Last Saturday I had the honor to attend the Marine Birthday Ball, celebrating the 236-year anniversary of the Marine Corps, at the Atascadero Lake Pavilion.
Speaking with Marines and other veterans from the Air Force, Army and Navy who were in attendance, I was astounded by how many of these dedicated men and women had stories about weather and how it affected their operations — just as it did George Washington’s struggles to cross the ice-clogged Delaware River in 1776 or Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s nerve-wracking wait for a window of calmer weather for the amphibious landing at Normandy, France, in 1944.
The story that sparked my greatest curiosity was Navy Chaplain Bill Houston’s recollection of a frightful typhoon that wreaked havoc on the 3rd Fleet during World War II.
Adm. William “Bull” Halsey commanded this fleet and sailed it right into the heart of a rapidly intensifying typhoon off the Philippines in December 1944.
Three destroyers — USS Hull, USS Monaghan and USS Spence — capsized and sank during this storm with the loss of 775 souls. The storm also inflicted great damage on the rest of the fleet, with a total loss of nearly 800 sailors and 150 naval aircraft. This was the largest natural naval disaster in United States history.
Back then, weather reports were at least 12 hours old before they reached the ships by radio.
Furthermore, without the benefit of today’s high-speed computers and satellite data, forecasting typhoons was difficult at best and often nearly impossible.
Worse yet, Adm. Halsey was given no hint of any severe weather from the Task Force aerological service group that provided weather forecasts for the fleet.
On the morning of Dec. 17, the fleet attempted to refuel its ships. However, the winds and seas increased to a point where refueling became difficult.
Adm. Halsey ordered the fleet to delay fueling and head to another fueling rendezvous in hopes of resuming fueling the next morning. Unwittingly, through many course changes, he sailed the 3rd Fleet into the heart of Typhoon Cobra the next day.
On Dec. 18, the atmospheric pressure rapidly dropped and the winds increased. The sustained winds were estimated to have reached more than 120 mph with gusts to 150 mph as the eye of the typhoon approached the fleet. The seas reached more than 50 feet with individual wave sets probably reaching more than 70 feet in height!
At around this time, the three destroyers had gone to the bottom of the Pacific.
Ships were battling for survival as the boundary between sea and air became bleared.
There were reports of ships taking 75-degree rolls and crashing through green mountains of water. At times like this, ships shake violently as thousands of tons of water roll off their bows.
By Dec. 19, the storm moved out of the area and the skies cleared. A search and rescue mission was conducted and 92 sailors were rescued. I can only imagine what a terrifying experience it must have been for them.
This week’s forecast
The cut-off low pressure system responsible for the recent rains and clouds is currently over Baja.
This cut-off low produced 1.42 inches of rain at Piedras Blancas, 1.14 inches at San Simeon and 1.10 inches at Rocky Butte. Cambria recorded 0.95 inches of rain, while SLOweather.com had 0.55 inches of precipitation. Both Diablo Canyon along the Pecho Coast and the PG&E Energy Education Center in the Avila Valley reported 0.61 inches of rain from Friday through Saturday morning.
Areas of ground fog will burn off later this morning.
A plume of moisture coupled with a weak disturbance will move into the Central Coast later today, producing partly cloudy skies and mild temperatures. The increase in moisture will keep temperatures mild tonight.
Dry and partly cloudy conditions are forecast Monday through Thursday with strong to gale force (25- to 38-mph) afternoon northwesterly winds Monday, decreasing to fresh to strong (19- to 31-mph) levels on Tuesday through Thursday.
An upper-level trough is forecast to move in bringing possible rain showers to the area on Friday and sticking around through the weekend. There is considerable disagreement with the models on the location and amount of precipitation this system will produce, so confidence remains rather low with the details at this time.
Surf and sea report
This morning’s 2- to 4-foot northwesterly (300-degree deep-water) sea and swell (with a 5- to 11-second period) will increase to 4 to 6 feet (with a 5- to 14-second period) this afternoon and will remain at this height and period through Monday morning.
Strong to gale force (25- to 38-mph) northwesterly winds along the coast will generate 6- to 8-foot northwesterly (300-degree deep-water) sea and swell (with a 7- to 12-second period) Monday afternoon and will remain at this height and period through Tuesday, decreasing to 5 to 7 feet Wednesday.
A 4- to 6-foot northwesterly (305-degree deep-water) sea and swell (with a 5- to 11-second period) is forecast Thursday into Friday, increasing to 9 to 11 feet on Saturday.
Seawater temperatures will range between 55 and 57 degrees through Monday, decreasing to 53 to 55 degrees Tuesday and will remain at this level through Friday.
Californians are often the first to try out innovative ways to protect the environment.
So it’s no surprise we’re gearing up for a greener driving alternative: plug-in electric vehicles.
To learn more, please visit www.pge.com/myhome.