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September-October 2016

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Retrospect: September 29–30, 1896: Cedar Keys Hurricane

In 1898, United States Weather Bureau Chief Willis Moore asked his boss, Secretary of Agriculture James Wilson, to arrange a meeting with the President of the United States, William McKinley. Moore's intention was to impress upon the commander-in-chief the need to begin a federally funded hurricane warning program under the auspices of the Weather Bureau. With the Spanish–American War underway, such a program – which would rely on a network of weather reporting stations around the fleet of United States Naval ships that were blockading Cuba – could provide a strategic advantage during the war and would likewise prove useful from a meteorological standpoint during peacetime. Moore recalled his meeting with McKinley years later, in an essay published in 1927 in the magazine The American Mercury:

I can see him now as he stood with one leg carelessly thrown across his desk, chin in hand and elbow on knee, studying the map that I had spread before him. Suddenly he turned to the Secretary and said: “Wilson, I am more afraid of a West Indian hurricane than I am of the entire Spanish Navy.” To me he said: “Get this service inaugurated at the earliest possible moment.”

Contributing Editor Sean Potter is a Certified Consulting Meteorologist (CCM), Certified Broadcast Meteorologist (CBM), and science writer with an interest in weather history.       

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