By Sandy Shafer
“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, and sudden winter temperatures in October have us wondering if we will have a fall! We have collected data and records since 1895 but who dares predict what Mother Nature will do? Well, let’s go back a few years.
In 1941, during WWII, 22 young men from throughout the United States were chosen to become weather observers. Their educational backgrounds ranged from high school graduates to having some college courses, to college graduates. Initial training began at Mitchell Field in New York and continued at the Royal Air Force (RAF) in Molesworth, England. It was there the Second Weather Squadron began to gauge the ‘weather ‘neath the wings’ of the A-20 light bombers (and later the B-17’s as they arrived).
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 whether (weather) a bombing target would be obscured by clouds or fog or whether (weather) conditions were favorable enough 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?’
Charles C. Wilson (1920-2006), my father, graduated in 1938 from Mount Vernon High School. This two-room school house 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. On enlisting he listened to the advice of his father and took on the challenge of weather observation. Being raised on a farm, he already had an appreciation of the important role of weather. 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 US control. When Daddy arrived in the UK in May of 1942, he would have been one of the first US servicemen there. The initial US combat mission from the UK was flown from RAF Molesworth on July 4th, 1942, involving A-20 light bombers. Soon the 303rd Bomb Group arrived at Molesworth and flew their first combat mission in November of 1942. Of course the weather data that Daddy observed, collected, and plotted would be 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, Ky. 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 until retirement.
Well, this year the Air Force Weather Agency celebrates 75 years of weather support to the warfighter. 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.
And Daddy, I know you are in the photo above waiting for that mission you briefed to return home.
By Sandy Shafer
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