A storm was brewing over the Pacific this week. In fact, three storms were, all category four hurricanes. This has never occurred before in human history. While none are expected to make landfall, the incident is dramatic and unusual. This type of hurricane is known as a “fish storm” with the implication that it only affects fish, although any hurricanes that cross major shipping routes pose hazards to ships. Modern ships can withstand hurricane force wind and swells most of the time, but not all ships come out of their encounters with hurricanes at sea unscathed. Naturally, ships, even huge container ships weighing in at 170,000 tons, try to avoid hurricanes, but they are slow, and a hurricane can change its course just slightly and ensnare said ships. They can be severely damaged or even sunk if they encounter storms, and that is to say nothing of lost cargo.

Actually, that threat has been getting worse. A recent study (Kossin, 2008), shows that wave heights have been increasing due to cyclonic storms, Where huge waves regularly deliver over 100kW (73,756 foot pound-force/second) (Kossin, 2008) to the bows, or worse the flanks of ships. This number is somewhat abstract, so to put it into perspective, a typical bullet fired from a .9mm handgun imparts 519 watts, or (383 foot pound-force/second.) Those waves impart 142 times more energy than a bullet. Of course, it is distributed much more favorably than 142 bullets, but nonetheless, that is the energy being carried. Much of the energy lifts and rolls the ship, but this can be damaging in itself.   Even if those waves do not cause fatal damage to the ship, some damage is almost certain with that much work being done. The bottom line is that hurricanes at sea can certainly cause a great deal of economic damage, and such damage is probably underreported.

In other news, storms at the end of August have left thousands without power. Two people are dead in Washington after falling tree debris hit them. A tree collapsed on one man’s car, killing him instantly. A 10-year-old girl who was playing outside was also killed when a limb fell on her.  Almost half a million Washingtonians suffered power outages and power was not restored until late in the week. The winds were so intense they were nearly hurricane force, peaking at 70 mph (112km/h.) In neighboring Vancouver, Canada, one woman is clinging to life after also being hit with a tree under similar circumstances. Also of note, the winds blew a fence over that separated a grizzly bear from the zoo-going public, predictably forcing the evacuation of the zoo.

Unfortunately, the tragic events we reported on are in no way a full reflection of what has been going on in the world.  If you would like to see all of our headlines from the past week, please click here.

Kossin, P. D. (2008). Increasing hurricane wave power along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Journal of Geophysical Research , 113 (c7).



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