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Henry L. Lefevre

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How I Became a Meteorology Guru -- Sort Of
By Henry L. Lefevre
Thursday, May 22, 2008

Rated "G" by the Author.

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Is the Institute of Tropical still alive and kicking?

 

 Chapter 31 -- Ghosts From the Past
740 Words

Was I over my head at the Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Puerto Rico? I did have a few shortcomings. For instance, I came from the weather forecasting school at Chanute Field, Illinois. Most of my classmates came from more prestigious institutions like the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), The University of Chicago, New York University (NYU), and Pennsylvania State University.

At Chanute, most of my classes emphasized the practical side of weather forecasting. I learned how to convert coded weather data into complex synoptic maps and prepare reliable forecasts. Our pilots used the information that we gave them to avoid bad weather. I also learned basic meteorology. Beyond that, I had limited technical training. Students coming out of the country's top meteorology programs had much more theory and in-depth science to fall back on. However, I did keep up.

Instructors at the California Institute of Technology learned the ins and outs of projecting countrywide weather conditions. Although these weather-pattern specialists had a lot going for them, Professor Irving Krick, their lead instructor, was ahead of his time. His methods didn't reach their full potential until well after the war. By then, high-speed computers and satellites helped improve the system's accuracy.

Professor Krick had many supporters. He even earned a place on the 6-man team that helped set the time of the allied landings at Normandy.

On the other hand, meteorology professors at the University of Chicago stressed mathematical models for forecasting weather conditions. They also ran the Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Puerto Rico. As a consequence weather patterns were a lesser part of our curricula when we studied there.

I'm sure that NYU and Penn State had comparable programs. However, the students coming from those universities were less vocal about their school's strengths and weaknesses.

Of all the students and teachers in our classes at Puerto Rico, Dr. John Bellamy and Howard T. Odum stood out. Bellamy particularly impressed me. When he lectured, everyone knew what he was saying. Some of his fellow instructors had semi-decipherable foreign accents.

Bellamy was also quite a theoretician having identified the "Bellamy Drift." His work with the drift proved that the fastest flight route from one point to another is not always a straight line. Wind force and direction can also be contributing factors.

As for Odum, he was Bellamy's best student. After class, while most of our students were out having fun, Odum spent lots of his free time expanding his knowledge of tropical weather and similar subjects. After graduation, Odum stayed in Puerto Rico while the rest of the class went to various other assignments. He eventually went on to receive national recognition in the fields of ecology and science.

Most attendees at the Institute came from the U. S. Army Air Force. A few came from the navy. Many of the navy officers, however, had more experience handling administrative duties than weather forecasting. As a consequence, even the Chanute Field graduates had an easier time mastering the class work.

We had few military duties. However, we did endure an overnight bivouac in the hills close to San Juan. We all slept under the stars for one night. We were lucky. Not even one hurricane dropped by to spoil our party. In addition, we didn't see a single snake. Actually, snakes worried me more than non-existent hurricanes.

Life in Puerto Rico was far from rough. We even had a staff captain acting like a mother hen and keeping us out of trouble. He did a good job. He also provided us Bacardi rum at $1 per fifth -- he had contacts at the Bacardi Distillery.

By the time we were ready to leave, the price of rum rose to $1.25 per fifth. Puerto Rico's surplus of rum didn't shield us from rampant inflation.

Just before graduation, the instructors assigned us a few weather-map problems aimed at improving our knowledge of the South Pacific. To me, that was an omen. I felt sure that I was about to take a trip to the battle zone.

Were they giving us tips about our future deployment? No. When my orders finally arrived, I found that I was slated for duty at Albrook Field in Panama. Right then, I quit having nightmares. My guardian angel was still on the job.

 

 

 

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Reviewed by Karla Dorman, The StormSpinner 9/16/2008
Hank,

An excellent read: forecasting, in its beginnings: you, a part of history! Well done.

(((HUGS))) and love, Karla.
Reviewed by Michael Guy 6/2/2008
Pretty fascinating experience in that classic and formative era for meteorology but I think you didn't take advantage of your ops; you still could've had a career in Forecasting whereas today you would defintely need to be piled deep in dregrees. Who knows maybe you would have made it to the National Hurricane center! I would envy that!

Best story so far...Michael
Reviewed by Jackie (Micke) Jinks 5/22/2008
Very interesing story, Hank. You got into the field when there were exciting ground-breaking data to be learned. I remember hearing about Chanute AFB when I was young...my home-town being St. Louis MO. Appreciate your sharing this time in your life...
Blessings ~~ Micke


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