13 Hurricanes, a Book and a Broken Nose
"Your face is covered in blood," says United States Navy Petty Officer John Gulizia. My fingers reach up through the cold wind and rain. My face is warm, almost hot. While photographing the landfall of Hurricane Katrina in Gulfport, Miss., a small piece of flying debris has struck me in the face and broken my nose.
That was 84 days, two doctor visits and 13 named storms ago. Today, I simply feel lucky to be alive. Storm chase partner Mike Theiss, also an accomplished severe weather photographer, and I documented Katrina 70 yards from the Gulf in a reinforced hotel as the full force of the monstrous hurricane slammed into the coast. Everything around us was destroyed. Hundreds died.
But there was a catch.
"We have done other disaster-type books, including The Fires of Montana," wrote Farcountry Press Director of Publications Kathy Springmeyer. "A key element we have discovered is to get the book out as quickly as possible." Translation: If our book was to compete with the larger publishers, we would have to work hard and fast. We would have only six days to design, create and write the book.
Mike and I soon agreed to do the book, but only if Farcountry Press promised to give a portion of the proceeds to those who needed assistance and they let us pick the title. They eagerly agreed.
After two days of fine-tuning the contract, a deal was finalized, and in between hurricanes Ophelia and Rita, our book was born. Thanks to digital photography, the Internet and lots of espresso, we managed to meet Farcountry's going-to-press deadline. Hurricane Katrina: Through the Eyes of Storm Chasers arrived at bookstores on Oct. 7.
While I was giving a scheduled speech at PhotoPlus Expo '05 in New York City on Oct. 22 about extreme weather, Wilma was bearing down on Florida. In between the Expo and promoting our book on "Good Morning America" and "Paula Zahn Now," I was literally tracking the hurricane on my PowerBook and communicating with colleagues out in the field.
My train from New York to South Carolina (where my hurricane lab is based) was delayed two days because of the storm. But again, I felt lucky. Wilma clobbered southern Florida with as much wind-force as Katrina.
Ironically, one Miami area gift shop set to carry our book about Katrina had to close indefinitely due to damage caused by Wilma.
On Nov. 7, Hurricane Katrina: Through the Eyes of Storm Chasers became a Barnes and Noble.com best seller. But the book is far from perfect. When you create something that quickly, compromises are inevitable. We were given only one opportunity to press-check the photos. Feel free to cringe. I do every time I look at certain images.
That said, I'm still very proud of the book. With the tireless commitment of Farcountry Press, Mike and I are now able to share with others what it was like to witness and survive the most destructive hurricane to ever strike the United States.
As we write in the epilogue, "It is our hope that the images in this book will inspire people to want to learn more about our changing weather and the importance of being prepared for future storms."
An unprecedented 24 named tropical cyclones, 13 that became hurricanes, have occurred since I first went on active hurricane duty this year. I have slept less this year than at any other time in my career. But if I find myself getting grouchy, I simply close one eye and stare at the hump on my newly shaped nose and realize it could have been a whole lot worse. I still feel very lucky.
© Jim Reed
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