Cafe Scientifique: Weathermen & The War

Cafe Scientifique - Weathermen During The War - Header

Café Scientifique is a public science communication initiative running across more than 40 towns in the UK. It’s a place where, for the price of a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, anyone can come to explore the latest ideas in science and technology. My local lectures take place monthly in Reading at Monroe’s Bar and Grill and November saw Professor Andrew Charlton-Perez from the Meteorology department at Reading University come and speak about what some proclaim to be the most important weather forecast in history.

The forecast for the D-Day Landings in 1944.

Hot air ballooning obviously is extremely weather dependant and as a result, I have a working knowledge of how weather forecasting works and the models and patterns used in predicating what our weather will be like: one, two or three days ahead and so this lecture unsurprisingly appealed to me.

Sadly, in one respect, Professor Charlton-Perez decided to look mainly personnel and tales surrounding the meteorology involvement in the landings rather than talking about any real scientific number crunching, or looking in any real depths at the techniques used by the forecasters to predict what conditions the troops would face. This meant that the talk was seemed a bit shallow and weak, which also, wasn’t helped by the fact you could tell our speaker was more used to lecturing students with the aid of sides and keep looking around ready to point to a nonexistent diagram.

Andrew Charlton Perez - Cafe Scientifique

Even though, I felt it lacked any real depth, parts of the talk were fascinating. I knew that the landings had been delayed 24 hours due to the weather, but I hadn’t realised until last night that this decision was not one favoured by all. There were in fact three forecasters working on predications for the landings: James Stagg, Sverre Petterssen and Irving Krick (the only one I had heard of, purely because he is mentioned in The Great Starvation Experiment) and in fact, Krick’s predication and opinion were optimistic and he felt the landing should have taken place 24 hours earlier on the 5th June. It was purely, James Stagg talking American President Dwight Eisenhower into delaying the operation, that stopped them launching on the 5th in conditions that would have likely lead to the ultimate failure of the mission.

The other things that I learnt last night that I found amazing is that a team from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, have taken the raw data as available to the forecasters at the time and run it through current modern forecasting models to see how we would forecast the conditions on the days around the landing based upon our current technology and in fact, when analysed over a period of 1-2 days our current ability to predict the weather produces result that echo closely that actual events and development to the weather system that actually happened in 1944; if they expand the forecast period out to 3 days or more, our ability to predict the weather tails off and results in a forecast that is overly optimistic. Optimistic, to such an extent that when viewed from long range, even the current weather modelling and super computers we have say the original date – 5th June 1944 – would be ok.

James Stagg - Cafe Scientifique

Whether you are really geeky and totally hooked on science and technology, or if like me, you find some subjects and topics interesting I really would urge you to look at and support the Café Scientifique lectures that take place. Obviously, the quality of the speaker makes or breaks the evening, but as free nights out go, they are a brilliant way to share and learn. Next month in Reading, Dr Simon Park of Surrey University is going to speak about microbiology and art – why don’t you come along and find out exactly how they fit together!

Posted on by 5WC in Opinion, Weather First Edition

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