Saved from a pauper’s grave, veteran Miami weather researcher Jose Fernandez Partagas had his ashes scattered in the eye of a howling hurricane.
Partagas, who turned a childhood fascination with nature’s fiercest storms into a career as a respected meteorologist and hurricane historian, died in August 1997.
Last Sunday, a year later, his friends from the National Hurricane Center dropped his ashes from high in the sky into the heart of Hurricane Danielle.
“It’s a rare honor. We didn’t want Jose sitting on a shelf,” National Hurricane Center meteorologist Jim Gross said Wednesday. “Hurricanes were his entire life. From the time he was a small child in Cuba he was fascinated with them.”
With no family and nearly destitute, Partagas, who was born and educated in Cuba, died at age 62 on a couch at the University of Miami library, a second home as he researched the history of 19th- and 20th-century hurricanes.
His body went unclaimed and eventually would have been buried in a pauper’s grave. So the National Hurricane Center, the U.S. government agency that tracks hurricanes from a fortified weather station in a Miami suburb, took it.
“We held it until an appropriate storm this year,” Gross said.
Partagas’ hurricane center friends and colleagues held a brief ceremony aboard a P-3 Orion research plane in the heart of Hurricane Danielle as it swirled in the Atlantic Ocean about 400 miles northeast of Miami.
The ashes, in a cloth sack, were sent into the raging hurricane down a chute normally used by researchers to drop sounding devices.
“I found it quite a moving experience,” Peter Black, a U.S. government meteorologist and Partagas’ friend, told the Miami Herald. “It just seemed very appropriate to do it in the eye of a hurricane.”
Gross said Partagas, though not on the government staff, was a constant presence at the National Hurricane Center, doing research, translating hurricane advisories into Spanish and sometimes serving as a Spanish-language media spokesman for the center.
With a small government grant, he was researching and reconstructing the tracks of hurricanes to the mid-1800s to help update the hurricane center’s historic climate files.