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What gripped Heidi's concentration was the atmospheric pressure as measured in millibars. The lower the reading, the worse the storm. Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and Andrew in 1992 registered 934 and 922, respectively. Lizzie was already at 945 and rapidly dropping, forming a vacuum in her center that was intensifying by the hour. Bit by bit, millibar by foreboding millibar, the atmospheric pressure fell down the barometric scale.

IT WAS NOON NOW, a crazy, wild, insane noon. The seas had built from a relatively flat surface to thirty-foot waves in what seemed to the captain of the containership, the Nicaraguan-registered Mona Lisa, the blink of an eye. He felt as though he'd thrown open a door to the desert and had a tankful of water thrown at him. The seas had gone steep in a matter of minutes and the light breeze had turned into a full-blown gale. In all his years at sea, he'd never seen a storm come up so fast.

Hurricanes move slowly, usually no more than twelve miles an hour, about the average speed of someone riding a bicycle. But Lizzie was not following the rules laid down by those storms that went before her. She was hurtling across the sea at a very respectable twenty miles an hour. And contrary to earlier hurricanes that zigged and zagged their way toward the Western Hemisphere, Lizzie was traveling in a straight line as if her mind was on a specific target.

IT WAS NOON NOW, a crazy, wild, insane noon. The seas had built from a relatively flat surface to thirty-foot waves in what seemed to the captain of the containership, the Nicaraguan-registered Mona Lisa, the blink of an eye. He felt as though he'd thrown open a door to the desert and had a tankful of water thrown at him. The seas had gone steep in a matter of minutes and the light breeze had turned into a full-blown gale. In all his years at sea, he'd never seen a storm come up so fast.

"Before you send me back to Never-Never Land," said Max, "there is one more thing."

Before night fell, a dozen other ships would suffer Lizzie's destructive violence.

IT WAS NOON NOW, a crazy, wild, insane noon. The seas had built from a relatively flat surface to thirty-foot waves in what seemed to the captain of the containership, the Nicaraguan-registered Mona Lisa, the blink of an eye. He felt as though he'd thrown open a door to the desert and had a tankful of water thrown at him. The seas had gone steep in a matter of minutes and the light breeze had turned into a full-blown gale. In all his years at sea, he'd never seen a storm come up so fast.

Her winds spiraled at greater and greater speeds. She quickly passed the stage of "Tropical Depression" with wind speeds of thirty-nine miles per hour. Soon as they sustained seventy-four miles an hour, she became a full-fledged, certified, Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Not content to simply become a lower-end tempest, Lizzie soon increased her winds to one hundred and thirty miles an hour, quickly passing Category 2 and charging into a Category 3 system.

Lizzie was also moving at a record pace westward across the ocean.

HEIDI AND fellow meteorologists at the NUMA center began hovering in conferences and studying the data on the latest system sweeping in from the east. They saw no slackening of Lizzie as she swept past longitude 40 west in mid-Atlantic, still throwing all previous predictions out the window by running straight with barely a wobble.

He decided to run a check of Max's systems first thing in the morning before sharing the report with Sandecker. He wasn't about to take a chance on Max somehow becoming misguided.

Will keep you informed. Heidi

Before night fell, a dozen other ships would suffer Lizzie's destructive violence.

Heidi never knew who on what island coined the term hurricane. But it was a Caribbean word that meant "Big Wind." Bursting with enough energy to match the largest nuclear bomb, Lizzie was running wild with thunder, lightning and driving rain.

Yaeger sat there, totally lost, as Max vanished back into her circuits. His mind ran toward the abstract. He tried to picture an ancient crewman on a three-thousand-year-old ship throwing a bronze pot overboard four thousand miles from Europe but the image would not unfold.

Will keep you informed. Heidi

"Before you send me back to Never-Never Land," said Max, "there is one more thing."

Heidi took a few minutes to type a fax to her husband, Harley, at the National Weather Service to alert him to the hurricane's latest numbers.

In NUMA's Hurricane Center, Heidi Lisherness studied the latest images transmitted down from the geostationary satellites orbiting the earth twenty-two thousand miles above the equator. The data was transmitted into a computer, using one of several numerical models to forecast speed, path and the growing strength of Lizzie. Satellite pictures were not the most accurate. She would have preferred to study more detailed photos, but it was too early to send out a storm-tracking Air Force plane that far into the ocean. She would have to wait before obtaining more detailed images.

Yaeger sat there, totally lost, as Max vanished back into her circuits. His mind ran toward the abstract. He tried to picture an ancient crewman on a three-thousand-year-old ship throwing a bronze pot overboard four thousand miles from Europe but the image would not unfold.

Yaeger looked at her guardedly. "Which is?"

Hurricanes move slowly, usually no more than twelve miles an hour, about the average speed of someone riding a bicycle. But Lizzie was not following the rules laid down by those storms that went before her. She was hurtling across the sea at a very respectable twenty miles an hour. And contrary to earlier hurricanes that zigged and zagged their way toward the Western Hemisphere, Lizzie was traveling in a straight line as if her mind was on a specific target.

Already, ships in that part of the ocean were feeling her wrath.

In NUMA's Hurricane Center, Heidi Lisherness studied the latest images transmitted down from the geostationary satellites orbiting the earth twenty-two thousand miles above the equator. The data was transmitted into a computer, using one of several numerical models to forecast speed, path and the growing strength of Lizzie. Satellite pictures were not the most accurate. She would have preferred to study more detailed photos, but it was too early to send out a storm-tracking Air Force plane that far into the ocean. She would have to wait before obtaining more detailed images.

An eighty-foot yacht owned by the founder of a computer software company, carrying ten passengers and five crew on a cruise to Dakar, simply vanished, overwhelmed by huge seas without time to send a Mayday.

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