Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Fatal forecast -- eye on the storm.

It has been, and continues to be, reasonably quiet on the freaque waves news front this summer so far. So I was a little surprised to see these two headlines come through Google News at the same time: “Storm-battered fishermen fight for their lives” and “Eye on the storm.”

Actually it’s still nice and quiet out there, at least nothing is happening that has attracted media’s attention yet. It turns out both of the news items are reporting on a fabulous new book “FATAL FORECAST: An Incredible True Tale of Disaster and Survival at Sea” written by the New England author Michael J. Tougias.

Here's how the author's own web site introduced the story:

On a cold November day, two fishing vessels, the Fair Wind and the Sea fever, set out from Cape Cod to catch offshore lobsters at Georges Bank. Soon after the boats reached the fishing ground, they were hit with hurricane force winds and massive sixty-foot waves that battered the boats for hours. The captain and crews struggled heroically to keep their vessels afloat in the unrelenting storm. One monstrous wave of 90 to 100-feet soon capsized the Fair wind, trapping the crew inside. Meanwhile, on the Sea Fever, Captain Peter Brown (whose father owned the Andrea Gail of the Perfect Storm fame) did his best to ride out of the storm, but a giant wave blew out of one side of the pilothouse sending a crew member into the churning ocean.

It is a real life story, not a fiction, but it happened in November 22, 1980 over a decade before Sebastian Junger's Perfect storm. As reported in the article of the Daily News Tribune, the author first read about the case in a Coast Guard Marine Casualty Report which described a tale about how one man fought his life off the coast of Cape Cod, enduring 100-foot waves that crashed down upon his boat and four men from the boat perished in the storm. The author managed to tracked down the man now in California and learned all about the story. The author certainly deserves a lot of credit to bring to light this overlooked untold story of struggle and survival against a deadly storm. The book title alluded to the forecast. I did not read the book yet and I hope the author does not infer that it's all the fault of forecast. Because I don't think there is such thing as "fatal forecast" and the forecast is in no way can guarantee accuracy. Yes, I remember there was that lawsuit against the National Weather Service. My sympathy was with the families that lost love ones. But the law suit was frivolous, as was the initial judgment that was rightfully overturned. No one should just blindly listen to the forecast -- better remembering to glance out of the window from time to time to see what is really happening out there!

There are certainly a lot more of this kind of stories remain overlooked. Just because there is no news on the freaque wave front does not mean freaque waves are not happening. We just have to be thankful that no fishing vessel or cruise ship or any other sea going ventures encountering them. May the ever active freaque waves never ever come across your travel route -- as the slogan of AAA says: Bring them back alive!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Ninth wave theory

By chance I came across this web site today that asks the question “What are the most popular cruise ship destinations?” I am not interested in the answer to this question, but on this page there is a sidebar entitled “Rogue waves common in Gulf of Mexico” that caught my attention because it has this excerpt:
...the ninth wave theory. As these waves converge occasionally the ninth wave of the ninth wave from one ongoing movement of water hits another one at the exact same time in a certain place into this causes a huge wave ...
Click on this sidebar led to another web page that has this caveat:
Now rogue waves caused from the ninth wave theory are not proven and it is highly skeptical that this is even true. However if you ask a surfer about such scenarios they often consider this theory to be very viable. Oceanographers and wave research specialists disagree and do not believe that this ninth wave thing is possible with rogue waves scenarios.
Not being a surfer myself and never has the opportunity to know one, I have no idea what do the surfers think. But I am intrigued about this ninth wave thing, where does it come from?

I found two reliable sources that can attest to the fact they did not made it up. One source may be more pleasing to the water wave aficionados -- it is actually come from George Gabriel Stokes (1819-1903). In this 2005 Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics article by Alex Craik which included this story recalled by Stokes' daughter, Mrs. Laurence Humphry,
There was a cave called the Land Cave which we always visited after storms had been ploughing up the Atlantic. It had a sort of window opening into it from the land, so that we could see the great waves come in. . . He made a good many wave-observations there, not about steep sea-waves, for that was much earlier, but I think he was trying to find out the relation of the waves to one another and why the ninth wave was so much larger than the others. He told me that he was nearly carried away by one of these great waves when bathing as a boy off the coast of Sligo, and this first attracted his attention to waves.
I added the bold italic emphasize. So this ninth wave thing must be a widely known depiction in Stokes time.

Another source is more literary, it is from the Idylls of the King: The coming of Arthur by Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892) as:
. . . And then the two Dropt to the cove,
and watched the great sea fall,
Wave after wave,
each mightier than the last,
Till last, a ninth one,
gathering half the deep And full of voices,
slowly rose and plunged Roaring,
and all the wave was in a flame: . . .
So if any, this ninth wave thing is likely to be at least an old British legend. Somehow the number seems to have been reduced through out the years. The one I heard most frequently has been the seventh. At any rate the description in that sidebar that "As these waves converge occasionally the ninth wave of the ninth wave from one ongoing movement of water hits another one at the exact same time in a certain place into this causes a huge wave" is just about the most understandable explanation of linear superposition principle for freaque waves one can pass along. For a more academical account of the current state of the art of freaque waves research, however, I highly recommend this web article by Prof. Dysthe and his collaborators.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Iceberg’s down, surf’s up

It was an article by Maurice Chittenden in The Sunday Times that started the excitement. The article appropriately completes with the following picture and a descriptive long title: "Iceberg's down, surf's up -- riding a glacial tsunami is the coolest extreme sport." Since then the story has been picked up around the world in an ever growing numbers of new articles reporting this feat.
As Chittenden described that:
It is not the easiest of pastimes to enjoy. First you have to find a glacier about to “calve”, then wait for up to a fortnight for a house-sized iceberg to break off before catching the monstrous wake after it hits the water from 500ft high. The reward: 60 seconds of sheer exhilaration as you ride a 25ft wall of ice-cold water filled with millions of shards of razor sharp ice, mud, boulders and debris.
Take a look at the rewarding video here among many other places. Watching the incipience and fall of glaciers that generated huge tsunami kind of muddy waves advance across the ocean at the bottom of the glacier is truly unique. Again it's not freaque wave, but it something that every ocean wave aficionados would certainly appreciate to see it again and again. Science can probably estimate the size of wave if the size of glacier is known. But how how can anyone be certain which one and what's the size of the glacier that's going to fall? Nature is in control here, no one else can -- no matter what the size of your carbon footprint might be!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Hurricane storm surge

Only the fourth named, but the first major hurricane of ther 2007 hurricane season in Atlantic, Hurricane Dean is currently heading toward Yucatan Peninsula after savaged the southern coast of Jamaica. It is a Category 4 storm right now at raging wind speed of 135-150 mph, it is expected to become a Category 5 later. Of particular cautious, hear is part of the Hurricane Dean Public Advisory Number 29A issued by National Hurricane Center earlier this morning:
As reported by the Caribbean Net News, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) also advising the Jamaican public to expect significant storm surges with the passage of Hurricane Dean. May be it is timely now to reacquaint ourselves again with what storm surge is.

Perhaps a good starting point is from this geology.com site that straight-forwardly described a storm surge as what occurs when powerful storm winds pushed water up onto the shoreline. Here's an interesting graphical demonstration:
The peril of storm surge may be best exibited by this actual case picture:

A very good introductory NOAA pamphlet entitled "Storm Surge" prepared for teacher's resources with student activities by Beth Jewell. Here's a superbly simple explanation and video illustration of the effects of a storm surge. Storm surge during hurricanes can be estimated by NOAA National Hurricane Center's SLOSH (Sea, Lake, and Overland Surges from Hurricanes) computer model. This FAQ answer shown the SLOSH result of an annimation of what actually happen during a hypethetical hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.

Storm surges are one of the dangerous outcomes of a hurricane attack. Since it is generally expected and predictable, so no one should ever mixed it with freaque waves at any rate.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Surfing on a Stormy Day

The news front on freaque waves has been relatively quiet in recent days. It does not mean that there has not been freaque wave happenings out there, only that there's probably no one unfortunate enough to encounter them. Let's hope it stays that way!

With the successive uprising of Erin and Dean, the 2007 hurricane season in Atlantic is now finally jumped into full swing. Along with Typhoon Sepat heading toward Phillipine, Taiwan, and mainland China, the typhoon season in western Pacific has been active for some time. The blog, Robin Storm, is a great site for following the hurricanes and typhoons. There are plenty of timely useful informations with pictures and videos not usually find in those common news sites.

I came across this simple news item entitled "Surfing on a stormy day"this morning. Here's the complete write-up:
The recent succession of typhoons may have made life more difficult for many in the Philippines. This, however, is not the case with this young man in La Union. The coming of the storms in fact proved to be the right moment for him to surf, as the raging rains caused giant waves in the waters of the province that has come to be known as a surfing capital north of Manila.
authored by an Ace Alegre in the site called "Bulatlat" along with a picture of surfer in action there:What struck me, however, was the part of its last sentence that says "raging rains caused giant waves in the waters." I am wondering if it's just a figurative speaking or it represents a fact of the writer's observation. The cause and effect between rain and waves is presently unclear scientifically. I may be ignorant, but I am not aware of any scientific conjecture regarding that. There's certainly no measurement available that I know of that can shed some light for it. If anything, the rain has been plausibly thought to have possibly retarding effect on the waves. To say that raging rains caused giant waves in the waters is somewhat counter intuitive. This is another minor issue the research world has not been able to do something tangible. It would be an interesting research topic though if measurement can be made simultaneously during rain and wave -- a topic is probably of interest only for the sake of pure curiosity.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Happy Birthday to U.S. Coast Guard!

This is a belated note of happy birthday to U.S. Coast Guard, yesterday, August 4th, was their 217th birthday. In this era where the country seems to have overran by death culture, it is good to be reminded that this great agency, which we may be simply taken for granted, is still dedicated for saving lives. In a birthday ceremony yesterday, the U.S. Coast Guard announced that 1,109,310 lives have been saved since its establishment by the first Congress in 1790.

In this blog I reported quite a number of freaque wave encounter cases, some tragic and some have happy enddings. What I may not have specifically mentioned in those postings is that they all deeply involved the all-taken-for-granted efforts of the unsung heros of the U.S. Coast Guard and similar Coast Guard agencies around the free world.

A fellow blogger, Robin Storm, told an amazingly successful and very difficult rescue story of the crew of s/v Sean Seamour II by the U.S. Coast Guard.

While the mission of search and rescue is mostly peace time endeavors, as one of America's five armed forces the U.S. Coast Guard is certaonly have their shares of war efforts also. In an article in the National Review Online, James S. Robbins wrote a fascinating story of a Coast Guard veteran, Marvin Perrett, who happened to have participated in the June 1944 Normandy Invasion, and also the landing at Iwo Jima in February 1945. The article is a great read by itself. Heart warming too. Let me quote Robbins' last paragraph to conclude this brief blog:
Marvin Perrett's full story other accounts of Coast Guardsmen and women in war and peace can be found at the web site of the U. S. Coast Guard Histrorian's Office. Happy birthday to all the Coasties who have served, and are serving, securing our ports, conducting maritime-interception operations and coastal-security patrols, taking down smugglers and drug runners, and saving lives on a daily basis.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Chien Tang River tidal bore

Here's part of a news reported In Shanghai daily this morning
RESCURERS found another four bodies by noon today from the Chien Tang River after a freak wave washed away 33 people on Friday in Zhejiang Province. So far, 12 bodies have been recovered.
A freaque wave washed away 33 people is a major disaster. What I think that the freak wave alluded in this news is really an abnormal tidal bore which the Chien Tang River is well known of. Most Chinese born and grown up in Mainland China are probably heard, at one time or other, about the Chien Tang River tidal bore. I remember reading in the elementary school books that "the mouth of Chien Tang River is like a funnel" -- which is what makes it the most famous site of tidal bore in the world. It is certainly not a new phenomenon. In the 1969 book "Fluid Mechanics - A concise introduction to the theory" by the late Prof. Chia-shun Yih, he included, behind the front page, this rare ancient painting of tidal bore on the Chien Tang River by Li Sung (1166-1243):
Here's a more recent picture of the place:
As this morden picture is more real and down to earthe and less poetic, that pagoda building could be the same one seen by the ancient artist and the morden photographer even though they are almost 800 years apart. Nevertheless this newer picture does show that the incoming bore is capable of veering into the stand and swept out bystanders. What is not clear, however, is that tidal bore is generally fully predictable. That's why people usually waiting there to see the bore coming in at calculated times. Would it be possible that freaque waves can also lurk behind a regular bore and strick unexpectedly? Well, from what had happened there yesterday it is certainly not out of the question. Predictable or otherwise, one just can not take anything happening or not happening in this world for granted!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Another swept out to sea, another tragedy

Here's the byline of a BBC news item:
The wife of a man who died after being swept out to sea by a freak wave has paid tribute to him.
In another news report the same case was just simply entitled:


It seems "being swept out to sea by a freaque wave" is no longer a rare occurrence. But to the family of the victim, it's certainly utmost tragedy that no family should expect to endure. Yes, it had happened before, and it will happen again and again in another time and another part of the world. This time it's Isle of Skye. According to Wikipedia, The Isle of Skye, commonly known as Skye, is the largest and most northerly island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. An extremely scenic place which is certainly not immune from hazardous perils.
Based on this Maritime and Coastguard Agency report, this beloved father of two sons and a daughter is just a person who was "not wearing a life jacket." So it is of imperial importance to at least wear a life jacket whenever near and around the ocean beach area in addition to constantly beware of the wave conditions. It can be a tiny fraction of a tiny moment, but life is hanging on it!