The Hurricane Hunters
BY Ivan Ray Tannehill
ILLUSTRATED WITH PHOTOGRAPHS
DODD, MEAD & COMPANY
NEW YORK 1956
Copyright, © 1955 by Ivan Ray Tannehill
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher
Published November, 1955
Second Printing, February, 1956
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 55-9480
Printed in the United States of America
by The Cornwall Press, Inc., Cornwall, N. Y.
To my daughter and son-in-law,
Doris and Bill
At appropriate places in the book the narrative serves as anacknowledgment by giving the names of a large number ofmen who furnished information in personal interviews, bycorrespondence, or in their reports which were included inthe voluminous files searched in the last year.
In writing this book I had unstinted cooperation fromthe Air Weather Service and its Commander, Brigadier GeneralThomas Moorman, from the Aerological Branch of theNavy Department and its Head, Captain C. J. S. McKillip,and from the Chief of the Weather Bureau, Dr. F. W. Reichelderfer,and his associates in the field and the central office.In particular, Major William C. Anderson and associates inthe Office of Information Services of the Air Weather Serviceand Captain Robert O. Minter of the Fleet WeatherCentral at Miami and his associates there in Airborne EarlyWarning Squadron Four at Jacksonville were extremelyhelpful. Of the associates of these men I wish to mentionespecially the assistance of Lieutenant Commander R. W.Westover and Air Force Captain Ed Vrable, both of whomare seasoned hurricane hunters.
Others not mentioned in the book who contributed to theviiiwarning service and indirectly to the material used herewere Isaac M. Cline and Charles L. Mitchell of the WeatherBureau. Their writings supply much of the background forany work on tropical storms.
The Air Force, Navy and Weather Bureau kindly suppliedofficial photographs used here, except the wave breaking onthe sea wall by the Miami Daily News and the drawings ofsailing ships in hurricanes which are credited to ColonelWilliam Reid who published them in 1850 in his book on the“Law of Storms.”The Author
- 1. Monsters of the World of Storms 1
- 2. The Saddler’s Apprentice 19
- 3. At the Bottom of the Sea 32
- 4. Storm Warnings 45
- 5. Radio Helps—Then Hinders 59
- 6. The Eye of the Hurricane 75
- 7. First Flight into the Vortex! 90
- 8. The Hammer and the Highway 103
- 9. Wings against the Whirling Blasts 117
- 10. Kappler’s Hurricane 132
- 11. Tricks of the Trade 150
- 12. Trailing the Terrible Typhoon 167
- 13. Guest on a Hairy Hop 185
- 14. The Unexpected 202
- 15. Fighting Hail and Hurricanes 224
- 16. Carol, Edna, Hazel or Saxby! 237
- 17. The Gears and Guts of the Giant 250
(Photographic supplement follows page 50)
- The English warship Egmont in the “Great Hurricane” of 1780.
- The Calypso in the big Atlantic hurricane of 1837.
- A tremendous wave breaks against the distant seawall on Florida coast at the height of a hurricane.
- Typhoon buckles the flight deck of the aircraft carrier Bennington and drapes it over the bow.
- Winds of hurricane drive pine board through the tough trunk of a palm tree in Puerto Rico, September 13, 1928.
- Looking down from plane at the surface of the sea with winds of 15 knots.
- Sea surface with winds of 40 knots.
- Sea surface with winds of 75 knots.
- Sea surface with winds of 120 knots.
- Superfortress B-29 used by Air Force for hurricane hunting.
- Neptune P2V-3W used by Navy for hurricane hunting.
- Navy crew of hurricane hunters.
- Air Force crew being briefed by weather officer before flight into hurricane.
- Conditions at birth of Caribbean Charlie in 1951.
- Part of a spiral squall band, an “arm of the octopus.”
- Through Plexiglas nose, weather officer sees white caps on sea 1,500 feet below.
- Navy aerologist at his station in nose of aircraft on hurricane mission.
- Radar operator and navigator.
- Maintenance crew goes to work on B-29 after return from hurricane mission.
- City docks at Miami after passage of Kappler’s Hurricane in September, 1945.
- Positions of crew members in B-29 on hurricane mission.
- Part of scope showing typhoon by radar.
- Looking down into the eye of Hurricane Edna on September 7, 1954.
- Looking down at the central region of Typhoon Marge in 1951.
- Weather officer in nose of aircraft talking to pilot and radar operator.
- The engineer in a B-29 on hurricane reconnaissance.
- The two scanners ready to signal engine trouble the instant it shows up.
- The new plane (B-50) to be used by the Air Force for hurricane reconnaissance.
THE HURRICANE HUNTERS
1. MONSTERS OF THE WORLD OF STORMS
The hollow winds begin to blow,
The clouds look black, the glass is low.
A stiff breeze, now and then with a hard gust, swept rainacross the Navy airfield. The place was gloomy and deserted,except for one Privateer standing behind the air station, allother planes having been evacuated the night before. A tallyoung airman came out of a building down at the other sideof the field. He looked nervously at the blackening morningsky as another squall came by, hurried over to the plane andstood between it and the protecting station. In a few minutes,eight men followed him. They climbed aboard the craft.The tall airman was last, taking a final look at the sky overhis shoulder as he crawled in. The roots of his hair feltelectrified, his spine tingled and his knees turned to rubber.In a few moments the plane took off into the darkening sky.
In those anxious moments as he had glanced upward atthe wind-torn clouds with driving rain in his face, many2thoughts passed through his mind. In training for this job hehad read about aircraft carriers having their flight decks tornup by typhoons, about battered destroyers sunk by hurricanes,big freight ships tossed out on dry land, upper storiesof brick buildings sliced off, timbers driven endways throughthe tough trunks of palm trees. The idea of sending a planeinto one of these monsters seemed fantastic. He could imaginethe wings being torn off and see vividly in his mind thebroken craft rocketing downward into the foam of gale-sweptwaters far below. He leaned over on the radio table andmuttered a prayer, hoping that God could hear him abovethe tumult of winds, seas and engines. To most of the menthis was “old stuff.” Flying into hurricanes had been goingon for two years. To him it was a strange adventure.
He was the radio man and this was to be his first flightinto a hurricane. And it would be no practice ride. This wasa bad storm, getting too close to the coast to suit him. He hadbeen told that after nightfall its center would strike inlandand there would be widespread damage and some loss of life.He tried to remember other things they had told him in thebriefing session and some of the instructions he had beenreading for three days now. Well, such is life, he thought.His father had been the master of an oil tanker for the lastfifteen years. He had told his growing son a lot about thesebig storms of the Caribbean. What would his father say nowwhen he learned that his son was one of the men assigned tothe job of flying into them? His thoughts were interrupted byviolent agitation of the plane and the roar of the wind. Thenavigator said something about the turbulence.
He remembered asking one of the men what it would belike in the hurricane, and the fellow laughed and said, “Likegoing over Niagara Falls in a telephone booth.” He recalledthe burly fellow who pointed to the map and told themwhere the center of the hurricane was located and how to3get to it. In answer to his last question, one of the men hadtold him that all he had to do was hold on for dear life withboth hands until the weather officer handed him a messagefor the forecast office and then he should send it as quicklyas possible, without being thrown on his ear. Now the planewas bumping along in the overcast and the rain had becometorrential. The wind was on the port quarter and water wascoming through the nose and flooding the crawlway. It waspouring on him from above somewhere. Rivers were runningdown his back.
He asked the weather officer what he thought about it, andhe replied, “Oh, this is the usual thing. Sometimes it gets agood deal worse.” Well, he thought it was getting a lot worse.Maybe the pilot and co-pilot could see but he could see nothingoutside the plane. He hit his head on something, a hardcrack, and he started to feel sick. Finally, he put his headdown on the edge of the table and began to lose his breakfast.
Up and down the coast the Air Force bases were deserted.All planes but one had been flown inland and the last one, aB-17, was poised on Morrison Field for the final hop into thebig winds, to return before nightfall.
In Miami, one of the senior men in the Weather Bureauoffice was called to the telephone. Somebody insisted on talkingto him and nobody else. It was long distance. A womansaid in a frightened voice that her son had gone out to lookafter a neighbor’s boat and she wanted to know whether sheshould try to go out to find him and bring him in. He wasonly twelve years old. “Yes, by all means,” was the answer.The forecaster didn’t know how she was going to reach theboy or how far she had to go, but he recalled that other menand boys had lost their lives doing the same thing. They werehaving hundreds of calls and they were unable to go intodetails. He paused just a moment, his mind running regretfully4over this poor woman and her problem. Then he starteda radio broadcast.
Down the street, a merchant was pacing up and down onthe sidewalk, bossing three men who were nailing framesover his plate glass windows. He went into the store to histelephone and, after dialing for about ten minutes, finallygot the forecaster on the line. “What’s the latest on thestorm?” he asked in a strained voice. “Nothing new,” camethe tired voice of the forecaster. “A Navy plane went outhalf an hour ago. We’ll have a report pretty soon now. Butthe hurricane’s going to hit us, that’s sure. Be a bad night.”
Three miles south of the city, two fishermen stood lookingat a pole on the pier. Two red flags with black centers wereflapping in the wind. “Aw, nuts,” growled the big man.“Guess I’ll go home and nail up the windows again. This isthe third time this year.” The little man started off, pullinghis raincoat up around his ears as a squall came over. “Well,we can’t complain, I guess. The other times the flags wentup we got storms, didn’t we? Looks like this will be the worstof the lot.” By that time the big fellow was running in a dog-trotand disappearing around a building. His father had beendrowned in the big storm at Key West in 1919.
Even on the other side of the State the people wereworried, and for good reason, for it might be over theretomorrow. The forecaster was wanted again on the telephone.A man said in an anxious tone that he had one thousandfive hundred unfenced cattle near the shore and whatshould he do? Without hesitation, the forecaster said, “Getthem away from the water and behind a fence. This stormwill go south of you. There will be strong offshore gales andthe cattle will walk with the wind and go right out into thewater and drown if there is no fence.”
Out in the Atlantic, a merchant ship was wallowing in5heavy seas, with one hundred