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.
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!