Karl Frey

1st Competition winner of the 101st story contest

It is the evening of May 21, 1943. With resistance mounting on all fronts, it appears that the Second World War is finally reaching a turning point. The staff of the Swiss Army's Fourth Division is quartered in the Hotel Schweizerhof Lucerne. You are serving your country as Lieutenant and Head of the Weather Service.

In this role, the Head of Staff has assigned you the following duty with the following words: «Lieutenant, as you know, tomorrow morning between the hours of nine and eleven there is to be a review of the recent manoeuvre by the Second Army Corps.

Present at the meeting will be all the senior officers from captain to divisional commander, plus Lieutenant General Prisi in overall command. I will expect you to be on the hotel's roof terrace at 05:45 to deliver the weather forecast. We need a clear view and no rain.»

A major military summit is about to take place, comparable with the memorable gathering three years prior at which General Henri Guisan delivered his historic «Rütlirapport» speech. The General has also been a guest at the Schweizerhof, by the way.

This highly responsible assignment leaves you feeling anxious.

Apprehensively you view the sky, which is already showing signs of cirrus and altocumulus cloud – an indication that the fine weather is on the turn.

The conditions are far from ideal for giving a forecast. Still, you manage to sleep soundly in your magnificent room overlooking Mt. Pilatus.

Early next morning you make your way to the meteorological office. To your dismay, you find that rain has already set in over western parts of Switzerland. Once on the roof terrace, you observe pensively the massing cloud cover signalling a warm front at an altitude of 4000 metres. At that moment you spot, over there in the south, a little patch of blue – a so-called foehn window typical of the dry, warm foehn wind. You opt for an optimistic, yet risky, course of action by issuing a favourable weather forecast for the military summit, and report to Major General Iselin.

On entering his room – one of the hotel's finest – you are confronted with a scene straight out of a film that almost has you laughing: there you are in uniform, standing to attention, while your superior, having just got out of bed, is resplendent in his pyjamas.

Unfazed by the situation, you deliver your risky forecast: «Sir, an unsettled Atlantic weather front has reached the west of the country. On this side, we are already experiencing cloud cover; however, thanks to the gentle foehn wind, I do not anticipate any rain before eleven o'clock.» The Major General, despite his informal attire, immediately barks out an order: «Lieutenant, inform the Head of Staff forthwith that the military event will take place on the Stanserhorn as planned.»

To your relief, the summit begins on time and concludes shortly before eleven as the clouds begin to descend; there was no rain. It is only as you make your way back down to the valley at twenty past eleven that the first drops begin to fall, a thunderstorm marking the end of the fine weather spell. Your risky weather forecast was a success. More relaxed now, you order wine with your lunch at the Schweizerhof.

The weak, yet effective, southerly foehn that managed, to everyone's relief, to hold the rain around Lucerne at bay for a few hours, is something you have never forgotten even seventy years later – that, and your memorable stay at the Hotel Schweizerhof. Now aged 97, you sense as never before the truth in the words of Jean Paul:

«Memory is the only paradise from which we cannot be expelled».

PS: A little over a year later, on June 5, 1944, there was another similar «forecast event». The Allied commanders of the massed D-Day invasion forces received the weather forecast: «Despite the unsettled conditions, there will be a brief improvement between two weather fronts». On the strength of it, General Eisenhower decided – correctly as it turned out – to unleash his forces.