A typhoon is the name given to a severe storm that occurs in the northwestern part of the Pacific Ocean. The majority of typhoons develop in the triangle between Japan, Micronesia and the Philippines.
In other parts of the world they are known as hurricanes or cyclones. The characteristics of these storms are the same. They develop around areas of low barometric pressure, over warm seas. Winds circle the eye of the storm, picking up speed, and the eye of the storm moves over the surface of the sea until the storm breaks up on its own or is broken up by landfall. Wind speeds reach a maximum on the wall of the eye, reaching more than 110 miles per hour.
Typhoons usually develop in late summer when the sea is at its warmest. They usually develop within twenty degrees of the equator and move on a generally semi circular path, west, and north west and then northeast. The damage these storms cause is from high seas, high winds, storm surge and flooding from heavy rain.
The frequency of the development of typhoons is unpredictable, various factors are thought to play a part and it is subjectively thought that they may be becoming more frequent. It should be noted however that we now know about typhoons that never make landfall via satellite imagery. This technology was not available in the past and so typhoons could have formed and died at sea without being recorded.
Typhoons have played a major part in the history of this region of Asia, causing the loss of many lives and the destruction of villages and cities. In 1944 one played a part in world war two.
In December 1944 task force 38 was taking part in operations to destroy Japanese airfields in the Minoro region allowing an amphibious assault. The task force consisted of six light carriers, eight battleships, fifteen cruisers and fifty destroyers, under the command of Admiral Halsey. Task force 38 was viewed as a fast attack force.
The operation was completed on 17th December and the fleet moved to a position about three hundred miles of Luzon in the Philippine Sea to allow for refueling. On 18th December a typhoon hit the fleet, later named Typhoon Cobra.
The storm hit with little warning and the ships were caught in the center of the storm. Three destroyers, the USS hull, USS Spence and USS Monaghan capsized and were lost with nearly all hands. A further twenty-eight ships sustained major damage.
Fires broke out in three of the carriers and over one hundred and forty planes were lost overboard or to the fires. The extent of the damage was exacerbated by the fact that the task force commanders had no good weather information about the area they were in. Several ships attempted to avoid the storm, but with limited information about the typhoons position and path this action had mixed results.
A memo from Admiral Nimitz reveals that individual ship commanders failed to realize the seriousness of the situation, and tried to maintain Fleet formation, rather than concentrating on saving their ships. The memo also reveals that ships low on fuel, and with little ballast were most vulnerable to the typhoon.
Individual commanders relied on radio information rather than their own observations of the weather. The losses could have been far worse with several vessels recording coming near to capsizing. The memo recommended that it should be emphasized to ship commanders that he safety of their vessel over rides all other considerations in time of peril, over and above pressures exerted by operational considerations or standing orders.
A total of seven hundred and ninety men were lost, with a further eighty injured. The typhoon caused more damage to the task force than any they had sustained through enemy action.
The tremendous damage the typhoon caused led to the establishment of meteorological stations on the Caroline Islands, and then as the islands were taken on Iwo Jima, Manilla and Okinawa. A centralized system was set up to disseminate this information through Guam and Leyte.