On 9 and 10 October, HAO and UCAR are holding special events recognizing UCAR's founding and the 60-year history of HAO. Many of the pioneers of the 1950s and 1960s will be in attendance. "It Happened Here" departs from its usual format this month to showcase the recorded memories of the late Horace Byers, a distinguished atmospheric scientist who chaired the Meteorology Departments at the University of Chicago and Texas A&M University. Byers was present at the inception of UCAR and chaired the Board of Trustees from 1962 to 1964. Following are excerpts from two oral history interviews conducted with Byers in 1987 and 1990 by Earl Droessler and Roscoe Braham (both of North Carolina State University).
To illustrate the advances at UC-Berkeley compared with other universities and the Weather Bureau in those days, we were instructed about the El Niño current on the west coast of South America. At that time, it was not too well known just how the current originated. There was a lot of discussion in South America, but we were assured that the wild stories in Peru about the alligators coming down with the current from Ecuador were false. . . . During El Niño, the fish and birds disappeared and the fishing and guano fertilizer business in Peru suffered greatly. Later on, when I was in Peru in 1944 doing some consulting for Pan American Grace, I met a German refugee physicist named Schmidt who was working for the Pacific Guano Fertilizer Company and he said that his evidence indicated that the El Niño current came from waters farther out in the ocean. So far as I know, Schmidt never published this discovery that the El Niño current came from the ocean farther out.
A meteorology course was established at Caltech in the early 1930s by Irving Krick in cooperation with Robert Millikan. When the Navy airship Akron was destroyed in a mild squall line at Lakehurst, New Jersey, while coming in for a landing, Krick did a hindcast on that and said that it could have been predicted. This resulted in quite a stir in the Navy, in the Weather Bureau, and in Congress. With Millikan's prestige, he demanded that there be an investigation and reform of the Weather Bureau and all the meteorological services. In 193435, Millikan formed a Committee on the Weather Bureau and Meteorology in the United States through the National Academy of Sciences [NAS], of which he was a member. The Millikan committee had a great effect on changing the direction of the Weather Bureau. The committee said in its report that things were in a primitive state in the United States, and particularly the upper air was not being properly explored. The older kite stations were still in existence. Arrangements were made with the Army Air Corps and the Navy to make airplane ascents.
The Army Air Corps planes took up aerographs mounted on wing struts of the planes. They had stations at Cheyenne, Cleveland, and later Detroit and Montgomery, Alabama; the Navy had stations at Pensacola, San Diego, Seattle, and other locationsquite a network of airplane observations. The flights went up to about five kilometers [16,500 feet] in height, which was the ceiling, in general, of the airplanes. This greatly improved the aerological studies to be included in the daily meteorological signals [of] the Weather Bureau.
The first thing I did was contact Henry Houghton [chair of the Meteorology Department at MIT] to see what he thought of the idea. Henry expressed some of the same doubts that I had, but we decided to have a meeting. I think, like anything great, it never gets off to a roaring start.
We talked about it in a very preliminary way, and we decided to take the idea to our university administrations and see what they thought of it. . . We had at the University of Chicago a business managerI believe that was his title at the timeWilliam Harrell. He thought, Well, if we really want it, we might do it. I mentioned to him particularly Henry Houghton and MIT, and I believe he must have gotten in touch with the administrative representative of MIT on the telephone, because when we agreed to take this up, it was quite apparent that Chicago and MIT were going to take the leadership. The net result was that it was decided to go ahead with it.
The University of Chicago was a charter member of UCAR and I was the
representative of the university. Bill Harrell was the adminstrative
representative. The board was constituted of two representatives from
each institution: the meteorological representative and the business
administration representative. We met in various
Henry Houghton was the first [chair of the Board] and I was the second one. Of course, as we got going, there was a lot of strength from the various universities. At first, I think there were twelve universities [later fourteen] and they were the ones who were on the Board of [Trustees]. [At] one meeting that we had, while I was still [chair], some representatives of other universities attended. A physical chemist from the University of Utah came and made a very strong plea to open up the Board of [Trustees] to other universities. So there was a discussion and [at a later meeting] we voted to admit any university which applied that had a graduate degree, or maybe it was Ph.D.s, in any subject relating to the atmospherehigh, low, whatever. That made a big change, and suddenly the directorship was enlarged to include a great many universities.