Wednesday, February 16, 2011

There Arose a Great Storm

There is an interesting sequence of events that Nephi describes that should cancel out any thought of a coastal voyage from the Arabian Peninsula eastward toward Malay, or even beyond through Indonesia to the Pacific and across to Mesoamerica. In either case, the idea of Lehi sailing along the routes of the early traders that plied the coastal waters from China to Arabia and back must be seen as impossible due to the scriptural record.

After the Lehi colony boarded the ship Nephi built and set sail into the Irreantum Sea (1 Nephi 18:6,8), Nephi writes: “And after we had been driven forth before the wind for the space of many days (1 Nephi 18:9), a great storm arose (1 Nephi 18:13).

By the time this storm arose, Nephi had been bound and the Liahona, which showed them the direction to sail, ceased working. At that time, with Nephi tied up and no longer in control of the ship, he says, “they knew not whither they should steer the ship, insomuch that there arose a great storm” (1 Nephi 18:13).

Now any great storm in the Arabian Sea would be a tropical storm being just a few degrees north of the Equator. According to the U.S. Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center, a tropical storm in the Arabian Sea, called a cyclone, is a storm system with a closed circulation around a centre of low pressure fueled by the heat released when moist air rises and condenses. The name underscores its origin in the tropics and their cyclonic nature. Tropical cyclones are distinguished from other cyclonic storms such as nor’easters and polar lows by the heat mechanism that fuels them, which makes them "warm core" storm systems.

Nephi goes on to say of this storm, “yea, a great and terrible tempest, and we were driven back upon the waters for the space of three days” (1 Nephi 18:13)

It should be noted that cyclonic storms originate out to sea, typically about 300 miles north (or south) of the Equator, which would place a storm in the Arabian Sea about 10ยบ north latitude, almost in the direct middle of this Sea. This would be in the middle of what is called the Arabian Sea Gyre, a clockwise movement of water between the Peninsula and the sub-continent of India. In addition, once a cyclonic storm has formed over the southeastern Arabian Sea, it moves northwesterly towards the Arabian Peninsula, and inland.

The paths of tropical cyclones over the northern Arabian Sea from 1985-2005, show that these cyclones entered Oman, affecting Salalah and surroundings. Such a severe storm has been known to bring 24-hours of torrential rain to Batinah and Muscat regions along the coast of Arabia. Over a 200 year period ending in 2001, there were 128 cyclonic storms in the Arabian Sea that reached a wind speed of over 60 miles per hour, referred to as either a whole gale storm, a violent storm, or a hurricane, with waves over 20 feet and reaching as high as 45 feet or more. During one such storm in 1977, a severe cyclone crossed Masirah Island (off the coast of Oman) with a central pressure of about 976 hPa (14.16 pounds per square inch, 28.82 inches of mercury, 732.1 Torr); maximum sustained winds were in the region of 105 miles per hour, with gusts to 138 miles per hour. The 24-hour rainfall was 17 inches. In June 1996 a tropical storm crossed the Omani coast near Ras Madraka (south of Masirah Island) and brought more that 8 inches of rain to the eastern Hajar Mountains with more than 6 inches to the mountain of Dhofar in the south. In June 2002, a tropical storm affected Salalah city dropping 3 inches of rain in 24-hours and 10 inches over the adjoining mountains, with Hajar Mountains receiving up to 12 inches.

These, like all storms in the area, moved in from sea to the northwest, off the Arabian Sea and into the Arabian Peninsula.

Now, if Lehi’s ship was sailing along the coastal waters as all these theorists claim, by the time this storm hit the coastal waters, it would only be a matter of a few hours before it swept completely inland—obviously, destroying any coastal vessels in its path or washing them up on the beach or crashing them into the coastal shoals (sand banks) and rocks.

Since Nephi writes that their ship was “driven back upon the waters for the space of three days” (1 Nephi 18:13), and that the storm lasted into the fourth day (1 Nephi 18:14), it would be impossible for their ship to have been in coastal waters along the trade routes when this storm arose. Had they been sailing the coastal waters of the trade routes as these theorists claim, their ship would have been dashed to pieces against the shore—not “driven back” as Nephi tells us.

(See the next post, “There Arose a Great Storm Part II,” for more information regarding the impossibility of Lehi’s course being along then coastal waters, and the real place of Nephi’s ship when the storm arose)


  1. I'm also a long time follower and first time poster. I found this post today extremely interesting. It is interesting to me that no one else seems to see what you see in the BOM record of the Lehi voyage. Funny thing, I have noticed that all those people who talk about a coastal voyage from Arabia to Indonesia, never mention the storm that Mormon took seven verses to cover. i would love to get them on a boat dependent upon wind and currents and see how they handle it. :)

  2. To further your point. The type of cyclone you mention would have driven Nephi’s ship back toward land at about 12 to 15 knots (13 to 17 miles per hour). Three-and-a-half days (48 hours) would see Nephi’s ship covering 624 to 816 miles, which means the ship would have to have been at least about 1000 miles off shore at the time of entering the storm area. Under normal travel of about 3 to 4 miles an hour, that means they would have been at least 10 to 13 days out from shore on their voyage. On the other hand, since we do not know how “many days” they sailed before encountering the storm, these figures could be doubled, that is about 2000 miles off shore and about 20 to 26 days. To me, the point is that they had to be out in the ocean quite some distance before encountering the storm area.

  3. Tomorrow’s post shows some figures close to your second set. Also to be considered, is that the Lehi Colony were not experience seamen—they would have been awed by the ocean, the lack of seeing land, and also involved in the need to learn how to sail a ship. Sails had to be tended, lines maintained taut, foods arranged and meals assigned. Cleanup, bailing, washing and mending would need to be learned. Those on board would need to maintain schedules, sleeping arrangements determined, children looked after and all being taught the duties of each day and night. This would have taken some time to put into effect and be learned. Finally, after all this, those on board would have settled into a normal daily routine on board. In addition, after “many days” the brothers and sons of Ishmael and their families, no doubt fearful for their lives initially sailing out to sea, would have come to realize that Nephi’s ship was both safe and seaworthy. Once this was determined and all felt safe in their new environment, they began to make merry with singing and dancing, and rude behavior. This attitude would not have occurred in just a few days—it would have taken some time for them to get to this point.