I went to town that day and everyone I met, everyone I spoke to said something about the wind. “Reminds me of the blizzard of ‘78,” more than one person told me.
I remember that storm. I remember thinking, and sometimes commenting, that it wasn’t a real blizzard, not by my dad’s definition. According to Dad it wasn’t really a blizzard until blowing snow became a white-out. Dad judged blizzard conditions outside our home in northwest Iowa by looking out the window at the back of our house. If he couldn’t see the garage, which was about twenty feet from the house, that, to him, was a blizzard. How strong was the wind? I don’t know.
Our house in Iowa was damaged by a tornado once. We were home. We heard the fury of that wind. We saw the damage it did. I don’t know how strong the wind was but I’ve read that the wind in a tornado is over 100 miles per hour.
I’ve been on ships at sea in hurricanes and in typhoons. They’re the same, really, just occur in different oceans, a hurricane in the Atlantic, a typhoon in the Pacific. But to be either the wind must be at least 74 miles per hour.
When the wind blows strong, when that’s the primary topic of conversation, I remember and often talk about a typhoon I experienced while serving on a Navy destroyer. With the possible exception of the tornado that damaged our house in Iowa, that storm had the strongest winds I have ever seen.
We were steaming from Pearl Harbor to Yokosuka, Japan and were due to enter port the next morning when we encountered “the storm.” The wind got stronger and stronger throughout the day and the waves got bigger and bigger. By evening we’d lost sight of the other three destroyers of our division. Each of us was steaming independently, steering into the waves to keep from rolling, as much as we could.
It was like riding up and down hills. Each time we went over a crest the entire stern of the ship, including the propellers, came out of the water and when the screws came out of the water the entire ship vibrated like a dog shaking. Even though we steered into the waves we rolled over 40, even over 50 degrees to each side.
I was on watch that night from midnight to four, the peak of the storm. My watch station was on the bridge and there, standing on the deck which was 74 feet above the water line, when the ship descended into a trough between waves I looked up at the tops of waves all around the ship. All but the center of the radar screen lighted up when we were in a trough, the radar beam reflected back from water higher than the radar all around us.
Wind caused those waves, waves that badly damaged one of our lifeboats, that broke loose a metal rack that was welded to the deck and dumped it and the life raft in it over the side. Those waves coming over the bow slammed down into the anchor chain pipes, rupturing them and flooding the two storage compartments those pipes ran through.
Wind 40, 50 miles per hour; let me tell you about a real wind, a wind of more than a hundred miles per hour, a wind that created waves taller than a Navy destroyer, the wind of a typhoon.