Murphy's Law: An Ill Wind

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October 8, 2007: In some parts of the world, weather has a major impact on military pilot training. This is the case in the Philippines, which is sometimes hit by several typhoons (hurricane like storms, but larger) in quick succession. In addition to airfield and facility damage, the training aircraft have to be flown out of the way, often a long distance because of the size of these storms. New pilots have to get 150 hours in the air to complete their training, which is supposed to take a year. But if there is a bad typhoon season, pilots may be delayed, a month or more, from completing their training.

These typhoons also severely disrupt all military aviation operations. Aircraft must be sent away, often far away, and bases battened down to minimize storm damage. Airbases can be out of action for weeks per typhoon.

Warships are also at risk, although these days, weather satellites have eliminated the surprise factor. Not so in the past. On December 17, 1944, Task Force 38 was blindsided by a typhoon off the Philippines. Over 800 sailors were killed, three destroyers were sunk, and twenty other ships severely damaged, while many aircraft were damaged or destroyed. This was not the only time a Task Force ran afoul of a storm, simply the worst. One reason for the seriousness of this incident may be due to the fact that Admiral Halsey flew his flag from a battleship, which was much more stable in foul weather than a destroyer, particularly one which was low on fuel.

The typhoon "nursery" (for those north of the equator in the Pacific) is between 155 and 165 degrees east longitude, and from the Equator to about 20 degrees north, at least for most of the year. From January through March it's between 145-155 degrees. Further complicating matters, some ferocious storms form west of Japan in the Sea of Japan and a few even further north, over land in north east Siberia and then gain typhoon strength as they move out over the water. Most of these "northern" typhoons don't get beyond storm (over 62 kilometers per hour wind) strength, but some do. For every typhoon, there are several storms of (somewhat) lesser ferocity, which could be almost as bad as a typhoon, as carrier operations are not possible during most storms, and this makes it easier for enemy submarines to get close to the carriers. All of this storm activity happened smack in the middle of the Central Pacific, an area where there are still some major American military bases.

 


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