The Lost Hurricane/Typhoon Hunters VI: Typhoon Bess, October 12th, 1974

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:20 PM GMT on December 28, 2009

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It's getting to be the end of the year, and its time to conclude the 6-part series I began earlier this year honoring the memory of the hurricane and typhoon hunter missions that never returned to base. I've made a permanent link to the series on the "Articles of Interest" section of our tropical/hurricane page.

The most recent recent loss of a Hurricane Hunter flight came on October 12, 1974. An Air Force WC-130H (tail number 65-0965, call sign Swan 38), from the 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron based at Anderson AFB, Guam, was lost in the South China Sea while flying Category 1 Typhoon Bess. Bess had formed east of the Philippines on October 8, then passed over northern Luzon Island on the 11th, triggering flooding and landslides that killed 29 people and caused $9 million in damage. On the 12th, Bess emerged over the South China Sea as a minimal Category 1 typhoon with 75 mph winds, and "Swan 38" was sent out to provide reconnaissance information. The aircraft had only recently arrived at the 54th WRS after having been converted to WC-130H, and had previously spent eight years assigned to combat rescue as an HC-130H. Swan 38 departed Clark Air Base in the Philippines, and successfully completed its first penetration and most of an "Alpha pattern" peripheral track. They were preparing for their second penetration, on the north side of the storm about 400 miles northwest of Clark AFB, when the last radio contact came at about 2200. An investigation board later speculated the crew was on the final leg inbound to make a second fix when they encountered some catastrophic problem. No emergency communications were received. Four days of relentless searching by rescue aircraft and two surface ships proved unsuccessful, and the six crewmen were declared missing and presumed dead. The name "Bess" was retired from the active list of typhoon names as a result of the loss, and the call sign "Swan 38" was also retired. A plaque honoring the crew was affixed to the squadron building at Andersen AFB (the plaque was removed when the 54th closed in 1987, and it's whereabouts are currently unknown). The crew members, carried on AWS rolls as Killed In Action, were:

Capt Edward R. Bushnell
1Lt Gary W. Crass
1Lt Michael P. O'Brien
1Lt Timothy J. Hoffman
TSgt Kenneth G. Suhr
Sgt Detlef W. Ringler


Figure 1. Above: plaque dedicated to the crew of Swan 38 (WC-130H 65-0965), located at Kirtland AFB. Inset image, top left: Swan 38 during an engine-running crew change at Guam in 1974. Image credit: Tom Robison.

Sources: Air Reconnaissance Weather Association May 2008 Newsletter; New York Times 13 Oct 1974 58:1; http://www.awra.us/WhiskeyCharlie.html by Tom Robison, 1974 Annual Typhoon report of the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.

Other notes:
The Air Force has had 24 weather reconnaissance missions that have resulted in loss of life; only three of these were typhoon flights. A full list of the missions is at the Air Weather Reconnaissance Association web site.

Special addendum: a Cold War mystery
September 10, 1956: An Air Force RB-50G Superfortress flying in the vicinity of Typhoon Emma was lost over the Sea of Japan. This was not a typhoon hunting aircraft, as is often reported. The aircraft was stationed at Yokota Air Base, Japan, and assigned to the 41st Air Division, 5th Air Force, and was performing electronic of photographic intelligence of the Soviet Union, North Korea, and China. The military gave out a "cover story" saying that the aircraft was lost performing weather reconnaissance. From Bernie Barris of the Air Reconnaissance Weather Association, "This aircraft was NOT lost in a typhoon penetration, nor was it shot down by the Soviets, as was often speculated. It was an RB-50G on a Strategic Reconnaissance mission. Everything I've read is that they were on the fringes of the typhoon, but more than likely the plane was lost due to mechanical problems, which plagued the B-50 in the 1950's. The typhoon did impact search efforts. The Soviets never released any records of tracking or attacking this flight; it is one of those true Cold War mysteries."


Figure 2. A Popular Mechanics cover story from 1950 dramatized the dangers that the early typhoon hunters faced. From the article: "It is impossible for me to describe accurately or exaggerate the severity of the turbulence we encountered. To some it may sound utterly fantastic, but to me it was a flight for life. I have flown many weather missions in my 30 months with the 514th Reconnaissance Squadron. I have flown night combat missions in rough weather out of England, and I have instructed instrument flying in the States, but never have I dreamed of such turbulence as we encountered in Typhoon Beverly. It is amazing to me the ship held together as it did."

Next post
My final post of the year will be on Wednesday or Thursday. I plan to present my pick for the top U.S. weather story of 2009.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting mara0921:
Thanks Drakoen.. I figured it was something like that but wasnt sure.. Being a Miami native just the possibility of snow/freeze gets us all so excited. My whole office has been glued to this blog all day


Another thing is that even if the thickness is 540 or lower on the 100mb-500mb thickness, you still need to check the other thickness levels to make sure they are at or below freezing for snow precipitation. If there is warm air aloft then precip could be sleet.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30486
The runs have been off by ten degrees each run. 10 degrees can make a big difference in Fl.
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Quoting clwstmchasr:
Drake, help me out. What is the 540 line?


The freeze line at 850MB or about 5,000 feet
Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Thanks Drakoen.. I figured it was something like that but wasnt sure.. Being a Miami native just the possibility of snow/freeze gets us all so excited. My whole office has been glued to this blog all day
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That was also only time ever that snow flurries were even forecasted for miami. I could swear I saw a flake or two, but nothing like 1977. My parents always talk about that one. I was only 1 years old so obviously cant remember. That one was a total surprise from what I've read. That 1989 freeze killed alot of palm trees and citrus. There were 3 big freezes like that in the 80's, Christmas 83 and Jan 85, which was a ridiculous siberian express
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Quoting mara0921:
Can someone help me out with the jargon. What is the 540 line.. Also when you read the 500mb and 850 mb models, what should you be looking for. As for what Drakoen said earlier about the 540 line, I remember Christmas Eve 1989 in Hialeah, FL trying to make snow with my water hose and making huge icicles off the roof. It got down to 25 degrees the night of 23rd-24th. Christmas Eve it was 33 degrees at 1 pm. And it was back below freezing by the time we had Noche Buena dinner.


What the ECMWF isn't as cold as the 1989 event...a few degrees warmer. The 540 line is the generally rain/snow line. If the thickness is 540 or below this implies the layer is at or below freezing. The 540 line on the 1000mb-500mb charts takes into account the average between the temperatures at 1000mb and 500mb.

On the 500mb charts generally you look for troughs, vortices, and low geopotential heights

The 850mb chart is used to look at the depth of the airmass as far as how cold it is. You can look for troughs, geopotential heights, etc on this charts as well.
Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30486
Quoting IKE:
18Z GFS

I doesn't look like the 32 line makes it past N Fl
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Just looking through NWS data for Dec 24 1989. Here are the temps for Ft. Myers (~140 Miles North of Key West)

HIGH: 44
LOW: 28
MEAN: 36
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Quoting charlottefl:


I remember Christmas Eve 1989. We had snow flurries in Port Charlotte. It was 25 degrees that night. They melted before they hit the ground but it was still really cool.
I was in P.C. also, working at the Village Fish Market. I looked up at the street lights and saw lots of flurries.
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The influence of color blindness on intelligence and achievement of college men.
Lorenz, A. B.; McClure, W. E.
Journal of Applied Psychology. Vol 19(3), Jun 1935, 320-330.Abstract9% were color blind of a group of 811 men tested at the University of Toledo on the Ishihara test. The average intelligence-test score for color-blind college students tends to be slightly higher than for non-color-blind, and average point-score grades tend to be slightly lower for the color-blind students. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2009 APA, all rights reserved)
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 26117
Quoting mara0921:
Can someone help me out with the jargon. What is the 540 line.. Also when you read the 500mb and 850 mb models, what should you be looking for. As for what Drakoen said earlier about the 540 line, I remember Christmas Eve 1989 in Hialeah, FL trying to make snow with my water hose and making huge icicles off the roof. It got down to 25 degrees the night of 23rd-24th. Christmas Eve it was 33 degrees at 1 pm. And it was back below freezing by the time we had Noche Buena dinner.


I remember Christmas Eve 1989. We had snow flurries in Port Charlotte. It was 25 degrees that night. They melted before they hit the ground but it was still really cool.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Can someone help me out with the jargon. What is the 540 line.. Also when you read the 500mb and 850 mb models, what should you be looking for. As for what Drakoen said earlier about the 540 line, I remember Christmas Eve 1989 in Hialeah, FL trying to make snow with my water hose and making huge icicles off the roof. It got down to 25 degrees the night of 23rd-24th. Christmas Eve it was 33 degrees at 1 pm. And it was back below freezing by the time we had Noche Buena dinner.
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575. IKE
18Z GFS
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
ECMWF dives the 540 line towards northern Lake Okeechobee similar to the 1989 cold spell.

Member Since: October 28, 2006 Posts: 57 Comments: 30486
572. IKE
Mobile,AL. long-term...LONG TERM (FRIDAY THROUGH NEXT TUESDAY)...FAIR BUT COLD WEATHER
EXPECTED OVER THE WEEKEND AS HIGH PRESSURE BUILDS EAST ACROSS THE
AREA. 12Z GFS AND THE 12Z ECMWF BOTH HAVE A SLUG OF MOISTURE AHEAD
OF A SOUTHERN STREAM SHORTWAVE MOVING ACROSS OUR AREA MONDAY
MORNING. THE THICKNESSES ARE FAIRLY COLD WITH A DEEP SUBFREEZING
AIRMASS OVER THE AREA IN BOTH MODELS MONDAY MORNING. RIGHT NOW HAVE
A 20/SLIGHT CHANCE POP FOR RAIN/SNOW ACROSS THE NORTHERN ZONES
MONDAY MORNING. THE ECMWF HAS THE SURFACE LOW MUCH FARTHER SOUTH
AND MUCH WEAKER THAN THE GFS MONDAY...WITH MOST OF THE PRECIPITATION
BEING VERY LIGHT WITH THE UPPER FORCING AHEAD OF THE SHORTWAVE. GFS
WAS STRONGER WITH THE SURFACE LOW AND FARTHER NORTH WITH
IT...PUTTING OUR AREA IN THE STRONGER LIFT REGION NORTH OF THE LOW.
RIGHT NOW THE GFS LOOKS A BIT OVER-DONE AND WE WENT LIGHTER AND LESS
CERTAIN WITH ANY WINTRY PRECIP EARLY NEXT WEEK. STAY TUNED.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
Quoting HurricaneHunterGal:

I have found that color blind people are smarter!

But then again, you never met me!
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I've been watching the models the past day or so, and right now it looks like ANY chance of non-liquid precip would be well north of South Florida. The low pressure are would have to be way far to the south with very cold air already in place for anything other than rain in south Florida. North Florida could get some of it if the low forms as the GFS thinks it will. Adrian
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568. IKE
Quoting StormChaser81:


Smarter than the AVERAGE blogger...lol


LOL.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
Quoting StormChaser81:


GFS is showing a lot colder temps than the HPC.



Like 35 to 40 as a high for central Florida area.
Member Since: August 11, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2315
Quoting TampaFLUSA:

That's really not that cold. That happens once a winter.


GFS is showing a lot colder temps than the HPC.

Member Since: August 11, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2315
Quoting nrtiwlnvragn:
HPC minimum temps for 01/05/2010.



That's really not that cold. That happens once a winter.
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CONUS 60 hour forecast Surface Map

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109
fxus64 klix 292119
afdlix


Area forecast discussion
National Weather Service New Orleans la
319 PM CST Tuesday Dec 29 2009


Synopsis...
high pressure centered over Ohio this afternoon with surface low
attempting to develop over southwestern Gulf of Mexico. One upper
impulse lifting into far south Texas with a second behind it over
Baja California California. Light rain now being indicated on radar over
eastern Texas. Dew points running higher than yesterday...upper
20s to upper 30s. Temperatures generally in the middle 50s with cirrus
moving into the area.
&&


Short term...
first impulse will mainly serve to get the air mass saturated overnight
tonight. Expect a good bit of radar activity...but little in the
way of measurable precipitation. Second impulse for Wednesday
afternoon and evening will be more productive...with 1 to 2 inches
of rain anticipated. After several dry days...we should be able to
deal with that kind of precipitation amount. Likely to categorical
probability of precipitation for Wednesday and Wednesday night. With surface low forecast
to track SW-NE across the area...any thunder should be isolated
and limited to the southeast half of the area. No severe weather
expected. Front becomes somewhat diffuse over northern Gulf on
Thursday...so moisture doesn't entirely scour out. That waits for
the northern stream impulse Thursday night...which will usher
drier and colder air into the area for Friday. Will hold small
probability of precipitation in the forecast for Thursday and Thursday evening...as we may
get a little light rain or drizzle as the colder air arrives.


Temperatures moderating tonight and Wednesday to around
normal...then above normal by about 5 degrees for Wednesday night
and Thursday. Colder air arriving Friday may hold readings in the
40s for most of the day across the area. 35
&&


Long term...
northwest flow predominates for the entire extended period. Moisture
has been scoured out with the Friday boundary...giving US a
dry...but unseasonably cool weekend. Models continue to flip-flop
on the potential development of low pressure over the Gulf...with
the European model (ecmwf) not developing a surface low at all...keeping the early
portion of next week dry. GFS would indicate a weak low with light
precipitation on Monday. Previous forecast had fit with current
European model (ecmwf) scenario.
Below normal temperatures expected for the extended period...about
5 degrees over the weekend...closer to 10 degrees Monday and
Tuesday. I do note that mex mins for next Wednesday...day
8...running 9-13 degrees below normal.


Considering the usual drift
toward climatology at that time step...actual mins could be even
colder if GFS pattern verifies. Just something to keep an eye on
for now. 35
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Quoting jipmg:


really? 52 in miami? Those are lows.. not highs, that really isn't that cold compared to other major outbreaks.


Remember that models beyond 5 days tend to underestimate cold air as they tend to have a bias towards climatology, also they underestimate the effects of snow cover which tend to not let the cold shallow artic air to modify as much as the computer models indicate
so that map could easily be 10+ degrees to warm.
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Quoting IKE:


I'm not that smart...
You seem to hold your own on this blog. I was just joking with the color code comment, rest assured it was posted for fun.
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Quoting Jeff9641:


Yeah, these model runs the next few days will be key, the models show a powerful southern jet next week. A disturbance along that with very cold air in place could be a set up for a major storm. Will it ride up the coast or move out to sea will be the next big question.


But regardless its going to be bringing some colder temps to our area. i.e. CF (central FL)

But if the factors come together right we could see something that only happens every twenty years or so happen and Florida cant handle any kind of ICE. Bridges would spell disaster for lots of vehicles, considering they would form black ice with this kind of cold.
Member Since: August 11, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2315
Quoting IKE:


I'm not that smart...


Smarter than the AVERAGE blogger...lol
Member Since: August 11, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2315
Quoting HurricaneHunterGal:

I didn't say it was a fact. I said I have found--which means the people that I have interacted with who are color blind have been really fascinating and smart people.


Ill except that. lol =)
Member Since: August 11, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2315
555. IKE
Quoting hydrus:
So everybody listen to Ike except when answers are color-coded?


I'm not that smart...
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
3:15PM CST, 12-29-09, Arlington, TX 3RD Snow of 12-09 {:0)

Member Since: August 25, 2009 Posts: 20 Comments: 6785
Quoting StormChaser81:


I want facts on that, i dont believe it.

I didn't say it was a fact. I said I have found--which means the people that I have interacted with who are color blind have been really fascinating and smart people.
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Quoting HurricaneHunterGal:

I have found that color blind people are smarter!
So everybody listen to Ike except when answers are color-coded?
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Quoting StormChaser81:


Still lots of time for things to change for better or worse. Not going to get excited till one day before, considering lately they blow stuff way out of portion and that last storm system to hit central Florida was pathetic, I only had like less than a half of inch of rain.

Yeah, I'm not getting excited for anything until it's 3 days out, and even then it's sketchy haha!
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Quoting HurricaneHunterGal:

I have found that color blind people are smarter!


I want facts on that, i dont believe it.
Member Since: August 11, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2315
Quoting Jeff9641:
I am very interested to see the updated GFS at 5:30pm. I think the GOM Low will be stronger on the next run for next Wed. A lot of maps that everybody is throwing out right now expect for Ike and Patrap are wrong. Guys people are under estimating this cold outbreak next week. The Euro and GFS are on the right track. A strong southern jet with bitterly cold air spells trouble for the deep south (i.e Florida). With this pattern in place is a perfect set up for a very strong storm next week. Bottom line the computer models the next 2 to 3 days will be key. A lot of maps on here are not taking into account of the Euro and GFS yet but I'm sure once more consesus is available then a better forecast can be reached.


Still lots of time for things to change for better or worse. Not going to get excited till one day before, considering lately they blow stuff way out of portion and that last storm system to hit central Florida was pathetic, I only had like less than a half of inch of rain.
Member Since: August 11, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2315
Quoting IKE:


I can see colors...some I can say what they are...but blue...purple...green...brown...

I can't identify what they are.

I have found that color blind people are smarter!
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9.6 deg. in Dover NH and the winds are screaming right now. There are not enough bad words to describe how cold it is right now
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545. IKE
Birmingham,AL...LONG TERM...SATURDAY THROUGH TUESDAY.

FAST MOVING PATTERN CONTINUES AS HIGH PRESSURE ON SATURDAY INTO
EARLY SUNDAY...GIVES WAY TO ANOTHER SURFACE LOW DEVELOPING TO OUR
SOUTHWEST. THIS MODEL RUN DEVELOPS THE LOW MUCH FURTHER TO THE
SOUTHWEST AND KEEPS IT WELL TO OUR SOUTH. FOR NOW WILL CARRY A
SLIGHT CHANCE OF LIGHT SNOW FOR SUNDAY NIGHT AND EARLY MONDAY AS
INDICATED BY THE TEMPERATURE PROFILES ALOFT. DRIER/COLDER AIR
SPREADS SOUTHWARD LATER MONDAY NIGHT AND TUESDAY. OVERALL...HIGHS
WILL BE IN THE 40S. OVERNIGHT LOWS WILL FALL INTO THE UPPER TEENS
AND 20S.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
544. auburn (Mod)
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543. IKE
Quoting hydrus:
I,m Curious Ike, can you see any color at all?


I can see colors...some I can say what they are...but blue...purple...green...brown...

I can't identify what they are.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
Quoting hydrus:
I,m Curious Ike, can you see any color at all?


pretty sure he sees colors in gray, so light green would be light gray and so on.
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Quoting IKE:


I'm color blind:(
I,m Curious Ike, can you see any color at all?
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Im leaning towards fluffy solution from Houma to Pensacola for now Ike..

But,its all gonna depend as usual,as to How the GOM Low travels south of us all.

Should get some pics this time,and wont have to travel far seems if it miss's uz here.
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539. IKE
Quoting Patrap:
Im kinda in da aqua blue seems ike..or is that Blue moon Blue?


I'm color blind:(
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858
538. IKE
6-10 day precip outlook....snow for the gulf coast?



8-14 day precip outlook....more snow?

Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37858

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.