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Reporter's Notebook: <br> Dan Rather On Hurricanes

CBS Evening News Anchor and Managing Editor Dan Rather has had more than his share of experience weathering hurricanes - often reporting live and on location from the areas faring the worst. He shares his thoughts on Mother Nature's most powerful tropical cyclones.



First off, my own guess - clearly labeled - is that the tail end of this hurricane season will be more active than the average year's. Yes, there is considerable indication in the scientific data suggesting this as well. But when it comes to hurricanes, I'm sometimes a hunch and instinct follower. And this is one of those times.

So put me down as guessing that come this mid- to late August, September and possibly even on into October, we'll experience more than the ordinary run of hurricanes.

You may want to note that my prediction record is spotty, at best. I'd like to believe that those of us at CBS News are especially good at covering hurricanes once they develop. But I know that the record clearly shows that in hurricane predicting, as in so many things, when we try to live by the crystal ball, we eat a lot of broken glass. In the case of hurricanes, barometer glass!

In Central America, floods from Hurricane Mitch caused thousands of deaths.

Secondly, in my experience, the mistake people make most often concerning hurricanes is in not knowing and/or not remembering that most damage, injury and death caused by hurricanes aren't caused by high winds. They're a result of rising water.

Several factors can cause rising water: Extremely heavy rains, such as l6 to 22 inches or so in 24 hours or less, is one. Exceptionally high - sometimes monstrous - tides is another. Flooding, including the rapid flooding of backwater and tributary water areas, can also be devastating.

And most deadly is the great wall of water (storm surge) that usually comes with the worst of the hurricane, driven just ahead of it - what used to be called a "tidal wave," what the Japanese term a tsunami, and what's now sometimes referred to as "the great hurricane sea swell."

These and other unusual results of wind-caused water happenings bring greater danger than a hurricane's high winds.

Dan Rather reporting on Hurricane Opal

Third, too many people wait too long to begin thinking seriously about and preparing for hurricanes. And too many, even after being clearly warned, still don't take proper precautions.

People ignore warnings and stay in low-lying areas until it's too late to leave. Or folks take the attitude, "Oh, we've heard these warnings before. They're never a bad as they are made out to be." This is, to put it bluntly, dumb and dangerous.

A footnote on this last point: When Hurricane Carla struck the Texas coast in l961, it was then (and, so far as I know, still is) rated one of if not the largest and most potentially dangerous hurricanes on record.

Hurricane Carla's top winds were estimated to be in the 200-mile-an-hour range and its size, so immense that it literally covered virtually all of the Gulf of Mexico, in one way or another.

But, Hurricane Carla was a long time in reaching the Texas and Louisiana coasts. This was partly because, after it had crossed over the Yucatan, it had regained force and then, in effect, marched all the way across the Gulf.

Dan Rather in Texas in 1961, reporting on Hurricane Carla

This allowed long, strong warnings from U.S. weather authorities. And the advent of extended television coverage made a difference as well. The mass of population - for the first time - was able to see the eye of Hurricane Carla as shown on radar.

The result was people did pay attention. There was a truly extraordinary evacuation of coastal areas. And the widespread evacuations led to an amazingly low loss of life.

Figures vary. Most conclude that perhaps fewer than a dozen people lost their lives in the hurricane itself. When later tornadoes and their aftermath are figured in, some of the unofficial death toll figures go higher.

There's a good lesson in that - one that many Americans have yet to learn.

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