Brendan O'Shaughnessy | November 5, 2018
Since the era of the ancient mariners, fog has bedeviled sailors of every stripe. Whether intrepid explorers or Caribbean buccaneers, ship captains faced with a bank of sudden fog quivered at the prospect of navigating in total blindness.
Modern ships come equipped with advanced radar systems, yet just last year, a Russian naval ship collided with a merchant vessel in a heavy fog off Turkey’s Black Sea coast. All 78 crew members were rescued, but the 1,560-ton ship sank to the bottom in a mid-afternoon.
And in 1995, fog off the coast of San Diego brought the America’s Cup sailing race to a halt when the USS Abraham Lincoln, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, blundered into the course. The ship had been conducting training exercises and was looking for a clearing in the fog to airlift passengers to shore when it emerged from the mist and stopped just 200 yards from the sailing yachts and a spectator fleet.
While fog was not the cause of two significant Navy crashes last year, the military is still concerned. Fog prevents plane takeoffs or landings on aircraft carriers, affects their weapons systems, disrupts helicopter operations and slows their cruising speed. Fog’s impact on the transportation industry is considered more disruptive than tornadoes and lightning storms.
Yet unlike these other storms, fog prediction is abysmal — around 50 percent correct. Like flipping a coin. Complex interactions between ocean currents and air turbulence, plus the physical and thermodynamic processes that range from vapor saturation to radiation, are poorly understood. How fog forms, how long it lasts and how it dissipates are also hazy.
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