Forecasters by the Thousands

In the United States, military meteorology units had been disbanded at the end of World War I in conjunction with an overall reduction in military forces. Just a handful of meteorologists remained, primarily to provide aviation support services. The Weather Bureau's ranks of forecasters had been decimated by the Great Depression—many senior meteorologists had been forced to retire and others had been laid off when there was no money to pay them. By 1940, as war in Europe started to look inevitable, the United States had approximately 400 professional meteorologists. U.S. meteorologists, and those in European countries threatened by Nazi Germany, realized that they would not have enough forecasters to meet their nations' domestic or military needs.

The full extent of the problem became apparent when President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced in May 1940 that he was requesting the delivery of 50,000 new military aircraft. The newly trained pilots flying those planes would need accurate weather forecasts before taking to the air. At the time of this announcement, there were only three graduate-level meteorology programs in the country: an academic program at MIT and professional programs geared to training meteorologists to work with the airline industry at New York University and the California Institute of Technology. By fall 1940, academic programs were getting started at the University of Chicago and at UCLA. In a very short time, the numbers of students enrolled skyrocketed. For example, in fall 1940, Chicago's program had 20 students. The number doubled every quarter until it had 1,000 students by 1943. More people received meteorological training in the fiscal year ending June 30, 1943, than had been trained in the previous 10 years combined—and that was before the largest classes convened. The British were also busy training meteorologists; the British Meteorological Office was 10 times larger (a total of 6,000 people) by the end of the war.

Carl-Gustav Rossby, who had been coordinating research and training at the U.S. Weather Bureau, moved to Chicago and formed the University Meteorology Committee (UMC)—a group representing members of the "Big Five" meteorology schools. The UMC's mission was to train the thousands of meteorologists needed, to do so quickly, and to ensure they could operate on an extremely professional level. Every academic meteorologist in the nation, including Jacob Bjerknes, who had been trapped in the United States after the war broke out, and Bernhard Haurwitz (1905-86), who had escaped Nazi Germany, was


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