You might think you know everything there is to know about the history-changing attack on Pearl Harbor, but there are still some elements that get lost amid the retellings, exhibits, and memorials. Though it may not seem like a vital piece of the puzzle that led to the destruction at Oahu’s military harbor, weather played a more important role than one might expect.
Let’s look back at December 7th, 1941 and see just how much the weather affected the decision to attack Pearl Harbor and how the course of history may have been very different if the weather had taken the slightest bit of a turn.
Clear Skies and Good Visibility
For much of the country, the weather Oahu was experiencing in the late stages of autumn would have been considered unseasonably warm, but in Hawaii, the mild temperatures and partially cloudy skies were common this time of year. Nobody on the island expected there to be any significance to the current weather conditions, but little did they know that the beautiful weather would lead to the start of a terrible morning.
As Japanese fighters crossed the Pacific, they were given hope that their mission would succeed when the announcement was made of “clouds mostly over the mounts. Visibility good.” There was nothing obstructing their sight-lines, no heavy cloud cover to hide the harbor and no heavy rains to make flight difficult.
After crossing the rough waters of the North Pacific, the Japanese were met with a clear “long white line of coast” once the island was in view.
It’s believed that the decision to attack on December 7th had plenty to do with the projected weather conditions.
The Fate of the USS Enterprise
Though the United States suffered greatly due to the clear conditions of the morning, something else was happening approximately 2,200 miles away at Wake Island. Scheduled to return to Pearl Harbor on the morning of the 7th, the USS Enterprise, a then-inactive aircraft carrier, encountered unfavorable conditions, but this wound up being for the best.
As the Enterprise tried to return to the Pearl Harbor on schedule, she was met with rough seas that delayed the arrival. What would otherwise be a nuisance caused by Mother Nature was celebrated as an stroke of luck. Had the mighty vessel made it back to Pearl Harbor on schedule, she would have been engaged by Japanese fighters and likely damaged or destroyed. The USS Enterprise played a vital role in World War II, earning enough commendations to become the most decorated US ship in the war.
To the enemy, the Enterprise became like a ghost, the shadow of a vessel that was announced as being sunk on multiple occasions. She always reappeared, though, to provide support during the lengthy war.
It may seem odd that something as everyday as weather could shape world-changing events. For the attack on Pearl Harbor, it unfortunately aided the enemy fleet.