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Fateful forecast helped turn tide for Allies page 2
David S. Kerr's op-ed on the weather and D-Day.

 U.S. assault troops, laden with equipment, wade through the surf to a Normandy beach from landing craft in June 1944.
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Date published: 6/6/2013


What the Allies were hoping for was something rare over the storm-prone English Channel, and that was a calm, clear day. Unfortunately, the weather patterns Stagg was observing were disturbingly similar to those that might usually occur in mid-winter, not late spring. A series of low-pressure systems to the north and a large high-pressure system to the south were working together to produce heavy winds and rain. This wasn't good news. However, the invasion preparations continued. The men were loaded on the ships and they waited. Ike, based on Stagg's forecast, delayed the invasion by a day. If he had to delay it again, as looked likely, the next time the tides would be right would be July. That kind of delay probably would have cost the Allies the element of surprise. Eisenhower needed some good news. Stagg, however, was in a position that's familiar to most 21st-century weathermen--he just didn't have any good news to offer.

That is, until Stagg's team received a report from a British weather observation ship off Iceland. It was just a single observation, but it indicated that there was a high-pressure system forming over the Atlantic that was headed toward England and the English Channel. It wasn't a lot of data to base a forecast on, but if Stagg was right about the speed and timing of the system's movement, it meant that he could assure his boss of a tiny window, 24 to 48 hours, of relatively calm weather. Eisenhower, listening to the pouring rain outside his Portsmouth, England, headquarters, had trouble believing the forecast, but he trusted his weatherman and gave the order to launch the assault. With that, the massive armada of ships and planes left their ports and airfields to begin the invasion of Europe. Supported by nearly 5,000 ships and 11,000 aircraft, 160,000 men would participate in the initial landings.

The weather on D-Day wasn't ideal. The bombers had trouble seeing their targets and the seas were choppier than the Navy would have liked. But it was still calm enough, just barely, for the landings to succeed. And most of all, the Germans, who considered conditions too poor for an amphibious assault, were caught by surprise.

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