A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

8 September 2017 — 1437 mdt

Admiral Nimitz’s wisdom on preparing for heavy weather

When a hurricane, a forest fire, or high water, approaches, do smart people wait until the roof rattles, they choke on smoke, or water laps at their door, before they reef the sails, batten down the hatches, wrap their house for fire, cancel athletic events, evacuate, or head for high ground?


By then it is too late. They must act while they still can.

After losing three destroyers in the typhoon of 18 December 1944, a storm sometimes called Halsey’s Typhoon, and the storm in which Captain Queeg was removed in Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny, Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the Pacific fleet, issued a letter made famous by its timeless wisdom on when to prepare for adverse weather. Nimitz’s final paragraph should be the forward to every disaster preparation plan, and read by every official faced with the dilemma of needing to act to prevent harm, but not wanting to act too soon lest the expected crisis, such as playing a high school football game in dense smoke, not materialize

In conclusion, both seniors and juniors alike must realize that in bad weather, as in most other situations, safety and fatal hazard are not separated by any sharp boundary line, but shade gradually from one into the other. There is no little red light which is going to flash on and inform commanding officers or higher commanders that from then on there is extreme danger from the weather, and that measures for ships’ safety must now take precedence over further efforts to keep up with the formation or to execute the assigned task. This time will always be a matter of personal judgment. Naturally no commander is going to cut thin the margin between staying afloat and foundering, but he may nevertheless unwittingly pass the danger point even though no ship is yet in extremis. Ships that keep on going as long as the severity of wind and sea has not yet come close to capsizing them or breaking them in two, may nevertheless become helpless to avoid these catastrophes later if things get worse. By then they may be unable to steer any heading but in the trough of the sea, or may have their steering control, lighting , communications, and main propulsion disabled, or may be helpless to secure things on deck or to jettison topside weights. The time for taking all measures for a ship’s safety is while still able to do so. Nothing is more dangerous than for a seaman to be grudging in taking precautions lest they turn out to have been unnecessary. Safety at sea for a thousand years has depended on exactly the opposite philosophy. [Emphasis added by Flathead Memo.]

If Saturday is a smokeless, sunny, clean air, day, consider Nimitz’s wisdom before castigating decision makers as frightened old fools because they canceled marathons, dragon boat races, and track meets, in the expectation that the Flathead’s air would be fouled with very unhealthy smoke.