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women in the weather bureau during world war 2

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Personal View of Kathryn C. Gray

I was an employee of the National Weather Service during World War II. My "War Service Indefinite Appointment" as an Observer SP-3 ($1440 per annum) was effective March 26, 1945. I was employed under my maiden name - Kathryn J. Caskey. My resignation was effective June 23, 1947 ($2320 per annum), when I was married and moved out of state.

I worked at the Airport Station in Houston, Texas. I learned of the vacancy at the Houston Station from my sister-in-law, Anita Corley Caskey, who was employed there. My only applicable background had been an Aeronautical Science Course that included a section in Meteorology, and a Freshman Astronomy, Maps, and Weather Course(Ottawa University).

All of the women on the station had taken a training Course in Fort Worth before being assigned to Houston. I think I was the only employee at Houston trained on the station.

There were a total of six employees. The other employees were all women at that time; all were smart, dependable, and dedicated. I was very well received. I was favorably impressed, and appreciated my job from the very beginning. The morale on the station was excellent. Employees were never late, shifts were never missed, and neither were observations.

Our duties included hourly and special aviation weather observations; Synoptic Observations; PIBAL Observations; Map Plotting; Pilot Briefing; and lots of (inquiries) telephone calls. Cloud heights were mostly estimated, but we had a ceiling light to use at night, and ceiling balloons to release and time, during the day. Ellington Air Force Base called in their weather observations, that we filed with F.A.A., as we did our reports, to be transmitted.

We were given tests, (Circular N), before we were authorized to take and sign for observations We were regularly given eye tests. Inspectors from the Regional Office made inspection visits to the station. They checked on the operation of the station, the observations, and map plotting. All transmitted observations were constantly checked, and employees were charged and signed for errors when detected.

We worked eight-hour shifts, six days a week. Our shifts were: 0000-0800; 0800-1600; 1600-2400; & 0600-1400. We worked 48 hours each week. The pay for some of the grades at that time was as follows: SP-3 -$1440 per annum; SP-4 - S1620 per annum; SP-6 -$2320 per annum.

Our station was not air-conditioned, and always heavily occupied with bugs. They liked to reside on weather maps being plotted, requiring constant bug removal as each station was plotted. Our instrument shelter was located on a deck one floor below our office. Our Pilot Balloon Observations were prepared and taken from that same deck.

There was one rest room to serve three floors of the building. Since it was used by men and women, the instructions (although not always observed) were to lock the door from the hall.

A Tropical Depression - centered to the east of Houston, invaded our observational area June 14-16, 1946. All employees were confined to Station. We lost power, so operated with an extension cord from the F.A.A. emergency power. We used ropes to safely make our way between the building and the instrument shelter, to obtain our observational readings. Our station had a special Hurricane Teletype, but lost its operation as soon as the winds got strong.

The Airport Station at that time was South of Houston. In 1947, Texas City was extensively damaged, when a chemical explosion in a cargo ship in the harbor triggered fifty successive blasts on shore and took more that 500 lives. The blasts could be heard at our weather station. This resulted in a very significant increase in the air traffic for a rather long period of time.

Houston had many Oil Companies with private aircraft. Their pilots would frequent our station, as would the airline pilots, for flight briefings. It was always a very busy station.

I have already mentioned Inspectors from the Regional Office. They were always available for discussions with employees. One day, I had a three-hour "conference" with an inspector. With our Pilot Balloon Observations, we had found what later would be found by jets and then called the Jet Streams. We knew they were there and real, BUT were not allowed to report them, or even retain (that information for) the observational information that was mailed to Ashville, North Carolina. If we mailed in those observations, or reported them, we were charged errorsl We KNEW that the wind speeds were really up there, so I was trying to obtain permission to mail in the observations for future investigation. I LOST. The official contention was that strong winds at those heights COULD NOT EXIST. We were told that something was happening to the balloon! We knew better!

It was great experience, and a good way to start my Government Service. My career included service with the Weather Bureau in Denver, Colorado, and Kansas City, Missouri. This led up to my service with the Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Kansas City, Missouri; Norman, Oklahoma, National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL); and Environmental Research Laboratory (ERL) in Boulder, Colorado. Most of my Service time was with Commerce, but I also worked in Agriculture, Defense, and the Veterans Administration. My most important assignment was that of Acting Director of the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma, from September 1975 through January 1976. Would I do it all over again? Probably. Loved the work, but my only reservation was shift work!

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