Tuesday, September 25, 2007


SURVIVAL AND TRAGEDY - ‘Fatal Forecast’ retells Georges Bank storm of 1980

The Patriot Ledger

Twenty-seven years have passed since Plymouth lobsterman Gary Brown and three others died in a hurricane-force storm on the fishing grounds of Georges Bank. A fifth fisherman miraculously survived by hanging on to an inflatable raft for more than 50 hours.

The disaster and good fortune from that unforeseen November storm are dramatically told for the first time in the book ‘‘Fatal Forecast,’’ by Michael Tougias of Norfolk. Decades later, it’s both a riveting survival story and a cautionary tale.

‘‘I think it will go down as one of the top survival accomplishments ever recorded,’’ said Tougias, who was researching Coast Guard casualty reports for an earlier nautical thriller when he became fascinated with the survival of lobster man Ernie Hazzard of the Fair Wind.

A genuine page turner, ‘‘Fatal Forecast’’ vividly recreates the storm, the struggle and the survival. To convey what crew members and rescuers saw, thought and felt, Tougias extensively interviewed them. The book’s 14 photographs also bring alive the reality. One of the most incredible shows a small launch craft from a Coast Guard cutter heading toward Hazzard’s tiny life boat. Another shows the Coast Guard crew moving a blanket-covered Hazzard onto the boat.

‘‘It is both a miracle and a tribute to Ernie’s fortitude and decision making,’’ said Tougias, who has written 17 books and gives motivational presentations, including one inspired by Hazzard, titled ‘‘Survival Lessons.’’

‘‘I think his mind set and the techniques he used can help any of us who face difficult odds,’’ Tougias said.

As a former Marine, long-distance cyclist and mechanic, Hazzard drew upon all that he had learned from these experiences: Focus on the present, make the most of available resources, endure pain and discomfort, and accept loneliness.

When a monster 100-foot wave capsized the 50-foot Fair Wind and trapped the four-man crew inside, Hazzard, 33, survived by a mixture of luck and canniness. Seeing an exit, he dove underwater and through an opening into the sea, a risky move that would have been impossible if he’d been wearing a survival suit. His second bit of luck was finding a plastic bucket to cling to and then reaching an inflatable raft attached to the overturned boat. In the next two days as waves battered and toppled the raft, he survived by sheer mental determination, strength and practical know-how.

Like Hazzard, 30-year-old lobster man Gary Brown of Plymouth ended up in the ocean, when a giant wave blew out a side of the pilot house of the vessel, Sea Star. But Brown had no lifeboat to cling to and slipped away as his fellow crew threw him lifelines.

A memorial stone to Brown overlooks the ocean in front of the Lobster Pound on Manomet Point Road in Plymouth. Erected by his widow Honour Brown (who chose not to be interviewed for the book, but still lives in Plymouth with her second husband and children), the monument has a plaque inscribed with lines from the poem ‘‘Sea Fever’’ by John Masefield.

In the epilogue, Gary Brown is remembered by his captain Peter Brown (no relation). Brown also is the son of Bob Brown, owner of the Andrea Gail, whose tragic fate was the subject of ‘‘The Perfect Storm’’ by Sebastian Junger.

‘‘I never want to see a friend or crew member on my boat lost because of a bad forecast,’’ Brown reflected. ‘‘Gary Brown was a good man.’’

To Tougias, Hazzard also spoke about the long-term effects of the trauma on his life.

‘‘I don’t let little stuff get to me. And when bigger problems come along, I figure I’ll solve them somehow,’’ Hazzard said. ‘‘Although I don’t always make the best of these extra years, I am surely thankful for each and every day.’’

The cautionary story stems from the fact that the outcome might have been different if the fisherman had known about a broken wind sensor on the sole weather buoy on Georges Bank. Unaware of rising winds, they were surprised by hurricane speeds that brewed 60 foot waves, which grew to 90 to 100 feet.

A meteorologist in the Boston office of The National Weather Service had warned the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the danger of the broken sensor. Facing budget constraints, NOAA decided to put off repairs since a more sophisticated wind sensor was expected to be installed in January, Tougias wrote.

Whether the outcome would have been different even if the wind sensor had been working is something meteorologists debate, since the storm blew in so fast they called it ‘‘a bomb,’’ Tougias said.

‘‘I believe they were wrong not to alert listeners that their forecast did not have the benefit of the usual data from the weather buoy,’’ Tougias said. ‘‘But even if the wind sensor was working, it may have only reported what was actually happening at Georges Bank when the storm hit, and that would have been too late for the boats to turn back.’’

After the families learned about the buoy, Gary Brown’s wife, who was pregnant at the time of his death, and several other families sued and won $1.2 million in damages, the first time the National Weather Service was held responsible for an inaccurate forecast. However, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the judgment in 1986, asserting that the government was protected from liability because weather forecasting is a ‘‘discretionary function.’’

‘‘I thought the judgment for the plaintiffs was the correct decision, and I did not agree with the appeals court over-turning it,’’ Tougias said. ‘‘However, the National Weather Service did make one important change as a result of the case, and that was in the future it would tell mariners when a weather buoy was not working.’’

Tougias will give a slide presentation on ‘‘Fatal Forecast’’ at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12 at the Mansfield Historical Society, at 7 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Norwood Public Library and at 7 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Hull Lifesaving Museum. Admission is free. For more information, go to michaeltougias.com.

Copyright 2007 The Patriot Ledger
Transmitted Monday, September 24, 2007

Maritime Notes:

2008 Ocean Sciences Meeting

From the Watershed to the Global Ocean

2008 Ocean Sciences Meeting · 2-7 March 2-7 2008 · Orlando, Florida, USA

Co-sponsored by the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography, the American Geophysical Union, The Oceanography Society and the Estuarine Research Federation.

Key Dates

Submittal Deadline
2 October 2007

Author Notification
December 2007

Schedule Posted
January 2008

Registration Fees
Early: 1 February 2008
Regular: 1 March 2008
On-site: after 1 March 2008

Abstract Submittal Now Open

The abstract submission deadline is midnight (23:59 US, CDT) on Tuesday, 2 October 2007. In order for scheduling to be completed in a timely manner, all Internet and mailed submissions must be received by this date. An abstract submission fee of $50.00 USD is required for each submission, along with a full paid registration. This fee is non-refundable should it later be determined you are not able to attend and make your presentation. However, registration fees are refundable under the registration guidelines. Only one paper per first author will be accepted. Poster presentations are strongly encouraged and will play an important role in this meeting.

Be sure to read the abstract guidelines and registration policies before submitting.

Please click here to proceed to registration and abstract submittal.

Weather Disaster Reports - Africa

Floods in West Africa Minimize

Floods affect more than 500,000 people in West Africa

Following torrential rains recorded in West Africa, floods have affected over 500,000 people in 12 countries: in Ghana (+270,000), Nigeria (50,000), Burkina Faso (+40,600), Togo (+100,000), Mali (25145), The Gambia (298), Niger (16,700), Senegal (3100), Côte d’Ivoire (2000), Liberia (17,000), Mauritania (30,000) and Sierra Leone (4500). Floods have caused the destruction of houses, food stocks, goods, farms and polluted most of the water sources (wells and canals). This has resulted in the displacement of thousands of people.

Displaced populations are living either with host families or in public infrastructures such as schools and in IDPs camps . The school year scheduled to being in September in some of these countries may be delayed due to the occupation of schools by the displaced. In this lean season period, households already face problems to feed their own members and having to host victims of the floods may aggravate further their already precarious food security situation.

Access to affected population remains constrained by the poor condition of some roads (in Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger) and insecurity notably in Iferouane, northern Niger. The situation in Iferouane is of particular concern as humanitarian organisations continue to struggle to respond to the needs of some 500 persons affected by floods and food insecurity. In addition, reports of new landmines being laid around the city are also hindering humanitarian interventions. On 20 August landmines caused the death of four gendarmes in the region. In this regard there is an urgent need for relevant safety measures to be ensured by state and non-state actors to enable the safe provision of humanitarian assistance.

Health authorities and humanitarian actors remain concerned about the possible outbreak of waterborne diseases like cholera and the recrudescence of malaria cases.

These floods coincide with the most critical time of the year, the lean season when West African families mostly in the Sahel region face food insecurity. The destruction of crop and food stocks has aggravated the vulnerability of poor families and needs to be addressed promptly through emergency and recovery interventions.

Potable water is of concern because of the pollution of water sources and the existence of destroyed latrines that are considered to be the vector of possible epidemics.


Floods in Ghana Minimize

Flooding in the Upper East Region, Upper West Region and Northern Region of Ghana has killed at least six people and affected over 276,000, according to the Government. They destroyed thousands of homes after torrential rains from 24 to 29 August. The flooding has also caused major bridges to collapse, and destroyed crops. Response-Government officials have visited the region to assess the damage and announced they would deliver initial relief supplies to affected populations. Regional authorities had appealed to the government, charitable organizations, religious bodies and NGOs for assistance. The United Nations are considering the deployment of an UNDAC team to Ghana.

Please find below some resources relative to the situation:

Ghana floods - Situation report n°2 - As of 17 September 07

Map of flood in Ghana - As of 18 September 07

Ghana - Humanitarian Contact list

Latest sitrep (12 September 07) in floods West Africa

Reference map of Ghana (UNCS)

Latest Map on floods in West Africa - As of 18 Sept. 07

Situation reports Minimize

Resource mobilisation Minimize

Maps Minimize

In this section you will find a range of maps that present information related to flood in West Africa.

Burkina Faso - Map of floods - As of 21 Sept. 07
Source : IRIN, Red Cross, IFRC
Date : 09 August 2007
Map made by: OCHA Dakar

West Africa- Map of floods in West Africa - As of 18 Sept. 07
Source : IRIN, Red Cross, IFRC
Date : 09 August 2007
Map made by: OCHA Dakar

West Africa- Map of floods in West Africa - As of 11 Sept. 07
Source : IRIN, Red Cross, IFRC
Date : 09 August 2007
Map made by: OCHA Dakar

West Africa- Map of floods in West Africa - As of 30 Aug. 07
Source : IRIN, Red Cross, IFRC
Date : 09 August 2007
Map made by: OCHA Dakar

West Africa- Map of floods in West Africa - As of 23 Aug. 07
Source : IRIN, Red Cross, IFRC
Date : 09 August 2007
Map made by: OCHA Dakar


West Africa- Map of floods in West Africa - As of 22 Aug. 07
Source : IRIN, Red Cross, IFRC
Date : 09 August 2007
Map made by: OCHA Dakar


Niger - Map of floods Niger - As of 22 Aug. 07
Source : OCHA Niger
Date : 09 August 2007
Map made by: OCHA Dakar


West Africa- Map of floods in West Africa - As of 16 Aug. 07
Source : IRIN, Red Cross, IFRC
Date : 09 August 2007
Map made by: OCHA Dakar


West Africa- Map of floods in West Africa - As of 8 Aug. 07
Source : IRIN, Red Cross, IFRC
Date : 09 August 2007
Map made by: OCHA Dakar

Mali - Carte de situation des inondations - A la date du 31 juillet 2007
Source : OCHA, MSF, Government
Date : April 2007
Map made by: OCHA Dakar

Map - Floods in Nigeria - As of 08 August 07
Source : IRIN, Red Cross
Date : April 2007
Map made by: OCHA Dakar


Resources & Links Minimize

This website was developed with the assistance of Thematic Funding from the Humanitarian Aid Department of the European Commission in 2004 and 2005