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19 September 2007

Super Typhoon Wipha misses Shanghai / Weather Porn / Climate Porn / Tropical Cyclones

Click image for larger, clearer.

In recent years, the way the world media reports events like this has been referred to as Weather Porn or Climate Porn. I suppose there are two reasons there's a huge public appetite for it, even the killer events that aren't anywhere near us.

First, it's just awesome, beyond subjectivity or debate, unimaginably more powerful and destructive than the most ambitious and malignant efforts of human beings -- including our nuclear weapons. Perhaps if we detonated all our nuclear weapons simultaneously in one spot in one ocean, it might jiggle the Power meter somewhat reminiscent of a small tropical cyclone.

The other reason is that a tropical cyclone -- Wipha (a Thai female name) is the first I've ever seen referred to as a Super Typhoon -- or an earthquake or a tsunami or a major volcanic eruption isn't anybody's fault. No evil or greedy human beings caused it. It lacks the disgusting shame and moral collapse of Darfur or Iraq or the attacks of 9/11/01 or the Balkans wars and ethnic cleansings. A comparable amount of human beings can be killed or be dislocated, but no human being picked up a phone and ordered it, or failed to prevent it. There is something authentically refreshing about staggering damage which is Not Our Fault.

Arguably, for the last century or two, collective human actions and failures to act have shaped and accellerated and worsened Weather and Climate Porn. So there is indeed a moral and ethical dimension even to a Super Typhoon. And there is certainly a deep moral and ethical dimension to how governments evacuate and safeguard Weather Porn victims before and during these events and rebuild and restore their lives after these events have done their worst (e.g., Katrina and FEMA's Mike Brown and his Helluva Job).

But Krakatau was nobody's fault; no Dr. Evil or Lex Luthor schemed to erupt it. It gave little clear warning and erupted when it felt like erupting, and erupted as violently as it felt like being violent. Its power was such that if you survived it and lived to old age, you deserved a new nickname: Lucky. Where it once was, a small, smoking new volcano, Anak Krakatau
-- Krakatau's Daughter -- has arisen. Watch This Space for further developments.

Weather Porn and Climate Porn are reminders -- which arrogant and ignorant people seem constantly to require -- that human beings are insignificant. Any man can be a King, and any King can order the incoming Tide to go out.

But it doesn't.

Nathaniel Bowditch (1773 - 1838) was arguably the world's best merchant navigator and sea captain, and many times brought his ship safely into dangerous ports on stormy nights while all other skippers cautiously rode out the night and the storm miles out to sea. He believed the arts and sciences of navigation could all be understood and mastered by any diligent person of intelligence, and in 1802 published his first edition of "The American Practical Navigator," which the U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office has updated and kept publishing ever since.

Not as a sentimental anachronism or historical curiosity. Decade after decade, it has stood between bringing people safe home to dry land, and drowning at sea. It's the greatest reference book about Terrible Weather ever published, and has a chapter entirely about Tropical Cyclones. Bowditch wrote:

"Rarely does the mariner
who has experienced
a fully
tropical cyclone at sea

wish to encounter
a second one."

Most of Chapter XXXIX are instructions about how to steer clear of them. Notice the narrow cyclone-free band along the Equator. When the radio starts crackling with tropical cyclone warnings, set course for the Equator.

* * *

EuroNews (France)
Wednesday 19 September 2007
13:10 Central European Time

It lost power after arriving in eastern China but, for those in its path, Super Typhoon Wipha was still a force to be reckoned with. More than two million people fled ahead of the storm. It toppled hundreds of homes and knocked out power and water supplies as it swept in from the sea. At least one man has died after being electrocuted in Shanghai. But fears the financial centre would take a direct hit look to have been allayed. Wipha made landfall at the border of Zhejiang and Fujian provinces, just where a typhoon hit last year, killing hundreds of people.

As Wipha approached, residents left their homes and workplaces to take refuge in shelters. "We heard the typhoon was coming," said one man, forced to flee to safety. "And the company we work for evacuated us to this school."

Northern Taiwan was also grazed by Wipha which reports say has now been downgraded to a tropical storm. But the alert is not over yet and, according to the Chinese media, some 40,000 boats and ships have been ordered back to port.


Jim Olson said...

Did I give you my copy of Bowditch with my sextant?

Vleeptron Dude said...

Uh-oh, you want it back? Since I stumbled on Bowditch in the 1970s, I've never been without one, but I gave one away to some pals who owned a boat in the Florida Keys and ... uhhh ... well, they weren't very bright about matters nautical, so I gave them my Bowditch the same way you'd give a child a life preserver. (The last I heard, they were still alive.)

This is a 1962 edition signed by G.B. Eldred. So it's either yours or it leaped out at me in a used book store.

Bowditch used to have a chapter on submarine navigation, but it's gone now. I'm hoping they'll put in a chapter about astrogation / navigating through space, if they haven't already.

Meanwhile, check out the only two tropical cyclones in the South Atlantic from 1985-2005, both hitting the Buenos Aires - Montevideo coast. What up with them? They must have caught a lot of local mariners totally unprepared.

I got smacked in the face by a hurricane when i was in the army -- bachelor living in a barracks with just a locker's worth of stuff -- so under those circumstances, Hurricane Celia was quite a remarkable week of entertainment. She (this was when they were all named for females) killed just two people in Corpus Christi -- one man trying to secure glass doors which shattered, and then a woman who believed Judgment had come and swallowed iodine. Oh, and of course some teenage surfers. In the Atlantic and the Gulf, local surfers always grab their boards and race for the shore, because only a hurricane brings them really gnarly (?) waves. Kowabunga!

Jim Olson said...

No worries. You gave your friends the one I gave you...thats they way of good gifts...they have mileage. I would like to borry my sextant back some time; Darrick's never seen one and he likes geeky stuph like that. said...

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