Weather has played an important role in many of our nation’s military operations. Stories from U.S. Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy veterans over the years have often described how weather affected their ability to maneuver and accomplish their goals.
Who can forget the story of a harsh winter in 1776 and how George Washington’s army struggled to cross the ice-clogged Delaware River, or the stifling July heat that incapacitated Union and Confederate soldiers at Gettysburg?
In fact, Adm. William “Bull” Halsey sailed his fleet right into the heart of a rapidly intensifying typhoon off the Philippines in 1944. Three destroyers — the USS Hull, the USS Monaghan and the USS Spence — capsized and sank during this storm with the loss of 775 souls. The storm also inflicted great damage on the rest of the fleet, with a total loss of nearly 800 sailors and 150 naval aircraft.
Along the Central Coast, seven Navy destroyers smashed into the rocks off an isolated headland known as Honda Point, north of Point Arguello, in 1923 due to dense fog. Twenty-three sailors lost their lives.
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One of the most infamous military operations in our history would pivot on the weather conditions and the weatherman who forecasted them: the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France, in June 1944.
In the months before the invasion, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower assembled a massive force of Allied troops along with countless of tons of supplies. Their mission was to sail and fly across to the English Channel and attack the German army entrenched on French soil. Weather conditions in the air and on the water would be vital to the success of the invasion.
Eisenhower gathered the best meteorologists at the time from the United States and United Kingdom. However, unlike today, there were no “waverider buoys” or other devices to measure the wave heights in the English Channel. Weather satellites and Doppler weather radar were still in the future and numerical weather models were in their infancy.
These weathermen based their forecast entirely on surface observations, as upper-level winds weren’t fully understood. To make it even more of a challenge, surface observations out over the water — especially those near the French coastline — were few and far between.
For the Normandy landings, codenamed Operation Neptune, to be successful, the troops needed mostly clear skies, a full moon, gentle winds, a nearly flat sea and a low tide. These conditions would allow our troops to see and avoid the mines and barriers that the German army had placed in the surf.
Eisenhower only had a window of four days in which the tides and moon would corroborate. The weather would be another story.
The original date for the landings was June 5, 1944. However, near gale force winds had generated high seas that would’ve made the landings nearly impossible.
One of the metrological officers for the operation, British Royal Air Force Group Captain James Martin Stagg of Scotland convinced Eisenhower to change the date of the landings. Had the invasion taken place that day, quite a few military historians believe the invasion would have failed with dire consequences for Europe.
But the weather improved the next day, and the operation was successful. Tragically, an estimated 4,413 American, British and Canadian airmen, sailors and soldiers lost their lives on D-Day alone. Altogether, about 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Normandy.
At PG&E and Diablo Canyon Power Plant, we are proud to count many veterans among our employees. The skills they learned while in uniform, such as attention to detail, safety and teamwork, are serving them and our customers well. To add more to our ranks, PG&E is focused on recruiting, hiring and training more veterans for careers in the energy industry. The company’s largest effort to do this is through a program called PowerPathway, a public-private partnership with California’s community colleges and universities. For more information, please visit http://careers.pge.com/career-training-development/powerpathway-highlightsgo