt, in an orchard about one hundred yards from the house. …

“Hiwassee College, a school with a national reputation for its thorough teaching of English as well as Greek and Latin, and other subjects which constitute the foundation of learning, was about five miles from where I lived. It was a school where Methodist preachers were educated, but its curriculum enabled young men of limited means to prepare a foundation of learning on which they could build through the future.

“I entered Hiwassee College when I was sixteen years old, and took the liberal arts course leading to the Bachelor of Arts. In part payment for my tuition, I served as Librarian and assistant janitor, in which latter office I chopped wood for the fireplaces, and performed other chores. With another boy I rented a small two-room building on the campus in which we studied, slept, cooked, and ate our meals. There were several of these hutments we would call them today, which the college rented to poor boys who were striving to get an education.

“Mathematics, physics, chemistry, Latin and Greek had a special charm for me, and I studied them thoroughly as I went along so that I was well grounded in these studies.

“At the suggestions of friends I gave some consideration to preparing for the ministry, and so paid particular attention to Latin and Greek.

“However, my association with men who were preparing to become preachers convinced me that I could not follow the ministry and accomplish my objective in life. I must say that the mental training and discipline of the mind which the study of Greek and Latin gave have been worth more to me than any other of my studies except mathematics, and I have appreciated this fact more and more with the passing years.

“Among the students at Hiwassee were some young men from Louisiana and Mississippi, who were preparing to become lawyers. One of them was the late Robert Broussard, who served Louisiana in the United States Senate with distinction for many years up to the time of his death. I joined these students and studied Blackstone for a while more to broaden my field of knowledge than to make law my profession. I have been invited often to give talks before social clubs and business organizations.

“Frequently, I have told the following story: ‘I first studied to be a preacher, but decided that I was too prone to tell big stories to be a preacher. Then I studied Blackstone for a while, and soon learned that I was not adept enough at prevarication to make a successful lawyer. I then made up my mind that I would seek some field where I could tell big stories and tell the truth; later the weather furnished that field.’ ”

source: “Storms, floods and sunshine,” by Isaac Monroe Cline, Pelican Publishing, New Orleans, 1945

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