27 September 1959

Typhoon Vera kills almost 5000 people in Japan.

Typhoon Vera, also known as the Isewan Typhoon, was an exceptionally intense tropical cyclone that struck Japan in September 1959, becoming the strongest and deadliest typhoon on record to make landfall on the country. The storm’s intensity resulted in damage of unparalleled severity and extent, and was a major setback to the Japanese economy, which was still recovering from World War II. In the aftermath of Vera, Japan’s disaster management and relief systems were significantly reformed, and the typhoon’s effects would set a benchmark for future storms striking the country.

Vera developed on September 20 between Guam and Chuuk State, and initially tracked westward before taking a more northerly course, reaching tropical storm strength the following day. By this point Vera had assumed a more westerly direction of movement and had begun to rapidly intensify, and reached its peak intensity on September 23 with maximum sustained winds equivalent to that of a modern-day Category 5 hurricane. With little change in strength, Vera curved and accelerated northward, resulting in a landfall on September 26 near Shionomisaki on Honshu. Atmospheric wind patterns caused the typhoon to briefly emerge into the Sea of Japan before recurving eastward and moving ashore Honshu for a second time. Movement over land greatly weakened Vera, and after reentering the North Pacific Ocean later that day, Vera transitioned into an extratropical cyclone on September 27; these remnants continued to persist for an additional two days.

Though Vera was accurately forecast and its track into Japan was well anticipated, limited coverage of telecommunications, combined with lack of urgency from Japanese media and the storm’s intensity, greatly inhibited potential evacuation and disaster mitigation processes. Rainfall from the storm’s outer rainbands began to cause flooding in river basins well in advance of the storm’s landfall. Upon moving ashore Honshu, the typhoon brought a strong storm surge that destroyed numerous flood defense systems, inundating coastal regions and sinking ships. Damage totals from Vera reached US$600 million equivalent to US$5.04 billion in 2017. The number of fatalities caused by Vera remain discrepant, though current estimates indicate that the typhoon caused at least 4,000 deaths, making it the deadliest typhoon in Japanese history.

Relief efforts were initiated by Japanese and American governments immediately following Typhoon Vera. Due to the inundation caused by the typhoon, localized epidemics were reported, including those of dysentery and tetanus. The spread of disease and blocking debris slowed the ongoing relief efforts. Due to the unprecedented damage and loss of life following Vera, the National Diet passed legislation in order to more efficiently assist affected regions and mitigate future disasters. This included the passage of the Disaster Countermeasures Basic Act in 1961, which set standards for Japanese disaster relief, including the establishment of the Central Disaster Prevention Council.

The origin of Typhoon Vera can be ascertained back to a diffuse area of low pressure first incorporated into surface weather analysis early on September 20. At the time, the disturbance was situated between Guam and Chuuk State. Though the Joint Typhoon Warning Center did not classify the incipient system as a tropical cyclone, the Japan Meteorological Agency analyzed the disturbance to be a tropical depression as early as 0000 UTC that day. Initially, the depression tracked westward, but transiently shifted to a more northerly course on September 21. Late that day, a reconnaissance airplane dispatched by the JTWC to analyze the disturbance failed to reach its center due to engine failure. However, the data collected from the storm’s periphery was sufficient enough for the warning center to classify the depression as a tropical storm at 1800 UTC that day. Despite the flight data, the JMA had already determined the system to have been of at least tropical storm intensity six hours earlier. As a result of the reclassification, the tropical storm was designated the name Vera by the JTWC. At this point the tropical cyclone began to take a more westerly course.

Early on September 22, an aircraft fix located Vera 175 km north-northeast of Saipan. Throughout the course of the day, periodic reconnaissance flights into the storm indicated that Vera had begun to rapidly intensify. By 1800 UTC later that day, data analysis concluded that the tropical cyclone had reached typhoon intensity. Rapid intensification continued into the following day, as the typhoon’s maximum sustained winds and barometric pressure quickly rose and fell, respectively. Concurrently, Vera’s size grew to a point at which it spanned 250 km across. At 0600 UTC the following day, Vera achieved its minimum estimated barometric pressure at 895 mbar. This indicated a 75 mbar pressure drop in the preceding 24 hours. Upon reaching its minimum pressure, Vera was estimated to have attained winds equivalent to a Category 5 – the highest classification possible on the modern-day Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale. The typhoon’s winds continued to increase before peaking at 1200 UTC on September 23, when reconnaissance aircraft reported maximum sustained winds of 305 km/h. Upon peaking in wind speed, Vera was located 645 km northeast of Guam. The tropical cyclone’s ability to quickly intensify was attributed to conducive atmospheric divergence and highly sustainable sea surface temperatures.

Vera only maintained peak intensity for roughly twelve hours, but still remained a powerful tropical cyclone. With very little change in strength, the typhoon tracked northwestward throughout September 24. Due to the influence of a nearby high-pressure area, Vera began to gradually curve and rapidly accelerate northward towards Japan. At 0900 UTC on September 26, Vera made its first landfall on Honshu, just west of Shionomisaki. At the time, the typhoon had maximum sustained winds of 260 km/h and a barometric pressure of 920 mbar. Vera traversed the Japanese island rather quickly at a speed 61 km/h, and emerged into the Sea of Japan at 1530 UTC that day. Despite its short stint over land, the terrain greatly weakened the tropical cyclone. Tracking into a westerly wind flow, Vera was forced eastward, resulting in a second landfall near Sakata, Honshu, with an intensity equivalent to that of a Category 1 hurricane. Vera re-emerged into the North Pacific Ocean late on September 26, having weakened due to advection of cold air in addition to continued land interaction. At 0600 UTC on September 27, the JTWC analyzed the typhoon to have weakened to tropical storm intensity. The warning center discontinued its periodic monitoring of the system, as Vera had begun to transition into an extratropical cyclone. Consequently, the JMA officially reclassified the system as an extratropical storm at 1200 UTC that day. Vera’s extratropical remnants continued to persist and track eastward for the next two days before the JMA last noted the storm at 1200 UTC on September 29.

29 January 1959

The first Melodifestivalen is held in Stockholm, Sweden.

With seven nations competing, the first Eurovision Song Contest took place in Lugano, Switzerland in May 1956. Sweden’s first contest was the third, in 1958. Without broadcasting a selection, Sveriges Radio chose to send Alice Babs to the contest in Hilversum. The song selected was “Samma stjärna lyser för oss två”, later renamed “Lilla stjärna”. It finished fourth at Eurovision on 12 March 1958.

The first Melodifestival, incorporated into the Säg det med musik radio series, took place on 29 January 1959 at Cirkus in Stockholm; eight songs participated. Four “expert” juries in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö, and Luleå decided the winner. The competition was won by Siw Malmkvist performing “Augustin”, but SR decided that the winning song—regardless of its original performer—would be performed by Brita Borg at Eurovision. This policy, of selecting the artist for Eurovision internally and having other artists perform potential Swedish entries at Melodifestivalen, was stopped in 1961. The competition became a stand-alone television programme in 1960, known as the Eurovisionschlagern, svensk final. In the event’s early years, it was broadcast to Norway and Denmark through the Nordvision network. The competition adopted its current name, Melodifestivalen, in 1967.

The Melodifestival has failed to be staged on three occasions. In 1964, the competition was cancelled due to an artist’s strike; Sweden did not send a song to Eurovision that year. Sweden was absent at Eurovision for a second time in 1970 because of a Nordic boycott of the voting system, which had led to a four-way tie for first place at the 1969 contest. After SR staged the 1975 contest in Stockholm, left-wing groups argued that Sweden should not spend money to win and host Eurovision again. This led to mass demonstrations against commercial music and the organisation of an anti-commercial Alternativfestivalen. Therefore, Sweden decided not to send a song to Eurovision 1976, but returned in 1977.

4 May 1959

The 1st Annual Grammy Awards are held.

On May 4, 1959, many of music’s elite—including Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Gene Autry, Johnny Mercer, Henry Mancini and André Previn—gathered for a black-tie dinner and awards presentation inside the Grand Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton. At the same time, other new Academy members were gathering at a function held simultaneously in New York City. “The GRAMMY Awards were a formal event from the beginning and very much in keeping with the times,” says Christine Farnon, who was instrumental in organizing the first show and would go on to become The Academy’s Executive Vice President. “As I recall, no one objected to dressing black-tie back then, though like so much else, that would change eventually.”

But this GRAMMY night, and several to follow, was held in hotel ballrooms on both coasts. The Los Angeles event was emceed by popular political comedian Mort Sahl and featured a musical sketch titled “How South Was My Pacific.” The night was by numerous accounts a significant success. Billboard—then actually still called The Billboard—ran its account of the first night of Music’s Biggest Night with a headline declaring that “Academy Smoothly Moves Into Orbit: First Awards Well-Organized Affair As Top Stars Go On Parade.” The trade magazine even favorably compared the GRAMMY’s debut to the far more established Oscars and Emmys: “It sharply contrasted similar affairs staged by the two older entertainment academies in its precision-like pace in handling the presentations.”

As well organized as the night may have been, from the very start at the GRAMMYs, there would be surprises on GRAMMY night. While Sinatra led all nominees with a grand total of six nominations, he would not turn out to be the night’s biggest winner. Rather the very first Record of the Year and Song of the Year awards both went to “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare)” by Domenico Modugno, while Album of the Year went to The Music from Peter Gunn by Henry Mancini.

22 February 1959

Lee Petty wins the very first Daytona 500.

On this day in 1959, Lee Petty defeats Johnny Beauchamp in a photo finish at the just-opened Daytona International Speedway in Florida to win the first-ever Daytona 500. The race was so close that Beauchamp was initially named the winner by William France, the owner of the track and head of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR). However, Petty, who was driving a hardtop Oldsmobile 88, challenged the results and three days later, with the assistance of news photographs, he was officially named the champ. There was speculation that France declared Beauchamp the winner in order to intentionally stir up controversy and generate publicity for his new race track.

Today, the 200-lap, 500-mile Daytona 500 is one of auto racing’s premiere events and the first race of the NASCAR season. France, a gas station owner and racing promoter, officially co-founded NASCAR in Daytona Beach in 1948. The following year, Lee Petty, a mechanic from North Carolina, began his racing career at the age of 35. He went on to win more than 50 races on NASCAR’s Grand National circuit and three championships before being seriously injured in a crash during a qualifying event at Daytona in 1961. Following the crash, Petty drove in a handful of races before retiring from competition in 1964. He went on to found Petty Enterprises, which became NASCAR’s oldest and most successful racing team. In January 2009, Petty Enterprises merged with Gillett Evernham Motorsports and became Richard Petty Motorsports.