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Weather's pivotal role in WWII

Lisa Varano, staff writer

November 10, 2010 — During World War II, the weather was so important that it was a matter of national security.

Weather station Kurt  - Photographs used with permission of the Canadian War Museum
Weather station Kurt - Photographs used with permission of the Canadian War Museum


It's a little-known piece of war history: The Germans set up a weather station, called Kurt, in North America during World War II. Kurt was a robotic, automatic weather station on the northern tip of Labrador.

The weather station measured temperature, pressure, and wind speed and direction -- information that was needed for shipping lanes in the north Atlantic.

“Really what it shows you is how important weather observations were to countries during the war,” says David Phillips, senior climatologist at Environment Canada.

Phillips says the Canadian government took dramatic steps to protect weather information during the Second World War.

“They actually banned forecasts during the war. An edict was sent out in 1941 in November, for example, that newspapers could not carry weather stories,“ he says. “My gosh, I often wonder what Canadians talked about during that time!”

Weather Station Kurt is now on display at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

Soldiers prepare for the Battle of Normandy in 1944
Soldiers prepare for the Battle of Normandy in 1944


Another significant event in weather history surrounds the planning of a major invasion by the Allied Forces.

On June 3, 1944, Dr. James Stagg of the British Meteorological Office briefed General Dwight Eisenhower and his commanders. Based on the weather forecasts, a June 5th departure appeared to be impossible. The English Channel was dealing with its worst weather conditions in decades. However, a Royal Navy ship then reported sustained rising pressure in its area. That would allow a narrow and unexpected window of opportunity for June 6th.

If the forecast did not hold, the Allies would have had to wait two more weeks to carry out in the invasion, which could have been catastrophic to the outcome of the mission.

On the morning of June 5th, Dr. Stagg briefed Einsenhower and the planning generals one last time. The unseasonable high would give Allied troops good weather throughout the night and into Tuesday afternoon. That allowed the long-planned invasion, one that changed the course of World War Two, to become a reality.

Remembrance Day is on November 11.

With files from Lyndsay Morrison

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