The Power of The Sea

On June 6th, 1944, some 160,000 soldiers aboard about 5,000 boats of diverse design crossed the English Channel and carried out the Invasion of Normandy, one of the more important events in recent history. Many of the soldiers were so sick from choppy seas that leaving the boats and walking or running into German gunfire seemed like a good idea. The invasion was originally planned for the 45h of June, but a very precise weather forecast told the Supreme Commander, General Eisenhower, to wait until the next day. The forecast for the 6th of June, integrated with the logistical features of the operation, had the landing craft arriving on the German-held beaches just as wave heights were reducing from a level unacceptable for this operation to something that could be managed by most (but not all) vessels.

[a timely repost]

If you’ve seen “The Longest Day” or any of the other classic semi-documentary dramatizations of D-Day, you may recognize the name Captain James Stagg. Stagg was the meteorologist on Eisenhower’s staff, and as such he was the conduit and translator for the information that came from the meteorology group. That, in turn, was a combination of American and British scientists with very different methods and backgrounds, but both using data and analyses that involves a large number of individuals making observations and crunching numbers, from teams at Scripts Institute in California who developed the primary predictive models in use to British Coast Guard observers making observations at sea several times a day.

The Power of the Sea: Tsunamis, Storm Surges, Rogue Waves, and Our Quest to Predict Disasters by Bruce Parker elucidates the science behind this historic moment in great detail in one of several riveting chapters about the ocean, and stuff the ocean does. Parker is a former chief scientist of the National Ocean Service so he knows something about waves, storms, tides, tsunamis, storm surges, and the like. This book is a nice combination of primer on meteorology ala the ocean and weather-related adventure stories. Throughout the book I kept running into things that I had always wanted to know about … like how exactly did that one huge ship I’ve seen so many times off the Cape Peninsula in South Africa sink? (The ocean did it!), what really was the story behind Stagg’s predictions (as discussed) and what is a future with greater storm surges and rising sea going to look like?

I recommend this book for non-experts who need to know all about ocean related science, who need to better understand the effects and dynamics of storms like Sandy, Tsunamis, and similar events. Parker does not hold back on the science and the detail. This is a very enjoyable way to elevate one’s self to the level of armchair oceanic meteorologist in a few evenings of enjoyable reading!

Comments

  1. #1 Mark P
    June 6, 2013

    Yes, an important event, but not one that is really thought much about these days. It’s too long ago and almost no one who was there is alive today. My father landed a while after D-Day and regretted that he couldn’t have taken part. I’m pretty much glad and probably lucky that he didn’t.

  2. #2 j a higginbotham
    June 7, 2013

    My dad was fortunately in the States at the time. He was assigned somewhere in the northeast, Maine? and was given the task of weather forecasting. Neither he nor the other guy knew the first thing about weather, so they just read the previous day’s weather from Ohio or somewhere.
    I miss him.

  3. #3 Samphire
    Hampshire
    June 10, 2013

    In 2009 we sailed our boat across from Portsmouth to GrandCamp-Maisy a small port bang in the middle of the Amrican invasion beaches to commemorate the 65th anniversary. I was very surprised to find that we were the only British boat there.

    5 years earlier we had sailed across to the British sector for the 60th. There was lots going on for a few days but only half a dozen boats bothered to make the trip.