Hurricane Janet

Janet. Now there’s a hurricane name you probably haven’t heard in a long time. With good reason. It was retired after the 1955 season. Janet was a category 5 monster that ripped through the western Caribbean Sea in September of that year.

On September 26 at 8:30 a.m. EST, a Navy reconnaissance plane, a twin-engined PV2 Neptune, was preparing to make a low-level fly-through of Janet south of Jamaica. The radioman sent this message to the U.S. Weather Bureau’s hurricane forecast center in Miami, Florida: “…surface pressure 1003 millibars, surface wind NE 45 knots, beginning penetration into vortex of hurricane.”

That was the last heard from the aircraft. No trace of the plane, its nine crew members and two passengers–newspapermen from Toronto–was ever found. They had punched into the storm, already a category 4, at a death-wish altitude, 700 feet. Today, recon missions into full-blown hurricanes are flown at no less than 5000 feet and more typically, 10,000.

Janet later thundered ashore on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula near the town of Chetumal. The anemometer there blew apart at 175 mph. Winds were estimated to have hit 200 mph. The pressure plunged to 914 millibars. When Andrew, the last cat 5 demon to make landfall in the U.S., blasted south Florida in 1992, the pressure tumbled to 922 millibars.

Why am I bringing up Janet? Well, I needed a hurricane villain (villainess?) for EYEWALL. I didn’t want to use any of the names that are currently active; that could create confusion. And I didn’t want to employ a retired name with which people might identify, such as Carol, Camille or Katrina.

Janet seemed an excellent option: a hurricane most people would have no preconceived notions about… unless they happened to have been in Chetumal over half a century ago. Or unless they happened to have had friends or family aboard the ill-fated Navy PV2.

My resurrected Janet is no less savage than her 1955 namesake. And further, she takes aim at the U.S., not Mexico.

Photo: A Navy PV2 Neptune
In 1955, a Navy PV2 Neptune was the last reconnaissance aircraft to be lost in a hurricane in the Atlantic Basin.  (Photo from U.S. Navy Hurricane Hunters.)

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