Expanding the Observational Network

Besides drawing thousands into the meteorological discipline, World War II's requirements for operational data profoundly affected the growth of the atmospheric sciences. With aircraft operating in the Tropics of the Pacific theater, in the Caribbean, and in support of ships transiting the

An upper-air observer prepares to launch a radiosonde during World War II. (NOAA Photo Library)

Panama Canal, meteorologists needed an expanded network of surface and upper-air stations to provide accurate flight forecasts.

Military operations in high northern latitudes also required an expansion of observation stations. Greenland and Iceland became important way stations for transporting men and material to and from the European theater. Stations in northern Canada provided information critical for identifying developing weather systems. Small islands in the Atlantic, including the Azores, were critical refueling spots for aircraft squadrons. Data from their weather stations were critical to analyzing the current atmospheric situation and making predictions for the next 24 to 48 hours. The army alone expanded their weather stations from a total of 40 before the war to 700 by war's end in 1945.

The German military as well as the Allies maintained fixed land stations and "weather stations on wheels" that followed military units. They also invested heavily in weather reconnaissance flights despite losing aircraft in enemy action. The Allies maintained over 20 weather ships in both the Atlantic and the Pacific. Collecting both surface and upper-air data, they were critical to transoceanic flight safety. The Germans used submarines to place automated weather recording instruments in the Atlantic and repeatedly landed in Greenland to maintain a weather station there. The Allies also worked to gather weather information from behind enemy lines. Spies, aircraft, and commando units penetrated enemy territory and sent back coded weather information.

Although cost prohibited the maintenance of the new wartime stations in the postwar period, there were still many more active stations at the end of the war than at its beginning. These new data points would be critical to the successful introduction of numerical weather prediction methods in the late 1940s.

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