Saturday, July 8, 2017

Speaking of the Weather...

Growing up in Vermont my brothers and I spent most of our time outside if the sun was up. In the summer we'd be out until well after sundown some nights, chasing fire flies and the like. Being outside a lot, we learned to pay attention to the weather.

Now in Vermont there are two types of weather which can kill you - lightning and snow. Lightning for the obvious reason, high voltage and all that, snow if there's a lot of it and it's cold enough.

Yes, there's other types of weather which can kill you, but those are out of the ordinary. The storms which swept through the state and caused heavy flooding back in 2015 spring to mind. Floods are always dangerous if you live close to a stream or a river, which we didn't, and can occur anytime you have heavy rain.

Now when I went out into the wide world back in 1975, I got to experience other types of weather which can end you, sometimes whether you're careful or not. During tech school in Denver I don't recall any crazy weather events, my experience of dangerous weather in Colorado came a few years later. Yeah, I'm talking tornadoes but that's not as big a problem along the Front Range as it is in say, Omaha. But again, that was down the road a ways.

When I got to Okinawa I got the chance to experience typhoons. Some scary sonsofbitches right there, I can tell you. Wind, lightning, flooding, heavy surf, all at the same time.

My first barracks on Okinawa was pretty run down, paint peeling off the ceiling was my first memory of my new home back in '76. But the barracks were solid affairs, concrete and steel, they held up pretty good in a storm while I was there.

When I hit the rack for the first time I thought it was kind of stiff, seems there was a plywood sheet under the mattress. Perhaps to make the bed more firm? I don't know. But I do know that in typhoon weather, that plywood was put up over my window. Just in case.

Had one buddy was a real nut. Always had to have his fan in the window. As he lived on the backside of the barracks, facing a hill, he didn't really get all the rain the rest of us would get along the front of the building. Now Okinawa is hot during the spring, summer, and fall, and humid year-round. Having a fan is a must. (What's air conditioning? Oh, that's right, when they moved us to a renovated barracks we had central air. Pretty nice I can tell you.)

One day, during a typhoon period with the wind howling outside, Larry (for that was his name, Russ probably remembers him, I think they worked together in Florida as well) called us down to his room. Seems that the wind was blowing so hard that it was causing his fan to slow down and even reverse direction.

"Ya know Larry, if it keeps doing that, the fan motor will burn out."

"Nah, it'll be fine."

Later on Larry was wandering the barracks looking for an unused fan. (Hahaha, no such thing.) Seems his fan had smoked and the only thing turning it now was the wind. Yeah, he was just a bit miffed.

Lots of rain, lots of humidity. That's what I remember about Okinawa.

When the typhoons came to town, Your Humble Scribe obeyed orders, stayed in his barracks, and gladly ate his C-rations with everyone else. (Yes, we were issued C-rations when the weather was bad enough to shut down the base. The peanut butter spread and crackers were an OAFS favorite. Didn't care for the ham and lima beans, no one did as I remember it. You can find another name for that treat here. Read all about C-Rats here.)

Weather that can kill ya. Typhoons qualify in that category. (Keeping in mind that typhoons are the western Pacific's version of a hurricane, they do tend to be bigger than an east coast hurricane. Because of the bigger ocean I guess.)

Had my first experience of tornadoes on Okinawa as well. The water spout version. We once saw (IIRC) at least four funnel clouds heading down to the sea as we watched from the loading dock of the avionics building. Only one touched down (again IIRC), but it dissipated quickly, just after it kissed the water.

Saw my next funnel cloud in Omaha, about two miles away as my neighbor and I stood in our common driveway and had a beer together. As the sirens started to go off, we downed our beers, shook hands (just in case) and headed inside.

The progeny can tell you, we spent a number of hours in the closet next to the downstairs bathroom, under the stairs. Safest place when you have no basement. All we had was each other and a battery operated radio. Scary on a couple of occasions, closest anything ever came was a half mile or so on the other side of the hill we lived on.

Never saw anything like Offutt had back in June when an EF1 and an EF2 tornado touched down in the area and damaged a number of buildings and 10 aircraft on the base itself. Not little aircraft either, 8 RC-135 birds were damaged (all four-engined jets based on the venerable Boeing 707) and two of the big E-4Bs, based on the Boeing 747 airframe. (Story here.)

RC-135s at Offutt AFB, NE
(USAF Photo by SrA Jeremy Smith)
E-4B at Offutt AFB, NE
(USAF Photo by Josh Plueger)
While we do see the occasional tornado in New England, had one touch down briefly not that many years ago here in Little Rhody, not far from Chez Sarge. But here it's mostly hurricanes and blizzards which will really work at killing you. Fortunately, those are also fairly rare.

Lightning though, scares the bejesus out of me. Always has, always will. I've had strikes come pretty close in the past, close enough to feel the heat as it were. Lightning can get you anywhere. When the rumbling starts, the Old AF Sarge makes sure that cover is close by, and I count from flash to boom as things move in.

We get quite a few thunderstorms in Little Rhody. Oddly enough, they tend to pass just to our north, and just to the south. Which is close enough for me.

Weather can be scary, especially if you're not paying attention. Mother Nature likes to pick off the foolhardy and the ignorant. So I pay attention and take no chances when the weather gets nasty.

I've had this view. Once had to fly a good two hours around a big storm marching down the east coast, also was stuck in Philly for most of a day waiting for a big system to move through.

Beautiful, but deadly if you get too close.

Thanks, but I'll keep my distance.


  1. I would add my Navy stories about storms at sea, but unlike a concrete airfield, the Navy usually just moves to where the storm isn't. Maybe the Navy learned something from that big storm in the Pacific in 1944.

    On the other hand I have never heard of the Air Force putting five to six thousand airman and officers on an airfield and keeping them isolated for more than six months, so there is that.

    I remember reading somewhere of the Air Force's B-36 bombers getting beat up by a tornado in the fifties. The article fails to mention it was my birth year.

    1. Halsey's Typhoon, there's even a book about it.

      Bagram in Afghanistan is fairly isolated, well, it's in Afghanistan, which is itself isolated.

      The Carswell tornado was a mess, taught the AF a lesson though. '52? We're near contemporaries, though I am a year younger than you, which I don't get to say a lot.

    2. John and OAFS:

      When you two kids grow up, you can sit at the big table with us.

      Paul L. Quandt

    3. Don't wanna grow up and ya can't make me!

    4. If maturity is a sign of growing up, I must have missed those few seconds of maturity and I have been losing ground since then. Years ago one of my nieces said, "Uncle John! You're acting weird." I replied, "It's not an act."

  2. Flash floods worry me living in Colorado but my worse weather experience was a thunderstorm in Florida. Too much rain for the wipers to handle. Felt like I was driving into a waterfall.

    1. We didn't experience any bad floods when I lived in Colorado. The flood which did a lot of damage to CSU was 11 years after I left. That was a bad one.

      Yeah, Florida rain is something else.

    2. Had some mighty fine thunderstorms in Florida too when I was working there some years ago.


    3. Yes, I seem to recall that in the afternoons. Short and violent as I recall.

  3. Back before the '01 atrocity, I got to jumpseat a lot in our 727's. The best seat was right behind the pilot... Coming back from out west, we were vectored around a "line of thunderstorms". I'd seen those on weather maps but seeing the line, from 20,000 plus feet in the air, in the dark was thrilling. You could see the line from Dallas to past St Louis... One long line of lightning and puffy cloud.... The trains of red and green markers like a highway in the sky as we all went south of that monster front was cool too. I mentioned to the pilot that the radar seemed a bit limited in it's reach, and he spent the next 10 minutes showing me how it worked. I miss those days. Getting that vantage point, up front, was amazing.

    Growing up in the panhandle of Texas was pretty cool too. I've seen it run from hot, to cool, to rain, to hail, to snow in a single day. My first real love was atmospheric science, but that was before Texas Tech even had it in their course catalog. Nearest place was A&M.... oh well....

    1. I once had a couple of F/A-18 WSOs of my daughter's acquaintance describe their experiences getting back to Oceana "the long way." They almost had to spend the night in Beaufort the storms around the Norfolk area were bad and they didn't want to move. They actually had a small window of opportunity to come in so they took it.

      Both guys indicated that it wasn't an experience they'd care to do again.

      Texas panhandle does have some wild weather.

  4. Will the last surviving person who's eaten beans and ############s please turn out the lights?

    I was humping it across a two mile wide plateau when I got caught in a t-banger. Probably 20 years ago. Lightning was striking all around, but the golf ball sized hail prompted me to remain upright and moving. Must not have been my time.

    1. I'm sure there's a warehouse somewhere in the world crammed to the rafters with those things. Never see that crap on E-Bay do ya?

      Caught in the great our-of-doors during a big t-banger, no thank you. Had one interrupt a picnic when I was a kid, fortunately the cars were right there. Saw a sixty foot oak get torn apart by the wind. Yeah, that was fun.

  5. Replies
    1. In lieu of new stuff, one can always talk about the weather.

  6. Thanks for the post; I enjoyed it a lot ( as you can probably tell ).


  7. That was Larry Bankus and yes he was a bit of a nut but a great guy none the less. He definitely made life entertaining. We split a house off base at Tyndall AFB for about a year.

    I don't know if you remember Super-Typhoon Fran but that one had sustained winds over 200 mph. I had an inch of water in my room because the wind blew so hard that it pushed the water past the window panes on my window even with all the typhoon tape on it. We spent 3 very smelly days locked in the barracks on that one.

    I've always liked electrical storms. It drives The Missus crazy but I sit outside and watch them roll in. Check out my koobecaF page. I posted a couple of great pics from the storm that rolled through two mornings ago at about 4:30 am while I was sitting on my deck drinking my morning coffee.

    1. I thought you'd remember him! He was one of the good guys.

      I do believe that Fran was my very first typhoon, ever. September of '76!

      I saw those pictures Russ, nice! (I will stay outside until the last minute too!)

    2. Do you remember the motorcycle that Larry bought on Okinawa? It was a Kawasaki Z750 and he shipped it to Florida. He tried to kill himself on that bike on base one day. He was on one of the base roads that had a long slow curve. He was wearing just a pair of shorts, his helmet and some nylon running shoes. It was a 30 mph speed zone and the SP's said they clocked him at 130 mph when he lost control on a patch of sand and he slid along the concrete curb of that street for more than 200 yards. Since I was his supervisor they called me to the hospital and I've never seen a case of road rash that bad before. He had no skin left on the palms of his hands or his forearms up to his elbows. All the skin was gone on his back and gone from the tops of his feet and his shins up to his knees and I could even see the bone of his shins and the cartilage of his knee caps. His helmet actually split in half from when he first hit the curb. It's a good thing Larry was very hard headed!! And of course true to military protocols, I got my butt reamed because I was his supervisor and it was obviously my fault.

    3. Nylon shorts, running shoes, and a helmet? Damn, for Larry that's damned near full dress uniform. I remember he normally just wore a pair of gym shorts around the barracks. He would have worn the same to work if they had let him.

      Damn, did he buy that mo'sickle from Guido "Crash" Piseck?

      Typical Larry.

    4. Believe it or not, Larry was coming from work. He was working part time running groceries for the customers at the base commissary. But I don't think he wore the helmet while running groceries.


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Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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