With hurricane Gustav bearing down upon the Gulf coast of America, our minds inevitably turn to the powerful storms and the havoc they rain down upon those living within their reach. Growing up in North Carolina, I've experienced a few hurricanes in my short lifespan, even though I don't live on the coast. The worst for me personally, by far, was Fran, which flew far inland and leveled a hundred trees in my family's back yard. Hurricanes are ominous and frightening reminders that despite all of mankind's advances, we have yet to control weather's powerful and chaotic flow.
But our hands aren't fully tied: we can watch the weather and try to understand it. And the more we understand something, the less scary it seems. Imagine a hurricane hitting in a time before satellites or weather radar — with no more warning than the changing wind and a darkened sky.
And imagine a hurricane hitting in a time before the Internet, when you couldn't track its progress live, on demand. Seems silly, right? But we take it for granted.
In the mid-1990s, CompuServe (the dial-up computer service) began providing live downloadable satellite and radar images from The Weather Channel. It's hard to believe now, but this was an absolutely amazing capability at the time. When I saved the images you see here — of hurricane Bertha on July 12th, 1996 — I felt incredibly empowered by the information they conveyed. I also felt privy to knowledge that was seemingly only available to the few at the time, although admittedly you could find similar images on TV.
These low resolution stills are presented actual size; they filled up the whole computer screen when I viewed them in CIM (CompuServe Information Manager) for MS-DOS. I saved them because they were stunning at the time. And I share them now because they remind me of how far we've come — not just since 1996, but since civilization began.
Thanks to the Internet, viewing on-demand satellite and radar images of hurricanes is now commonplace. But even with twelve years of progress between then and now, we're still powerless to stop the mighty storms from blowing how they like and going where they please. All we can do is sit and watch as they pass by, crossing our fingers. But it's better than being completely in the dark.