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Meeting Minutes

“Was Weather a Factor in the Israelites Crossing of the Red Sea?”

by George Miller, writer, historian, and Science Professor, Marylhurst University.

On April 8, 2010, we had 31 attend this dinner meeting, at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Clackamas.  OR-AMS Councilor Steve Pierce welcomed folks and gave the opening remarks.

George’s disclaimer was, “I am not going to disprove a miracle!”  However, he indicated that there may have been clues as to the meteorological factors during the crossing.  He cites work published in BAMS, Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 1992, v. 73(3), by Nof and Paldor, “Are There Oceanographic Explanations to the Israelite Crossing of the Red Sea?”  George decided to add a meteorological interpretation to the story. George also sited many other references of theological nature that suggested several crossing sites.

During the Crossing, it is recorded that the wind direction was easterly as sited in the Book of Exodus but easterly could have meant northeasterly or southeasterly.  The Red Sea is bound by hills and low mountains on the Sinai Peninsula trending northwest-southeast.  The prevailing wind direction is northwest during most of the year and is driven by high pressure over the Mediterranean Sea and low pressure over Saudi Arabia. 

Where and when did the Crossing occur?  Was it the Red Sea?  Was the Red Sea as we know it today or was it different thousands of years ago?  Was it the Reed Sea?  There could have been an error in the translation, with “e” omitted.  Yamsurf is Hebrew for “sea of reeds.”  No reeds grow what we know of today as the Red Sea.  In Hebrew, even a small body of water is called “a sea.”  The timing was believed to have been in summer or spring.

The Egyptian army had garrisons on the Sinai Peninsula. There is quite a bit of controversy as to where the crossing took place. One thought is that it was north near the Mediterranean Sea. In this case the suggested route would be southeast and then north. Another crossing site places it southeast from Rameses in the area of the Bitter Lakes.

The extreme northern portion of the Gulf of Suez is another possible site for the Crossing.  There is a shallow area in the center of the bay.  Under the right atmospheric conditions, could a very strong wind create a storm surge and swells to pile up water in a bay to the other side?

Khamsin is a weather event that comes out of North Africa, where a hot spring wind blows across Egypt during March to May (usually April).  This event forms on the lee (backside) of the Atlas Mountains with sometimes hurricane force winds that can blow for days.  The wind speeds can change within minutes.  George suggests that an intense low pressure center moved over North Africa and had a funnel-effect on the local geography, which could create a storm surge necessary to pile up water in a shallow sea or bay.  As the low moved away, the southeast wind became northwest.  Other explanations have been suggested that include tsunamis (i.e., harbor waves or seismic sea waves).

The Exodus occurred sometime during 1440 – 1290 B.C.  From 5000 B.C. to the present, climatologists suggest we’ve been in a slight cooling trend with more intense cyclonic action.

Note-taker: Kyle Dittmer, 2009-2010 Oregon-AMS Secretary