The recent tragedy in Japan is a stark reminder of nature's destructive potential. The death toll from the March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami is currently near 14,000, and the nuclear reactor crisis sparked by the events remains unresolved. While the events of March 11 are not strictly weather-related, their effects are much the same as some of weather's more destructive storms, such as hurricanes and tornadoes. So while our thoughts and support go out to Japan's residents during this difficult time, it behooves us to look back on some of the United States' own meteorological disasters to cull information that could help us prepare for the next time disaster strikes.
In this issue of Weatherwise, Don Lipman looks back on some of the worst meteorological disasters of the 20th century. These include the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, which killed 6,000–12,000 people and stands as the worst weather disaster in U.S. history. Other events include the Tri-State Tornado of 1925, which killed some 700 people across three states, and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Much has been made of these events in the past, but in this article we look at them through the prism of new technical capabilities in meteorology. In doing so, we can gain a new perspective on more recent disasters, such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
We take another leap back in time in this issue with Linda Kush's article “The Fightin' Forecasters: The U.S Navy in China in World War II” The article examines a little-known operation launched by the Navy in the Second World War to provide crucial meteorological and forecast data to aid military operations against the Japanese forces. The story of this effort revolves around the Navy's cooperation with the Chinese to establish a series of weather stations deep within Chinese territory and create a broadcast system to disseminate the resulting data to key players in the war effort. Much of the work was done in primitive conditions under numerous challenges, but the value of what these Navy men did is without question.
Working in slightly less primitive conditions are the forecasters for NASA's shuttle launches at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Jack Williams was fortunate enough to be present for the recent final launch of the shuttle Discovery and gives us an insider's view of just how exacting the forecasters must be to ensure that everything involved in the launch of a space shuttle goes off without a hitch.
Forecasting for a shuttle launch is just one of the many exciting ways meteorologists can put their skills to work, and in Mike Mogil's article on weather camps for youth, we take a look at how tomorrow's meteorologists are getting their feet wet in the field by taking a hands-on approach to the atmospheric sciences.
I hope you enjoy this issue of Weatherwise! As always, I welcome comments and suggestions.