A story by Luke Skywalker (AKA “Weather Jedi”), one of the best Sailors and leaders with whom I ever served.
Predicting weather out at sea is an extremely hard task. Imagine a cross between discovering the cure for cancer and aligning all those colored squares on a Rubik’s Cube. It takes years of education and experience to understand the temperature variations and lapse rates at the different altitudes, calculate the rate of absorption of moisture compared to the amount of solar radiation, and to align the resultant variables into their proper chain reactions and determine basically “if this occurs, then that will happen.” Of course, when your forecasting location keeps on moving (or deviates from its planned route) – that changes everything!
Ever since man first took to the water, one of the most critical environmental elements needed to be understood was wind. Where would Columbus or Magellan be without knowing how to determine the wind patterns? Our modern Navy is still very dependent on wind. Wind speed and direction will determine sea wave heights and direction, whether or not fog can develop or dissipate, and for the carriers – the launch and recovery of the aircraft.
Do you happen to know that a carrier normally needs 30 knots of wind on the bow to launch or recover a plane? In over 20 years as a Navy meteorologist, I have had numerous discussions (okay – one way conversations) with my Commanding Officers on what their wind requirements were. You ever try to stay in a 30NM box in the Adriatic with light and variable winds? That forced the ship to steam at 25 plus knots toward the corner of the box to create the wind on the bow and launch the aircraft, then scramble back and run at it again to recover the previous cycle of planes, all the while staying in that confounded box. The Skipper even threatened me with a Big Chicken Dinner (B.C.D. aka Bad Conduct Discharge) that day if I wasn’t correct on my wind forecast.
One sunny day out in the Atlantic, I was having a tough time determining how the winds were going to change in the next 24 hours. I asked my observer to calculate the true winds (relative wind speed and direction as compared to ship’s course & speed) and he was having a difficult time in providing me with an answer. When I inquired what the problem was, he told me that the ship kept turning in circles. It wasn’t a constant turn but enough to throw off the reading of the instruments. There wasn’t any flight operations or drills going on at the time so I was a bit puzzled why the odd maneuvering. I turned on the flight deck camera display and quickly analyzed the situation. It turns out that our very own OA Division Officer was standing duty as the Officer of the Deck while the Commanding Officer was taking a quick break to jog around the flight deck – guess who was offering him a little “tail wind” assistance?
Oh – I never did get that Chicken Dinner as promised – do not know if he was joking or not as my forecast hit the mark (that day at least!)
Editor’s note: Any similarity between the OOD in this story and any Broadside cartoonist – living or dead – is purely coincidental.