"Everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it!" July 2012 stands as the hottest July on record since 1895 in the lower 48 United States. In the Midwest, 2012 brought the worst drought in 50 years.
We have collected data and records since 1895. We got more sophisticated about it in 1941, during World War II, when 22 young men from throughout the U.S. were chosen to become weather observers. Their educational backgrounds ranged from high school graduates to college graduates. Initial training began at Mitchell Field in New York and continued at the Royal Air Force in Molesworth, England. It was there the 2nd Weather Squadron began to gauge the "weather 'neath the wings" of the A-20 light bombers and later the B-17s.
The Army Air Forces were completely dependent upon intelligence provided by this newly-formed group regarding the atmospheric "terrain" in which they operated. Accurate forecasts could determine if a bombing target would be obscured by clouds or fog or if conditions were favorable for aircraft to fly. Winds affected attacks by air in Europe and amphibious attacks in North Africa. Mud, due to rain or thaw, reduced mobility of armies from Russia to Okinawa. Floods and rain drenched troops, concealed movement and limited observation and air tactical support. Extreme heat and cold diverted the attention of fighting the human enemy to fighting the natural enemy.
Who were those that "weathered the war?" My father, Charles C. Wilson (1920-2006), graduated in 1938 from Mt. Vernon High School. This two-room schoolhouse in southern Indiana prepared him to become a pioneer in the field of weather observation. He qualified and was recruited for Officer Training School and for Weather Observer. Raised on a farm, he had an appreciation for weather's importance.
When the war broke out in December of 1941, he and other members of the squadron were in New York, training at Mitchell Field as weather observers. In February of 1942, RAF Molesworth was selected to be the first British airfield transferred to U.S. control. When daddy arrived in the U.K. in May of 1942, he would have been one of the first U.S. servicemen there.
The initial U.S. combat mission from the U.K. was flown from RAF Molesworth on July 4, 1942, involving A-20 light bombers. Soon the 303rd Bomb Group arrived at Molesworth and flew its first combat mission in November of 1942.
Of course the weather data that daddy observed, collected and plotted was used to guide these crews. The actual weather briefings were usually done by the group weather officer at the mass crew briefings. What a significant role.
Charles C. Wilson went on to become a lifelong weather observer, gauging weather patterns and plotting maps. He spent most of his time as a meteorologist working for the National Weather Service housed at Bluegrass Field in Lexington. He shared the weather for the day based on the data he had collected on the Arty Kay show, featured on WVLK radio. His reports were also on TV, shared by weatherman Frank Faulkner for over 30 years.
This year the Air Force Weather Agency celebrates 75 years of weather support to the war fighter. Congratulations to all those who have served and are serving.
And to those first 22 who pioneered the field of weather information-gathering, I am proud of you. Thanks for leading by example then and now.
Sandy Shafer is a former Lexington Urban County Council member.