It was only upon comparing the original radio logs with the captain’s
later transcripts that we noticed that the “overcast” was an embellishment.
In a 1973 interview with Elgen Long, the Itasca’s chief radioman,
Leo G. Bellarts, maintained that Earhart never said any such thing and
that those who later said she did could not have heard her say it because
he (Bellarts) was the only one wearing headphones at the time and Earhart’s
transmissions had not yet been put on the speaker.
Whether or not there were “heavy clouds to the northwest” is
more difficult to determine. The Itasca’s deck log for that
morning shows that conditions at Howland at the time of Earhart’s
anticipated arrival were “blue
sky with detached clouds,” the clouds were “cumulus” in type,
three tenths of the sky was obscured by cloud, visibility was more than
20 miles, the wind was light out of the East. Barometric pressure was 29.88.
At 10:40 a.m. the Itasca steamed off in search of Amelia toward
the weather area later described by the captain, but the deck log for the
rest of the day never reports more than six tenths (and usually more like
4 and 5 tenths) cloud cover until 7 p.m. that night. Visibility remained
20 miles plus throughout the day and the pressure never dropped below 29.78.
If there was an area of bad weather northwest of Howland, it seems to have
cleared up by the time Itasca got there.