This Saturday marks the 78th anniversary of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
Just like with any military operation, tactical movement is based around a forecast. It can make or break a mission. It was on December 7th of 1941 that the weather was in favor of the Japanese.
A little less than two weeks before the attack a Japanese forecaster named Hidetoshi Arakawa was asked to make a forecast. He wasn’t told why it was needed. But that forecast was paramount to what was about to happen.
It gave a go for the Japenese to set off on their 12-day journey under the cover of cloudy and misty conditions across the Pacific. That thick cloud cover helped hide their aircraft carriers from American recon.
They stopped about 200 miles north of Hawaii and struggled to decide when to attack. Hidetoshi’s forecast had gotten them this far but now they needed to know what the weather was like in Hawaii. They needed good weather to send out their planes and to carry our their attack. So how were they going to find out? By using our own airwaves and listening to American radio stations.
Once they heard an announcer say, “averaging partly cloudy, with clouds mostly over the mountains”. the Japanese knew the mission was a go.
It was on December 7th of 1941 at 7:55 am that three hundred fifty-three Japanese aircraft began their attack. It would last for hours. By early that afternoon, the carriers that launched the planes were on their way back to Japan. A little over 2,400 Americans died and nearly 1,200 wounded… 328 aircraft were destroyed and 19 ships either sank or were damaged. It was chaos for the men and women in Pearl Harbor that day. And while we have lots of recounting of that chaos, there’s one man in particular who documented something he had to know would live on forever.
His name was Private First Class Sherman Levine and he was the weather observer on duty. His job was to take hourly weather observations. The weather was typical… mild temperatures, mainly clear skies with light east to northeast wind.
But Levine’s very last observation has the words “obstructions to visibility” – more than likely from the smoke… then you see the words “terrified”. This is believed to be his last observation. Private First Class Levine died in the attack that day. He was only 18.
**A special thanks to Meteorologist Paul Gross (FOX Detroit) and Meteorologist Paul Dorian (perspectaweather.com) for their help with the research in this story.