Life in the Western Pacific and in Typhoon Alley

Fleet Weather Center housed in the COMNAVMAR Bldg atop Nimitz Hill, Guam

Fleet Weather Center housed in the COMNAVMAR Bldg atop Nimitz Hill, Guam (circa 1975)

While I now live in the Philippines, I began my career here in the Western Pacific. At the ripe old age of 19, I was first assigned to the U.S. Navy’s then named Fleet Weather Central/Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Guam, where I began my forray into the weather business as a computer operator. Back in those days, us young sailors were provided a rather care free life with a good job and steady paychecks. We lived in a tropical paradise in a concrete bunker (Navy barracks), were well fed, and when we were not working, we fully enjoyed what the island of Guam and living in the tropics had to offer. Beaches, BBQ’s, Booze, and Babes. Generally speaking, when we were not at work, we were usually enjoying a partied lifestyle!

My Barracks on Guam

My Barracks on Guam

Living in the tropics in the Western Pacific is something many people will never experience and they will have to rely on the story tellers and the internet to convey it all to them. One thing that is the least understood and will always be for certain when living in the tropics…it isn’t all rose petals!  There are typhoons…and Super Typhoons to contend with.

Back in the days of living in the barracks, there were no worries. We were only responsible for ourselves and to the U.S. Navy. We had a job, money, food and a solid roof over our heads. Few of us had families to worry about and most of the barracks residents didn’t even have a car to fret about. So, when the typhoons would show up, and those of us that were fortunate to not be trapped at work for the duration of the storm, we were resigned to hunkering down in the barracks…with friends, music, and a good supply of booze, and munchies. We would just move the party indoors so to speak. We didn’t even care much about losing the electricity. We had battery backed-up boom boxes for our music, and the bathtubs in the rooms were filled with ice and beer. We didn’t even worry about food…we were young and indestructible and life was good!

The other day I happened across a facebook post that humorously defined the commonly known S.O.S. acronym in a most plausible way, directed at us older guys…“Smarter – Older – Slower.”  With that applied, life in paradise is very enjoyable…it’s just that typhoons are not fun anymore. These days, there are families to worry about (foremost). Then there is the house and it’s contents. There are vehicles. Some folks have farm animals or business ventures. Others have other interests that can be negatively affected by strong storms. That said, a bout with a strong typhoon is not for the faint of heart. Damage to housing and business structures are a major concern while damage to civil infrastructures can make life miserable. Once the damages are done, life changes for the duration and “duration” can remain without any definition. No electricity, no running water, and food supply interruptions. No more Hershey’s Chocolate Bars! COLD water bathing from buckets. Cooking with fire if/when the LPG runs out. It’s basically like back-to-basics camping in the woods. There are many expats who live here who I’m sure are grateful for the Boy Scout Training they received in their youth. And then there are those who wish they had joined the scouts. (The latter types are some of the first guys in line to buy one-way airline tickets out when the going gets tough.)

GLenda as it passes over Philippines with Henry on the doorstep.

Glenda as it passes over Philippines with Henry forming on the doorstep.

This past week has been a week of inconveniences. First there was Typhoon Rammasun (Glenda) which brought us more wind, rain, and storm surge than we got from Super Typhoon Yolanda (Calbayog City area) and no sooner did she leave the room and the sun peek out, Typhoon Matmo (Henry) shows up and hangs out on the doorstep for several days, making his slow exit to the Northwest. Some folks in our area experienced some minor damages, but the constant windy and rainy conditions for almost 10 days can really put quite a damper on one’s party mood….if you’re a westerner anyway. Most Filipinos go about their lives with seemingly little inconvenience. Now we have another area of disturbed weather in the area of Guam, and who knows…it could bring more of the same if it develops further. It’s still early in the 2014 Western Pacific Typhoon Season and we are just getting started. While living in typhoon alley can be just another day for some, for others it can really be a major challenge. These days, I may not have a barracks room with a tub full of ice and beer, but I do have an ocean view and a generator for after the fact. And that’s worth something.