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hurricane florence versus ship hydrographer
life preserver with hydrographer usc&GS

Extracts From Field Reports
(From the 1953 Special Report of Capt. L. S. Hubbard)


(The JOURNAL, Coast and Geodetic Survey,
August 1955, Number 6)

The ship was engaged on hydrographic operations in the Gulf of Mexico, midway between the Yucatan Peninsula and the mouth of the Mississippi River, the evening of September 24th, when a radio news broadcast flash at 2000 stated that a hurricane was forming west of Cuba in the Yucatan Channel. The ship was immediately headed east-northeasterly pending further information which would be received at 2230 on the regular schedule of Weather Bureau hurricane advisory reports. The 2230 report stated that the hurricane was now in the Gulf of Mexico and was moving towards the northwest. After considering several factors it was decided to continue on in an east-northeast course and then on an easterly course. The next report at 0600 on Friday morning indicated that the hurricane was advancing at great speed, was recurving to the east, and would pass somewhere near the ship's position.

Everything about deck was secured as well as possible and lifelines strung out on the boat deck. By eight o'clock wind and sea were increasing heavily and coming from the south-southeast. The vessel was steered to keep the seas on the starboard bow, but the waves soon became so tremendous that it was necessary to head directly into the seas. The anemometer indicated that the wind was blowing 60 knots most of the time and 70 knots during the heavier squalls, although some were estimated at 80 knots. The wind was a low-pitched roar with the sound like the steady beating of drums.

The waves were streaked with white spindrift and crested with foaming breakers. Scattered everywhere on the dark surface of the sea were large patches of light-green water. The seas were a succession of walls of water 25 to 35 feet high, each following wall unbelievably close to the preceding wall. The vessel no sooner mounted one wave and plunged down into the following trough when it shot up the steep slope of the next wave. In the dense and furious rain squalls, which hit us at times, the next oncoming sea could barely be seen. The vessel had been filled to capacity with fuel oil and fresh water before leaving port 5 days before, so it was still fairly well burdened. Under these conditions, the Hydrographer proved to be an excellent sea boat, riding wave after wave in a superb manner.

hydrographerThe 1100 Weather Bureau report on Friday, September 25th placed the center of the hurricane 90 miles away and on our starboard beam. This relieved our anxiety somewhat, for if everything went according to the books the conditions would become no worse. The wind and seas continued at gale or hurricane force until about four in the afternoon, then decreased. The seas, although less in size, were confused, coming from two or three directions. At intervals, fierce rain squalls blotted out all visibility. It is estimated that the eye of the storm passed closest to the vessel at 1400 on the 25th and was approximately 67 miles west-northwestward. The lowest recorded barometer reading was 29.45 inches at 1500 and 1600, after which it started to rise slowly. Conditions improved gradually Friday night and by Saturday morning the vessel was able to proceed towards St. Petersburg and to tie up at the dock on Sunday.

The position of the vessel was known exactly at all times because the EPI equipment operated perfectly during the hurricane. When the vessel was headed south-southeast directly into the heavy seas, hourly EPI positions showed that our progress southward was zero and our progress eastward three knots. The eastward progress was probably due to the northeasterly current which was known to exist in the area of the ship's position.

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