Predictable path helped military ships weather storm
September 20, 2003
ARLINGTON, Va. — Power outages, major flooding, and downed trees notwithstanding, Hurricane Isabel was a “well-behaved storm” as far as a Category 2 hurricane goes, according to a senior Air Force meteorologist.
Isabel “followed a classic path” for storms of its type, according to Charles Holliday, branch chief of the Air Force Air Force Weather Agency’s satellite applications branch at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.
The storm could have slowed down and gathered strength before hitting land, or curved unexpectedly, or even looped back on itself, said Holliday, whose agency is one of three in the United States that track and forecast all tropical storms that form in the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico, with the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Fla., and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration in Silver Spring, Md.
Instead, “there were no glitches” with Isabel, Holliday said in a Friday telephone interview. “The picture was very clear” for forecasters.
That Isabel was so predictable was a boon for the military, where costly decisions about moving ships and aircraft must be made days in advance of a hurricane’s strike, Holliday noted.
“When you wind up moving ships and planes, you have quite an expense,” Holliday said. On Tuesday, the Navy ordered about 40 ships and submarines out to sea to avoid potential damage from the whipping winds that can batter ships against piers. But about 23 ships had to stay behind, including carriers USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and USS Harry S. Truman, in dry dock undergoing repairs.
About 40,000 sailors on 63 ships sailed a couple hundred miles off the coast to avoid the storm, and still encountered some 16-foot swells, Rear Adm. Gary Roughead, commander of the 2nd Fleet, said in a phone interview from the USS Baatan, still out to sea.
“It wasn’t that bad at all, and again, that’s why we go out and around weather like this, to avoid the risk of damage and injury.”
The Navy’s priorities in the Norfolk, Va., region was to open airfields, port facilities, roads, restore power and return personnel who had been evacuated to the Army’s Fort A.P. Hill, about 150 miles north. About 650 sailors were evacuated.