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women in the weather bureau during world war 2


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Personal View of Eileen T. Leonard Delaurentis

Eileen Delaurentis I worked for the Weather Bureau from June 12, 1944,through June 30, 1973. My work was at the WBAS, Tucson, Arizona for nearly twenty years and just over nine years at the Air Resources Laboratory (ARL) Las Vegas, Nevada. (The last few years we were associated with ERL, Boulder, Colorado, but there were still strong ties to the Weather Bureau.)Eileen DeLaurentis I worked for the Bureau because I had learned very soon (after college) that I was not meant to be a grammar school teacher. Having been reared on farms in the midwest, I had always been interested in weather and science, but the Weather Bureau job was "an accident of history." Having decided to further my education in math and/or science, I visited the Weather Bureau City Office, Phoenix, Arizona, to gather information by talking to the Official in Charge. At the end of our discussion concerning possible education institutions offering courses in Meteorology (rare then), he asked whether I would care to apply for a war-time appointment to the Weather Bureau as a Junior Observer. Frankly, I jumped at the chance; such a possibility had never entered my mind. I entered service as Eileen T. Leonard and continued as Eileen T. DeLaurentis.

My previous experience and education included the following: country girl, farm work; mother's helper and car-hop in high school; nurse's assistant at infirmary in college, also teaching assistant in Geography Department my senior year (not a formal appointment - the meteorology professor was drafted; and I led the class, and conducted and graded the tests for the remainder of the term under the supervision of the head of the Science Department who tested and graded me.) After graduation, I worked briefly as a Clerk-Typist and (for about three months) as a substitute teacher of a sixth-grade class. (The male teacher had walked off the campus in early March.) I was temporarily at liberty and was called to finish out the term. I was offered a contract for the following year, but I respectfully declined the opportunity.

In the field of education: High school graduate - 1938; College - B.A. in Education - 1943 - with Highest Distinction; Major - English; Minor - History; teaching Minor - Science, including Meteorology, Geography and Economic Geography; University - first semester College Physics (later for the qualifying exam - late 1947) I attended the Observers' School at Pacific Palisades, Califomia. It was an extremely concentrated 6-week course in observational practices, PIBALs, map plotting, codes, and, of course, Circular N.

At the Weather Bureau I was welcomed wholeheartedly -they were short-staffed! The staff was friendly and cooperative, also long-suffering; the boss was pleasant, patient, and a bit formal; the public was generally appreciative; the airline personnel generally OK, but occasionally demanding; the media (newspapers and radio) thankful for any crumb; and the Military slightly supercilious and condescending. Intuitively, I felt that upper level Weather Bureau Administration was a bit stuffy and rigid. As for the work - it was fascinating and challenging, and the time pressures were horrendous if there was the least bit of bad weather.

Morale on station was usually very high, particularly during the period when staff was predominately female. I remember only one brief period soon after the war when we younger SP-5 Observers were all upset at the same time - not at each other, but at the "powers that be." I can't even remember what we were mad about. Probably Congress had denied us a raise.

The duties included complete surface, synoptic, and upper air (PIBAL) observational schedule. Checking previous observer's work for observational errors; plotting surface weather maps, upper air charts, and adiabatic soundings; decoding and transferring to maps and charts the analysis received from forecast center, including isobars and precipitation areas; preparing weather (Wx) data and summary for newspaper or radio publication or presentation, and answering inquiries from Airline Ops. Officer or Air Corp Weather Office, including ceiling balloon or SPI Wx observations, if requested or required by existing conditions. After end of War, prepared and delivered live on-air weather broadcasts for radio station; answered public telephone requests; briefed some executive (corporate) pilots mostly by telephone, but occasionally in person; delivered, over telephone, Wx data and forecasts at the request of private operators and (very rarely at first) private pilots; and recorded and checked climatological data for the station. After monthly data was checked by the National Record Center, transferred it to Permanent Climatological Record for Station (the Big Book). We needed to be cordial and cooperative, and as informative as possible, to walk-in traffic (airline passengers, military personnel, farmers and ranchers, and just plain curious people).

Please note that immediately after end of the War, all the ancillary duties (private pilots requests, public and corporate or business related requests, commercial flying activities, etc.) increased geometrically in number and became, in fact, major portions of our duties with no commensurate increase in staffing patterns. In fact, I'm certain that only the introduction of Facsimile equipment (thus eliminating most charting and plotting activities on-station) saved the Weather Bureau from collapsing into complete chaos.

My shifts were mostly nights or evening shifts. During the War, we had a six-day week and the schedule (with full staff) was two mids, two days and two evenings/24-hour day off - midnight to midnight. When we went on a five-day week, we went to two mids, one day, two evenings/48-hour days off. Eventually, we went to a more traditional, slower rotation, though duty-hours were much more varied. So, you could say I worked some exotic shift for nearly twenty years.

Basically, the first year or so was a six-day, 48-hour work week, with no leave except for emergencies. Sick leave was allowed. Naturally, we always worked holidays, unless it was a scheduled day off. There was no such thing as minimum staffing. Rather, we were nearly always at minimum staff levels. With the winddown after VJ Day, we went to a five-day, forty-hour work week, vacations were allowed, and there was some overtime scheduled to cover vacations or sick leave.

At the station, in the beginning, there were six employees - two men and four women. The pay for, the different grades was as follows: SP-3/$1440 per annum; in three months - SP-4/$1620 per annum; one year - SP-5/$1800 per annum.

I retired at close of business, June 30, 1973. Actually APL-Las Vegas had been transferred en masse to ERL-Boulder about the time ESSA became NOAA. I took an Involuntary Retirement after more than twenty-nine years service when my position was abolished during a Reduction in Force (RIF). It was either the third or fourth RIF I had been through and it was just too much. The high point of my career was probably my promotion, in May, 1955, to Grade OS-7, Meteorologist (General Forecaster.) I had come of age in the service. The low point was certainly when I was obliged to request a reassignment to WBRS, Las Vegas. The request was the end result of another RIF. It involved a three grade demotion - from GS-9/6, Meteorological Technician (General Forecaster) - to GS-6/10, Meteorological Technician (Charting); and a salary cut of $1370.00 per annum. This event was very traumatic; my morale was shattered, and my sense of job satisfaction severely eroded. My involuntary retirement nine years later added insult to injury. Years later I realized that these two negative events were another "accident of history" that forced a dramatic change in the direction of my life - a change which I would have been loath to make unless pressured by external forces.

I truly enjoyed my Weather Bureau career during the War and for years thereafter. It was a necessary and, to me, valuable contribution to society and to the "War Effort." It was always challenging, with just enough routine to feel comfortable about my competence on the job, but enough variety to eliminate boredom. I had been fascinated by numbers from early childhood. Math was my favorite subject; chemistry and physical sciences were close behind. And I enjoyed contact with people. It was the perfect job for me. I had a lot to learn and had always enjoyed learning. Study and changes were no trial to me. There were negatives. Shift work (loss of sleep) leads to chronic exhaustion. It also is not conducive to any social life. Sometimes I wonder that any of us managed to marry. A normal family life was impossible - our spouses deserved high praise.

Would I do it again? I wonder. If all things were equal, I would. But I don't think all things are equal. The office seems isolated, sterile, lonely and awfully quiet. The weather is still there, but the machines seem to do most of the work. Do they make the decisions too? I realize my question is facetious, and my analysis over simplistic; but I do not believe it would be nearly as much fun. Easier perhaps and less exhausting, but certainly not the same. My contribution to the service was doing the very best work I was capable of regardless of the task. Others at the station were more clever at inventing aids that made the work easier. Among us, we brought a few changes in the interpretation of Circular N. My major contribution was probably the fact that I "hung in there" for as long as I did, and earned the respect of my coworkers.

There were many experiences of interest to me. But things have undergone such changes that younger observers might not understand their importance. Do you understand how frustrated an observer gets when the fifth balloon is brought down by a B-B gun at about 2:30 a.m.? You probably can understand how one feels at 7:10 a.m. after a slip on the top step of the flight up to the observing deck ends with one cracking her head on the concrete ramp with her legs extending through different open steps of the stairway. And the phone is ringing off the hook -the radio station is calling for the live on-air radio broadcast, and the observer hasn't yet plucked the fresh state-wide data from the teletype.... The boss got to the office on time that morning! Celebrity seekers are usually interested in my Howard Hughes story. The CAA operator came in, in the wee small hours, to tell me that H.H. had declared an emergency and was landing (on a military field closed to civilian traffic.) A short time later, in walked a very tall drink of water followed by a handful of aides. One of them asked if Mr. H. could use the phone. I replied, "Yes, as long as it's not long distance." Mr. Hughes then asked me a series of questions about Nogales, Arizona. He couldn't hear my voice, so it was a triangular conversation. He asked, I answered, the aide repeated to Mr. H., etc. (He was very polite, and I felt rather sorry for him.) Eventually, the emergency was resolved, and off they went to Nogales. (They needed the lights turned on at the Nogales Airport and information about possible hotels.)

You may have noted that every thing happened on the midnight (graveyard) shift. That's not exactly true - I just worked so many of them. (My husband was on permanent graveyards back then, and I didn't mind.)

Apologia: I didn't start out to write a book, but I got carried away. I thought "If after nearly fifty years, someone asks, why not answer?" Long live the Weather Bureau - even if they do call it "the National Weather Service."

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