I've been hesitant to post about this during the worst days of Hurricane Sandy, but the historian in me has been struck by a coincidence of time and event. In late October, 1861, the Union mounted a huge expedition designed to capture a safe harbor along the southern coast and use it as the base of operations to enforce the blockade against the Confederacy. The expedition itself included some 12,000 soldiers and 80 ships, led by then-Commodore Samuel DuPont.
The records show that October 30 was a beautiful warm day at sea, but the weather shifted, and on November 1 the fleet ran full tilt into a late-season hurricane. Several ships were lost, 31 men washed up on a North Carolina coast and were taken prisoner, and the army lost their landing boats, which meant they would be unable to take part in the upcoming Battle of Port Royal.
I first wrote about this incident in my historical monograph, "A Scratch with the Rebels," Then I expanded the story to include it in my historical novel of the same period, "Beyond All Price," Readers will remember Nellie warning that the encroaching clouds and dropping pressure reminded her of the nor'easters of her Maine childhood. There was a dramatic moment in which a huge wave nearly swept Nellie overboard and dealt her a blow to the head before she was rescued by her gallant regimental commander.
The storm was real, although obviously not as intense as the one we just witnessed. Yet when I hear people making the leap from October Hurricane to impending doom caused by climate change, I can't help but want to remind them that vicious storms at this time of year are not quite as unusual as they seem from our short-sighted point of view. More than that, climate change is nothing new, but rather seems to be a recurring pattern over broad eras and hundreds of years.
I in no way want to belittle the suffering of so many people affected by Sandy, but I will continue to point out that there is much to be said for keeping things in historical perspective.