Plans to hitchhike with the typhoon
A few days ago, Captain Blinkenberg found out that there is a typhoon heading towards Japan. Now he has come up with a cunning plan.
Tropical cyclones are the most violent storms on the planet. The wind can reach a speed of over 300 kilometers per hour. In the Pacific, these storms are called typhoons.
A few days ago, Captain Blinkenberg became aware that a typhoon has course for Japan, where Statsraad Lehmkul also is heading.
- It is called Hinnamnor, and is currently located between us and Japan. The typhoon was in Category 5 this morning, but was downgraded to Category 4 this afternoon.
Since the wind speed of the most powerful cyclones are off the normal wind scale by a good margin, a separate scale has been created for them, the Saffir-Simpson. It divides the storms into five categories, based on the average wind speed in one minute.
- Right now the wind is blowing 130 knots where the typhoon is strongest, 240 kilometers an hour, that is, and that is too much for us. But fortunately we are far away, reassures Blinkenberg.
Right now, Hinnamnor is moving to the southwest. The forecast indicates that it will swing north towards Japan, and this has prompted Blinkenberg to come up with a cunning plan.
- If you put a cross in the middle of the typhoon and draw a square around it, we are now in the bottom right quadrant. And this is the best place for us to be since Hinnamor is moving west. It allows us to sail east or south of it if we want. But if you look at the map on our website, we are sailing up against it now, because the typhoon sucks in all the wind around it. My plan is for us to get a little bit closer so that we still have wind to sail in, but not too close, explains Blinkemberg eagerly.
- We will stay in the lower right quadrant, and just follow it up along Japan, if the forecast proves correct. And when at some point the typhoon disintegrates, we set course for Yokohama.
The satellite systems on board provide the ship with a weather forecast from the maritime weather forecasting institutes every six hours, and in addition the ship download weather models that allow the navigator to see what wind strength and direction they can expect along the planned route.
- We take no chances, and are in an ideal position. We have good forcasts, are at a safe distance, and get the wind we need. Without the typhoon, we probably wouldn't have made it to Yokohama in time without using the engine. Now we have plenty of time and we save a lot of fuel and CO2 emissions, so for us the typhoon is just a plus, says Blinkenberg.
Not the first time
Blinkenberg obviously does not want close contact with Hinnamor. Have you been in a tropical cyclone before?
- I have, unfortunately I have to say. I was captain of the full-rigger Sørlandet, and in 2016 we were in Hong Kong sailing with our students. They were at home on holiday, and we just lay there waiting for them to come back. And then a typhoon moved from the south up to Hong Kong. In contrast to now, we were north of the typhoon heading north. Clearly an unfortunate place to be, and it was also difficult to know where we should move. Now we have the entire Pacific Ocean south of us, but when we were in Hong Kong there was nowhere to sail to, says Blinkenberg.
- It was a very unpleasant experience. We were lucky, the typhoon changed course at the last minute, so we didn't get more than 90 knots of wind, about 170 kilometers per hour. We had no injuries, nothing broke, so we got through it well. But typhoons are one of the most powerful weather phenomena we have.
Tropical cyclones are formed when warm, moist air over the sea begins to rise.
The temperature decreases with increasing altitude, and the moist air is eventually unable to retain the moisture. Raindrops form. In this process, heat is released, which causes the air to rise even further.
At the same time, the air masses begin to rotate around the center of the system, which is why these storms are called "cyclones".
Sometimes an "eye" forms in the center. At the top of it, cold dry air from high up in the atmosphere is drawn in. The air descends and clears away the clouds, and in a perfect cyclone the eye is completely cloudless. New moist air is drawn in from the sides. It rises, condenses into rain, and releases more energy.
It is calculated that 200 times more energy is created in a tropical storm than in all the electricity plants on the globe combined.
Need a warm ocean
Tropical cyclones only form when the sea temperature is above 26.5 degrees down to at least 50 metres. At the same time, they are dependent on the earth's rotation causing the wind to blow towards the center of the low pressure.
This means that the vast majority are formed between 10 and 30 degrees north and south of the equator. Directly above the equator, rotation does not set in.
The meteorologists are unable to calculate the path of the tropical cyclones exactly, so Blinkenberg also has a plan B.
- In the first few days of this leg, we spent a lot of time drilling the new crew to take down and set sail. So if the typhoon unexpectedly changes direction and comes towards us, and we have to change course quickly and repeatedly, the crew is trained to do so quickly. If we need to get away from the typhoon, we have to sail, the ship is not as fast using the engine as it is sailing, he says.