Severe Weather Week: 1940s Thunderstorm Project Conducted In Ohio


In the summer of 1947, P-61C Black Widow airplanes flew into thunderstorms. Video from the U.S. National Archives captured those flights.

"Thunderstorm dead ahead, approximately 30 seconds before entry. Over.”

Historians say thunderstorms were a serious threat to the booming aviation industry in the 1940s. Those storms prompted Congress to mandate a weather study dubbed the "Thunderstorm Project." The first phase of the Thunderstorm Project was carried out near Orlando, Florida, during the summer of 1946. Ohio played host to the second phase the following summer at the Clinton County Army Air Force Base.

"The theories and the findings that they came out with that still remain the cornerstone of our understanding today,” said Michael Kurz, a National Weather Service Meteorologist.

Kurz says the study was ground-breaking in our understanding of thunderstorm life cycles.

"The developing, the maturing and the dissipating stage which all meteorologists are familiar with--they learn that in their basic meteorology courses, but that's where it came from,” added Kurz.

The planes contained a pilot, radar observer and weather observer.

"They had other equipment on the ground picking up information, being relayed back from the aircraft to do detailed studies,” said Jeff Underwood, Ph.D.

Underwood is the historian at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton.

He says the project demonstrated that radar could be used to detect the most dangerous parts of thunderstorms and guide airplanes around them.

Underwood added that while no planes were lost in the project, some suffered hail damage.

"So this is all uncharted territory and it's highly dangerous,” he said.

And, it was all occurring in the skies above Ohio.

"Pioneering research of thunderstorms was carried out right here in our backyard,” said Kurz.

Historians said the project was able to investigate hundreds of thunderstorms in both Ohio and Florida.

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