The mighty warship was about to embark on her maiden voyage. She was so new that the government didn’t even own her yet. Soon, she would enter the inventory as the newest and most powerful warship in the world, but only if the sea trials went well.
Everything was new, including the weatherman, which was me. But this story isn’t about me, it’s about fog.
When a carrier prepares to get underway, enlisted forecasters prepare the brief, but sometimes the officers do the briefing. Forecasters are interested in predicting the weather. Briefers are interested in not making fools out of themselves, and pray there won’t be any questions.
Luke, the forecaster, prepped me with information about tides, wind, and the weather. And he told me there would be fog.
Great, fog. One of the hardest things to forecast in the world. Everything I saw said blue skies, and Luke said there would be fog. He tried to explain himself – he talked about advection and the Gulf Stream, about dew point, about how the wind has to be just right, but I wasn’t buying it.
But I’m no fool, and only a fool goes against the senior forecaster, so I resigned myself to going 1-for-1 in the blown forecasting department and headed to the brief like a doomed man marching to the gallows. Every weatherman has a horror story about fog, and I was facing mine on my first official forecast.
Our Commanding Officer was nuclear trained, all business, and smart. He was also an attack jet pilot – if I showed any sign of weakness his instincts would kick in and he’d be on me like a heat-seeking missile.
With all the confidence of a blind knife thrower I gave my brief, announced the fog that I knew would never come, and avoided eye contact. In a few seconds it was over.
Then time slowed down. I saw the Captain’s face – he knitted his eyebrows, and his mouth began to open.
Dear mother of God, he’s about to ask a question.
I stared at him and felt the beads of sweat begin to form on my forehead. In an instant the top of my skull shined like the Point Sur Lighthouse.
What I wanted to say was, “I know! I don’t believe it either – it’s Luke’s forecast. IT’S NOT MY FAULT!”
What came out was, “Advective fog, Captain.” Suddenly I was floating outside myself, watching my shiny-headed body explain the complexities of advective fog with the conviction of Isaac Newton at the Royal Society. The room fell silent. I didn’t breath for fear of hyperventilating.
He thought about what I said for a minute (or an hour, depending on where you sat), then nodded and dismissed me.
A little-known fact about forecasting is that at the precise minute you go on record with a prediction, you regret what you just said. You die a million deaths for the next 24 hours waiting to see if it will “verify”, secretly convinced that it won’t.
The next day we got underway.
And we hit fog.
I knew it all along.
Poet Carl Sandburg said it best:
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
Of course the was going to be fog, your LPO said so and he hadn’t yet come up with any reason make you look bad in front of God or the CO (whichever is the more senior).
On the other had, if you hadn’t been new and the CO was someone you could joke with, (my experience with CO’s doesn’t seem to include a sense of humor) you could have said something like; “The Chief told the LPO there would be fog, and even God isn’t dumb enough to argue with a Navy Chief Petty Officer, so the LPO told me there would be fog”