Guest contribution by Paul Dorian
Actual hourly weather observations shown here as recorded by the weather observer on the morning of December 7, 1941 at Hickam Field in Honolulu, Hawaii, contain the word “frightened”. The obstacle to visibility at this point could have been “smoke”. The weather observer that day was PFC Sherman Levine of the US Air Corps. He died during the attack, probably minutes after the last observation on this little piece of paper was completed. More information about the life of PFC Sherman Levine can be found here.
The weather on Oahu, Hawaii in the early morning hours of December 7, 1941 was by no means unusual for the season of mild temperatures and mostly clear skies. Unfortunately, that day weather conditions would play a role in the bombing of the U.S. naval base by Japanese fighter planes at Pearl Harbor near Honolulu, Hawaii. As Japanese fighters crossed the Pacific, they were given hope that their mission would be successful when the announcement of “clouds mostly over the mountains … good visibility” was made. It is believed that the decision to attack on that particular day had a lot to do with the projected favorable weather conditions.
Pearl Harbor lies in the “rain shadow” of the Koolau Range on the south side of Oahu
In 1941, Hawaii was a US territory with statehood about eighteen years away. As early as the 1870s, the US military had scoured the islands for commercial and defensive opportunities and decided that the port of Pearly on the south side of Oahu, about ten miles northwest of Honolulu, was just the thing for them. With the sustained trade winds blowing from the northeast for most of the year, this part of Oahu is in the rain shadow of the Koolau Range. While clouds and rain are common in the Koolau Range, the sloping winds tend to dry up on the south side of the island. In Honolulu there is only about 30 cm of precipitation on average in a given year due to the drying effects of the descending winds.
On the morning of December 7, 1941, the weather observer at Hickam Field in Honolulu reported every hour mainly clear skies with mild temperatures and light east-northeast winds. There was nothing to obstruct the fighter pilots’ lines of sight, no heavy cloud cover and no heavy rains to make the flight difficult on that fateful day. After crossing the rough waters of the North Pacific in more than 350 aircraft, the Japanese fighter pilots reported a “long white coastline” referring to Oahu’s Kakuku Point (according to National Geographic, AccuWeather). In summary, weather-wise, all was favorable to the attack, which President Roosevelt said in his famous speech the following day was planned “many days or even weeks in advance”.
Although the United States suffered greatly from generally clear sky conditions on that particular morning, the weather actually played an important indirect beneficial role for the nation. The USS Enterprise (CV-6) returned to Pearl Harbor from Wake Island and was supposed to arrive on the morning of December 7th, but was delayed due to high winds and rough seas. Former director of the US Naval Institute Paul Stillwell stated, “The ship was behind schedule and is returning to Pearl Harbor. Because of this, it was not present for the attack. The Enterprise played an important role throughout the rest of the war, and if she had been in port that day things might have been very different. ”
Aerial view of the USS Enterprise at sea 1945 (Courtesy Wikipedia)
The USS Enterprise (CV-6) was the seventh ship in the US Navy to bear this name. Colloquially known as “The Big E”, it was the sixth aircraft carrier in the United States Navy. Established in 1936 to wear the Yorktown-class, she was one of only three American airlines hired to survive the war before World War II. If the powerful ship had returned to Pearl Harbor on time, it would have been attacked by Japanese fighters and likely damaged or destroyed. As it turned out, the USS Enterprise received enough awards (20 Battle Stars) to become the most decorated US ship in World War II.
The Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg, PA has two of the weapons used by the USS Pennsylvania
One of the battleships damaged at Pearl Harbor was the USS Pennsylvania (BB-38). After a three-month repair, it was used again in 1942. On August 12, 1945, three days before Japan’s surrender, the USS Pennsylvania in Okinawa was badly damaged by a Japanese torpedo. The impact of the torpedo created a hole about 30 feet in diameter in her stern. Twenty men were killed and ten injured. Two of the ships’ 14-inch cannons are now on display at the Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg, PA (credit to Dr. Jon Nese, Penn State University: video discussion courtesy of YouTube).
Meteorologist Paul Dorian
In view, Inc.
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