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Who were Saffir and Simpson?

The story behind the men who came up with the hurricane scale

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Herbert Saffir was a civil engineer who traveled the American Southeast extensively throughout the 1960s, studying the effects of hurricanes on buildings and other structures.

  Robert Simpson had a more visceral experience with hurricanes. On the evening of Sept. 11, 1919, telegraph offices from Louisiana to Texas crackled with the message: Prepare for a hurricane. Before the days of named hurricanes, reports still were collected and published monthly by meteorologists (all of them are available on the Atlantic Oeanographic & Meteorological Laboratory/ National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration website, www.aoml.noaa.gov). The entry for the hurricane that wiped away Simpson's Corpus Christi, Texas home and drowned a family member was typically clinical and brief, describing clouds and winds and reports from people on the ground, but Gulf Coast residents are aware of the more prolonged experiences of the terror and loss that accompany many storms that make landfall.

  The report on the Corpus Christi storm included an excerpt from the Houston Post's Sept. 19, 1919 coverage of the hurricane.

  "Stretching along the beach for 23 blocks, homes were crushed and hurled away or wrecked by the tidal wave, which reached a depth of 15 feet in some places. Over much of the beach section ... not an indication of former homes now remains, except here and there a bathtub or part of a brick chimney. ... In the downtown district, utter demolition of some of the city's most important industrial and public plants marked an area extending for six blocks along the water front and more than a block in width, while beyond that block ... every commercial establishment's first floor was wrecked, and in some cases the entire building rendered useless over a corresponding area two blocks wide."

  Simpson's experience ushered him into a distinguished life in meteorology through the 1940s and '50s, including flying into hurricanes with the U.S. Air Force, seeding them with silver iodide and taking measurements with improvised instruments. He was appointed director of the National Hurricane Center in 1967, and there, he and Saffir developed the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, the immediate predecessor to the scale used today.

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