Charles Kenneth Mackinnon Douglas, OBE, AFC, MA, meteorologist

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Charles Kenneth Mackinnon Douglas was to many the greatest synoptic forecaster of this century. He was born in Edinburgh on 29 May 1893, the elder son of Dr K. M . Douglas, and his interest in meteorology was kindled as an 11-year-old schoolboy. He was educated at Edinburgh Academy, where he twice gained awards for being top pupil, and at King’s College, Cambridge, where he read mathematics.

In the Great War, Douglas received his commission in the Royal Scots, as did his brother, but was soon transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in which he was involved in a serious crash during combat training as a fighter pilot. Whilst on flying duties between May and July 1916, Douglas, then a lieutenant, had many favourable opportunities to photograph and study clouds and weather phenomena, and in these operations he showed considerable flair. The changing patterns of the clouds provided him with an insight into the physical processes of the atmosphere, and their value in forecasting work.

C K M Douglas OBE, AFC, MA (ex-Capt RFC), produced a pioneering paper on the uses of aeroplanes in the study of meteorology. There followed experimental flights in 1918/19 under the auspices of E Gold. After World war I, Douglas became one of the best practical meteorologists in England and the senior forecaster during World War 2. It was reported in 1920 (Meteorological Committee, 1920) that "Arrangements were made with the Royal Air Force for four Service pilots and machines to be detailed specially for meteorological work". It was recognised that upper-air information was vital to meteorological work and that there was an increasing demand for aircraft to operate out of sight of land and/or above cloud. By the 1930s, a special flight was based at Duxford for upper-air work. After the war, THUM (Thermal Upper-Air Measurement) and PRATA (Pressure and Temperature Sounding) flights from Worcester continued to record temperature and humidity in the upper atmosphere until the late 1950s.

Meteorological reconnaissance flying expanded considerably during World War 2, with routine flights continuing until the 1960s, when the flights code-named BISMUTH over the Atlantic from Aldergrove were discontinued. Research flying still continues, but aircraft are now rarely used for routine upper-air observations. In the 1930s, technical aids to navigation were in their infancy but, nevertheless, developing and leading to an increased need for wind, temperature and weather forecasts. These were necessary to allow aviators to compensate for nature's imposed deviations from straightforward compass and map following. Airlines needed to plan fuel and payloads accurately.

In his earlier years Douglas gained a reputation as a mountaineer, and in his obituary Sutcliffe recalls a situation when Douglas and his companion were caught near the top of the Schreckhorn in a heavy thunderstorm, and they were fortunate to survive. A reserved man and quietly spoken, Douglas was, nevertheless, dedicated to his work as a meteorologist and possessed considerable perception into the problems that confronted the science. He was awarded the Royal Meteorological Society’s Hugh Robert Mill Medal and Prize for 1954 “for his outstanding contributions to the science of meteorology with particular reference to rainfall”, became a VicePresident of the Society in 1955, and was elected an Honorary Fellow in 1960. Douglas was married with a son and daughter. In 1954, he retired from the Meteorological Office, and lived quietly in Devon until he died on 19 February 1982.

Full profile of Charles Kenneth Mackinnon Douglas>>>Charles Kenneth Mackinnon Douglas profile

On 29 July 1929, a large, tsunami-like wave struck the Kent and Sussex coasts, busy with tourists, and drowned two people. The 22 July Times described the event at a number of locations: At Brighton and Worthing sudden downpours of rain and high winds accompanied the wave, but at Folkestone and Hastings, where one person drowned at each site, the weather was clear, and estimates projected the unexpected wave at approximately 3.5 and 6 meters high, respectively. Uniquely, at Folkestone, observers reported eight large waves entering the harbour, picking up motorboats lying on sand flats, exposed close to low tide, and transporting them more than 180 meters along the length of the inner harbour. The wave washed away a sixteen-year-old boy who was fishing from the breakwater, his body never to be recovered. If this event had coincided with the high tide, then the number of casualties would probably have been much greater and damage more extensive. C. M. K. Douglas suggested that a squall line traveling up the English Channel, coincident with rain and wind, generated the wave, so it may be referred to as a “meteorological tsunami”



Sources for this article include:

• The Geographical Review, 2009
• Royal Meteorological Society

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