10. 1900 Galveston Hurricane
In the movie Night Game, Roy Schneider plays a cop who discovers that every time a certain Astros rookie wins a game, some maniac in Galveston kills a prostitute with a hook. As it turns out, the fellow this pitcher replaced on the roster got liquored up down in the minors and fell asleep on the railroad tracks where a train ran over his wrist. Unable to reattach his hand, doctors replaced it, of course, with a hook. Although not for every taste, Night Game merges the baseball and serial killer genres better than any film since Pride of the Yankees.
9. Tie: 1936 Johnstown PA Flood/
1977 Johnstown PA Flood
Trying to determine which of these floods was better is like trying to compare Johnny Bench to Ernie Lombardi. The old-timers have some incredible stories from ‘36, but many of these involve a gibbon who played poker and a “nine-foot Chinaman” named Sandbag Sam. On the other hand, immortalization in song ranks high on my list of criteria, and there’s an old tune called “Night of the Johnstown Flood,” which I assume describes the ’36 event, but it might be about the Johnstown flood of 1889. Or 1863. Or 1862. In the end, I called it a draw, which will probably please no one.
8. 1969 Cuyahoga River Fire
Technically not a storm, but an incident in which sparks from a railroad car carrying molten steel over a bridge ignited the oil-soaked river, I entered this one as a write-in on the strength of the great Randy Newman song “Burn On.” Also, having spent part of my youth in Pittsburgh where we had three rivers, hardly any of which ever burst into flames, I like bringing it up because it upsets Browns fans.
7. 1991 Halloween “Perfect” Storm
“October 1991. It was “the perfect storm”—a tempest that may happen only once in a century… created by so rare a combination of factors that it could not possibly have been worse. Creating waves ten stories high and winds of 120 miles an hour, the storm whipped the sea to inconceivable levels few people on Earth have ever witnessed. Few, except the six-man crew of the Andrea Gail, a commercial fishing boat headed towards its hellish center." I copied that from the back of the Sebastian Junger paperback The Perfect Storm, which the Kansas City Star called “The perfect book for the beach.”
6.- 5. 1962 Ash Wednesday Nor’easter/
1965 Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak
Some will say I chose these only because of their concurrence with religious holidays, and one could argue that any number of secular squalls—such as the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, and the 1979 Presidents’ Day Storm—are more deserving. Still, violent storms on holy days carry the extra glamour of Biblical wrath. Wouldn’t it have been fun to watch an F5 tornado rip through South Carolina on Martin Luther King’s birthday? Then, standing behind a makeshift podium crafted from an uprooted gas pump, Kweise Mfume could have pointed towards heaven and said, “Now, about that flag…”
4. 1962 Pacific Northwest Big Blow
The wind was so strong on this day that planes were said to have “flown backwards.” (Begin ‘80s-style stand-up routine) It seems to me that a plane being blown backward by wind is not flying at all. It’s CRASHING! (Big laugh). Besides, what kind of pilot would be stupid enough to fly into 170 mile-per-hour gusts? I once had a flight to Miami canceled because a butterfly in Thailand flapped its wings. (Smattering of polite, confused chuckles. Note: Use chaos theory bit for college crowds only).
3. 1992 Hurricane Andrew
In 1992, I was living in Houston and I remember following the devastation Andrew caused in south Florida, watching with fear, knowing that, after it picked up strength over the Gulf, our homes, our lives, could be next. I shared a house with three NASA engineers, and one of them posted a chart on the refrigerator door. Every hour, when the radio announced the latest position of the hurricane’s eye, he would, with shaking hands, mark the latitude and longitude so we could trace its diabolic path. And every hour, we’d silently pray: “God, please destroy Louisiana.” And He did.
2. Tie: 1978 January Midwest “Superbomb”/
1979 Jane Byrne Blizzard
Superbomb makes the list because it has the coolest name of any storm in history. The following year, however, there was a storm of even greater consequence. Jane Byrne was running for mayor of Chicago against the powerful incumbent, Michael Bilandic, and she was all but flatlining in the polls. But on election day, the Midwest was hit with a terrible storm, and Byrne supporters, though fewer in number, were heartier, better-conditioned, and so tiny they could scamper across the snow like rabbits. They made it over the piling drifts and Byrne went on to become the most honest and least effective mayor Chicago ever had.
1. 1975 Edmund Fitzgerald Storm
Back in college, at the end of a long night, my buddy John and I used to stumble out of various bars singing: “At 7pm the old cook came on deck/He said ‘Fellas it’s too rough to feed ya’/At 11pm the main hatchway gave in/He said ‘Fellas it’s been good to know YAAAAAA.’” We thought we were funny. Still, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” is a heck of a song, even though, as far as I can tell, “feed ya” does not rhyme with “know ya.” Not at all. Certainly not the way, in the first verse, “Kitchi-gummi” rhymes with “turned gloomy.” Now there is a rhyme.