Forgetting Typhoon Tip

By Matt Albanese, Noah Mazer, Tree McNulty, Isabel Owen, Melissa Rao, Don Rothwein, and Davina Ward

The Story of Typhoon Tip

The scientific knowledge for Typhoon Tip/Warling is extensive. According a 1980 article entitled “An Analysis of Super Typhoon Tip” by George Dunnavan and John Diercks, Tip is the most studied storm in recent memory. Forty piloted missions were flown into the storm. The mission was carried out by the 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at the Anderson Air Force Base in Guam.

The details on how the storm was formed, started, stalled, and made landfall are numerous. In the beginning of October, an active monsoon trough was discovered by the base. On October 3rd 1979, three circulations, or early storm developments began; one grew into Typhoon Sarah, another into Storm Roger, and the final one developed into Typhoon Tip. Because all three developed at the same time, Storm Roger prevented Tip from developing further until October 8th. During the period of competition between Roger and Tip, Tip got classified as exhibiting “Erratic Movement,” changing directions and shape multiple times. On October 9th a reconnaissance mission flew into Tip, and as it passed over Guam the mission confirmed that Tip had gathered enough strength to be classified as a typhoon.

From the 9th to the 11th, due to a fast drop in pressure, it grew from a typhoon to a super typhoon quicker than scientists predicted. By the 12th, as it continued to grow, a flight mission revealed the lowest sea pressure ever recorded in a tropical typhoon. An officer in the mission stated some very peculiar visualizations from the inside of the storm: “One unusual feature was the spiral striations on the wall cloud. It looked like a double helix spiraling from the base of the wall cloud to the top, making about two revolutions and climbing.” Continuing to bring in speed and wind power between the 13th and 18th, Tip prepared to make landfall as the biggest tropical typhoon ever recorded.

Landfall and Impact

On October 19th, Tip made landfall on the southeastern coast of Honshu with wind speeds of up to 81 mph. Within hours of hitting the shore of the Shizuoka Prefecture, the typhoon had been marked as “extratropical” and continued northwards to the mountainous and rural Nagano Prefecture. In this region, significant rainfall caused over 600 mudslides and flooded more than 22,000 homes; 42 people died throughout the Nagano Prefecture, with another 71 missing and 283 injured. In 70 separate locations, river embankments collapsed, destroying 27 bridges and 105 dikes. Following the storm, at least 11,000 people were left homeless. Tip continued its destructive path across Honshu and to the northeast, fading in strength as it went. By the time the storm’s remnants had reached the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, it had slowed to nothing more than a loose collection of waves and wind.

Islands and Memory

An interesting thread that emerged as we were researching and discussing the places that Typhoon Tip affected was the importance of names and where those origins come from. The naming of tropical storms is an area based process which changes the language that is used despite the weather phenomenon being the same. The words typhoon, hurricane, and cyclone all refer to the same types of storms, but function to differentiate the storms place of origin.

Typhoon Tip affected an array of places including the Caroline Island Chain (a widely scattered archipelago of islands in the northwestern Pacific Ocean including: Pohnpei and the Chuuk Islands in the Federated States of Micronesia), Guam, and Southern Japan. It was interesting to dive into the areas that this force of nature affected, because many of them were not familiar to us. Particularly regarding Pohnpei, an island located in the Federated States of Micronesia deep in the Philippine Sea, it felt almost wrong that most sources did not mention the storm affecting smaller islands and focused primarily on its effects on Japan; it’s a strange place to find such erasure. It begs the question on which places are remembered and which feed into the cycle of forgetting.

Although the strength and power of Typhoon Tip has been acknowledged inside of the scientific meteorological field, the name has not been retired and has since been used three more times. It’s unusual that the name has been used again to describe such minor storms, especially in light of the lives lost and damage caused. In 1983, a storm was formed near the Philippines and hit China as a tropical storm, causing minor damage. The storm was named Tip. In 1986, a Category 1 typhoon that remained well at sea was also named Tip, and again in 1989 a minimal tropical storm that remained well out at sea was given the name Tip. Though the number of lives lost and destruction is not on the same scale as Hurricane Katrina in number, the name “Katrina” was retired. What degree of disaster is required to retire the name of a storm?

Art and the Performance of Memory: Camp Fuji

While it was difficult to find memory of the storm in Japan and many of the smaller islands that the Tip affected, there was one performance of memory that stood out to us. Every year, Marines stationed at Camp Fuji, Japan holds an annual memorial ceremony in commemoration of the thirteen Marines who died in 1979 as a result of a fuel tank fire resulting from Typhoon Tip (Warling). This annual performance serves to remember and celebrate the lives of the Marines who were lost in the catastrophic, violent fuel tank fire as a result of the storm.

According to Roach, western cultures have a desire for perfect closure, or telos, in the aftermath of tragedies. This closure is impossible when considering the randomness of the fire, in addition to the lack of an enemy to rally against. For this reason, the ceremony is annual because having it end and not continue would imply a closure that is impossible and non existant. Discontinuing the annual ceremony would imply that the victims are no longer worth remembering, that people must move on. Death, according to Roach, should not be viewed as a moment in time, but rather as a process (Echoes in the Bone, p. 39). After the storm, the Marines resurrected a memorial plaque at Camp Fuji where the ceremony is hosted. This physical plaque may be an attempt at closure, while the ceremonial performance effigizes the victims as awareness of their absence is evoked by the annual performance.

Art and Emphasis

Most of the graphics and representations we found — there isn’t much accessible via Google, and only one article about Tip is available through Milne and IDS — are either satellite images of Tip, or pictures which compare the typhoon to other storms of its kind. This graphic overlays Tip (the largest tropical storm ever recorded, which killed 99 people)and Typhoon Tracy (the smallest ever recorded, which killed 71 people) over a map of the continental US. This one shows that if Tip had occured in the US, it would have stretched from New York to Dallas. This kind of graphic doesn’t really tell us anything, other than using a familiar physical reference point that an American audience will understand in order to convey the size of the storm. Even if it succeeds in doing that, it implicitly begs the question: what would have happened if this had happened here? Intentionally or not, this is a counterproductive question — it didn’t happen here, and that’s not what we need to think about.

Tip is an event that seems to be raised to planetary significance through its designation as the largest tropical storm ever, and most of the pictures we find of it are satellite images. The most readily accessible videos we could find show satellite shots or computer renderings of Tip during the entirety of its formation and movement along its path, from a point of view totally removed from anyone on the ground. The scope of the storm is impressive, in a terrible kind of way, but there’s no sense of what the human experience of Tip was beyond what a viewer can infer. Is this a more objective view? On a global scale, is this view the type that’s important?

How Do We Remember Tip?

There is an absence that speaks volumes: Although the storm is one of the most meteorologically studied, there is very little documented on the lives lost during the storm, or how the different cultures were affected. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the storm affected mostly rural Japan and smaller islands. It could also be the motivation to study the storm was greater and financed better. As with other storms studied during the semester, the science behind the storm and how it went down is well known. However, went it comes to the nitty gritty of the people and their cultures experiencing the waste and destruction due to the storm, there is a notable lack of attention. Regardless of the possible reasons for this neglect, the effect is the same: this very real human cost and its mark on history is left unacknowledged.



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