By: Garland Davis
From Wikipedia: A typhoon is a mature tropical cyclone that develops in the northwestern part of the Pacific Ocean between 180° and 100°E. This region is referred to as the northwest Pacific basin. For organizational purposes, the northern Pacific Ocean is divided into three regions: the eastern (North America to 140°W), central (140°W to 180°), and western (180° to 100°E). Identical phenomena in the eastern north Pacific are called hurricanes, with tropical cyclones moving into the western Pacific re-designated as typhoons.
The Hurricane Season for the Hawaiian Islands runs from June first through November. There are, on average, four Central Pacific hurricanes each year and three named tropical storms. So far this year, we have had fourteen hurricanes. Only the first one did any damage and then only to the Big Island of Hawaii. Number fifteen, another tropical storm is forming in the Eastern Pacific and is expected to be at hurricane strength by the time it crosses into the central area later this week.
Having served twenty-five years afloat in, mostly, the Western Pacific, I probably saw more hurricanes/typhoons than most people, but I have only experienced two hurricanes ashore, Hurricane Hazel, as a child, and hurricane Iniki in Hawaii after I retired.
Growing up in the Piedmont region of North Carolina the worst threat from the Atlantic Hurricanes was some increased rainfall. There was little to no threat from the higher winds. On October 15, 1954, Hurricane became the, once in a century, exception. Hazel made landfall at Long beach, N.C., a community of Oak Island as a category four hurricane with winds exceeding 140 miles per hour. After landfall it tracked inland, and battering winds cut a wide swath northward toward Raleigh.
I remember Hazel well. I was in the sixth grade. It was raining as we ran for the school bus. And it kept raining. By the time we arrived at school, the parking lot was flooded by a few inches and the side ditches of the roads were over flowing. The principle was at the bus stop informing the drivers to take everyone home. School had been canceled because of the weather. As we went back through the low point below Baux Mountain, we could see the creek was already over flowing.
My brother and I arrived home soaking wet. We lived on a dirt road and the bus driver refused to take us to the house. He didn’t want to risk getting stuck. It was only a mile to our house. We had to walk and were completely soaked with my brother crying by the time we made it home. There were other kids on our road, but we had the furthest to go. It rained for the next two days. When the weather cleared up, the Yadkin River looked like the Missississippi River and the creek behind the house was lapping at the lower level of the barn where the stalls were, a hundred yards from it’s normal banks. We moved the cows, goats and the mule into the garage and the shed. The aftermath of the flooding clearly showed the power of water.
I cannot begin to count the number of typhoons that I have experienced. The Navy, when possible, sends ships to sea, when a typhoon or hurricane is imminent. A ship needs sea room to maneuver. Every mariner’s worst nightmare is to be caught on a lee shore during a storm.
I was serving in USS Mahopac, an Ocean Going Tug. We left Vung Tau, Viet Nam in the fall of 1968 with a huge square-ended floating crane in tow. We were bound for Sasebo, Japan. Our best towing speed was about three knots (80 miles per day). The trip would take about thirty days. A few days into the trip, we learned that we were in the path of a typhoon. We couldn’t run because of the drag of the tow and we could not abandon it. We had to ride it out.
Once the storm hit we could barely make turns (revolutions of the screw) for two knots. The towing motor reel that contained the towing wire would pay out wire when the strain was too heavy and take it back noisily when there was slack. If all the wire was taken off the spool it could result in damage to the motor and the ship and loss of the tow. Two knots were barely enough to maintain steerage way, keep the bow of the ship into the wind and seas and not severely overtax the towing equipment. We could not see the tow, it was lost in the rain. The only reason we knew it was there was the tension on the tow cable.
Water was washing over the signal bridge (the highest deck on the ship). We were taking up to forty-five degree rolls. The crew was extremely seasick. There were about six of us, out of a crew of forty-four that weren’t sick. The Captain, SM1, 2 EN1’s and an ICFN and I. The CO, the SM1 and I manned the bridge throughout that night, while the engineers kept the diesels running. I was helmsman for over twelve hours that night. Conditions started easing when morning came. I went to the galley to prepare some food and we started kicking guys out of their racks and getting them moving around again.
After about seventy-two hours of these conditions, the weather cleared and we sorted ourselves out and took inventory. We lost that radar antenna and mast, the ships boat, and anything that wasn’t bolted down. The exhaust stack from the engine room was bent aft at a slight angle. All electrical navigation was knocked out.
During the storm, the Navigator could only guess as to our position. When the he was able to get a position, he discovered that we were almost one hundred eighty astern of our last known position before the storm. The tow had towed us from a position north of Da Nang, South Viet Nam to a position NNE of Cape St Jacques, the southern tip of Viet Nam. I rode out many other storms, but this one was the worst.
I have been asked if I was afraid when the Morton came under fire during the waning days of the Viet Nam war. I tell them no. I got over being afraid during a storm one night in the South China Sea.
Hurricane or Typhoon, it doesn’t matter what the hell you call them.
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