As Hurricane Florence nears the East Coast this week, you’ll probably see headlines about the Navy leaving port ahead of the massive storm. Wait, isn’t the military supposed to go into danger and not away from it? Here are the reasons why the Navy heads out to sea when faced with extreme weather such as what Hurricane Florence is reportedly packing.
It’s All About Physics
When a warship is in port, it is tied to the pier with heavy-duty rope, also called mooring lines, designed to withstand great amounts of pressure. They are not, however, indestructible, and hurricane-force winds are considered a great risk. Should one of these lines sever and the ship break loose from the pier without control, the damage to the ship and its crew could be catastrophic. Multiple ships are often moored to a single pier, as is the case in Norfolk, Virginia. A ship breaking loose would have a domino effect that wreaks havoc on the entire fleet.
When in port, ships require hard-wired connections to get services like electricity, Internet, and water. These cables and lines come from the pier and connect to the ship. Some can be temporarily pulled when inclement weather is predicted, but this often means the ship goes without vital services.
When a warship is out to sea, or underway, the engines, propellers, and other equipment are running. During storms, redundant systems are often running as well. This ensures maximum control for the ship and crew. Ships at sea are also highly maneuverable and fast. With enough notice, they can leave a potentially dangerous area and wait offshore in calmer conditions. Should they meet intense weather, military ships are designed to remain upright and maneuverable in even the harshest conditions.
UPDATE: #USNavy ships underway from Naval Station Norfolk following Sortie Condition Alpha order by @USFleetForces ahead of #HurricaneFlorence. Will be directed to areas of Atlantic Ocean where they will be best positioned to avoid the storm.
ℹ️: https://t.co/XRMEeai9eC pic.twitter.com/Snp7TMdGxp
— U.S. Navy (@USNavy) September 10, 2018
The Fleet Heads Out to Sea
U.S. Fleet Forces, the Norfolk-based command that issued the order, instructed all ships in the area to leave, or sortie, on Monday prior to the storm. This includes ships based at Norfolk Naval Base and Little Creek Joint Expeditionary Base. Local media reported that “nearly 30 ships” sortied and those unable to leave due to ongoing maintenance will “take extra precautions to avoid potential damage, including the option of adding additional mooring and storm lines, dropping the anchor, and disconnecting shore power cables.”
The Navy Times reported on the storm and the sortie order. “Our ships can better weather storms of this magnitude when they are underway,” said Adm. Christopher Grady, the Fleet Forces commander.
The ships will most likely be assigned an area to patrol that is out of the weather pattern. The Navy told local newspaper The Virginian-Pilot that the ships would “go to areas of the Atlantic where they will be in a good position to avoid the storm.” The Navy did not specify when they expect the ships to return to the Norfolk area, but it will likely be later in the weekend or next week, after the weather calms.
Additional Navy aircraft, including those based in Oceana Air Base “remain on standby to relocate to a more secure location, pending an official military order,” said Cmdr. Dave Hecht of Naval Air Force Atlantic. The Air Force also moved aircraft based at nearby Langley Air Force Base to Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base in Ohio.