The World Flight, Second Attempt:

The Forecast Weather

The first weather report that Earhart possibly received in Lae, New Guinea dates from a filing at 2120 GMT June 29, 1937, regarding a weather forecast from Howland to Honolulu.1 The next weather report of significance regarding her flight to Howland was provided by the Itasca at 0830 GMT, June 30th, and consists of weather around the Howland area: “recent clouds cirro stratus 3/10ths and some strato cumulus surface wind E 11-19 knots at 8000 feet.”2

The Fleet Air Base, Pearl Harbor, had been collecting all available weather information, and providing a forecast for Earhart. Their first forecast was provided at 0915 GMT on June 30:

Weather Lae and Howland generally average mostly clear first 600 miles wind ESE 10-15. Heavy local rain squalls to westward on Ontario, detour around as center dangerous. Cloudy Ontario to 175°E, occasional heavy showers, winds E at 10. Thence to Howland partly cloudy, unlimited visibility, wind ESE 15-20. Advise consulting weather local officials as no reports your vicinity available here.3

At 1310 GMT, Radio Tutuila sent an encoded weather report from the Swan.4 It was standard practice for ships at sea to use a conventional coding scheme for reporting weather, as it saves keystrokes. It is unclear whether Earhart had access to the format for these weather reports. Sometime that same day, Earhart received another encoded weather report from Itasca.5 At 2055 GMT, Radio Tutuila sent yet another, partially encoded weather report to Earhart from the Swan.6 At 2100 GMT, June 30, Fleet Air Base, Pearl Harbor sent another Howland to Honolulu forecast to Earhart.7

Finally, at 2250 GMT, Fleet Air Base sent a Lae – Howland forecast:

Forecast Thursday Lae to Ontario partly clouded rain squalls 250 miles E of Lae, wind ESE 12-15. Ontario to 175°E, partly cloudy cumulus clouds about 10kfeet, mostly unlimited visibility, winds ENE 18. Thence to Howland partly cloudy, scattered heavy showers, winds ENE 15. Avoid towering cumulus and squalls by detours as centers frequently dangerous.8

Sometime during June 30, Earhart received this message from Nauru:

New Nauru fixed light 0.32°S, 16.55°E [sic], 5000 candlepower, 5600 [sic – 560] above sea level, visible from ships to naked eye at 34 miles. Also, there will be a bright lighting all night on island from phosphate field workings. Weather 8AM: Baro 29.908, therm 84, wind SE at 3, fine but cloudy, sea smooth to moderate.9

On July 1, Earhart received a partially encoded weather report from Radio Tutuila at 0110 GMT, describing the Itasca and Howland Island. What can be readily deciphered is that at Howland has a barometer reading of 28.83, temperature is 78 degrees, 50% cloud cover of ACI (alto cirrus), winds at surface E at 13, E at 3000 feet at 23 knots, and at 4000 feet, then E at 22 knots at 5650 feet.10 At sometime after 0200 GMT, Radio Tutuila sent an encoded weather report from Swan.11

At 1905 GMT, the Fleet Air Base in Pearl Harbor released this forecast, but it was received at Lae just as the plane was taking off:

Accurate forecast difficult account lack of reports your vicinity. Conditions appear generally average over route no major storm apparently partly cloudy with dangerous local rain squalls about 300 miles east of Lae and scattered heavy showers remainder of route. Winds east south east about twenty-five knots to Ontario then east to east north east about 20 knots to Howland. Fleet Air Base Pearl Harbor.12

(This forecast was later officially characterized as “based on opinion, as insufficient data was unavailable for an accurate prediction.”13) At the same approximate time, this message arrived from Rabaul:

Baro. 29.898 Themo. Wind easterly 3 cloudy but fine clouds ci ci str cu cumi moving from easterly direction sea smooth. Nauru 8 a.m. upper air observation 2000 feet ninety degrees 14 mph 4000 feet ninety degrees 12 mph 7500 feet ninety degrees 24 mph.14

This represented actual observations at Nauru.

Whether or not Earhart would have elected to once more postpone the flight had she seen this information is entirely speculative. Lae wireless operator Harry Balfour did broadcast the new weather every hour for the next seven hours after the takeoff,15 but nowhere is there any evidence that Earhart received his signals. In fact, Lae representatives stated later, on July 16, that the weather forecast “ …was transmitted to KHAQQ after departure three times by radiophone at 1022AM, 1122AM, and 1222PM. Also message containing weather report from Nauru which Earhart was anxious get. Have reason believe Earhart received these although her replies were jammed.”16 It is unclear how the Lae personnel felt Earhart had received these messages, despite apparently not receiving any replies, due to “jamming.”

Information about the weather actually encountered en route is sketchy. There is, however, no evidence that it was as bad as the forecast and there is considerable evidence to indicate that cloud conditions were not a factor in the disappearance of the flight.

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