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The Pioneer Who Invented the Weather Forecast 33

HughPickens.com writes: Peter Moore has a fascinating article on BBC about how Admiral Robert FitzRoy, the man who invented the weather forecast in the 1860s faced skepticism and even mockery in his time but whose vision of a public forecasting service, funded by government for the benefit of all, is fundamental to our way of life. Chiefly remembered today as Charles Darwin's taciturn captain on HMS Beagle, during the famous circumnavigation in the 1830s, in his lifetime FitzRoy found celebrity from his pioneering daily weather predictions, which he called by a new name of his own invention — "forecasts". There was no such thing as a weather forecast in 1854 when FitzRoy established what would later be called the Met Office. With no forecasts, fishermen, farmers and others who worked in the open had to rely on weather wisdom — the appearance of clouds or the behavior of animals — to tell them what was coming as the belief persisted among many that weather was completely chaotic. But FitzRoy was troubled by the massive loss of life at sea around the coasts of Victorian Britain where from 1855 to 1860, 7,402 ships were wrecked off the coasts with a total of 7,201 lost lives. With the telegraph network expanding quickly, FitzRoy was able to start gathering real-time weather data from the coasts at his London office. If he thought a storm was imminent, he could telegraph a port where a drum was raised in the harbor. It was, he said, "a race to warn the outpost before the gale reaches them".

For FitzRoy the forecasts were a by-product of his storm warnings. As he was analyzing atmospheric data anyway, he reasoned that he might as well forward his conclusions — fine, fair, rainy or stormy — on to the newspapers for publication. "Prophecies and predictions they are not," he wrote, "the term forecast is strictly applicable to such an opinion as is the result of scientific combination and calculation." The forecasts soon became a quirk of this brave new Victorian society. FitzRoy's forecasts had a particular appeal for the horseracing classes who used the predictions to help them pick their outfits or lay their bets.

But FitzRoy soon faced serious difficulties. Some politicians complained about the cost of the telegraphing back and forth. The response to FitzRoy's work was the beginning of an attitude that we reserve for our weather forecasters today. The papers enjoyed nothing more than conflating the role of the forecaster with that of God and the scientific community were skeptical of his methods. While the majority of fishermen were supportive, others begrudged a day's lost catch to a mistaken signal. FitzRoy retired from his west London home to Norwood, south of the capital, for a period of rest but he struggled to recover and on 30 April 1865 FitzRoy cut his throat at his residence, Lyndhurst-house, Norwood, on Sunday morning. "In time, the revolutionary nature of FitzRoy's work would be recognised," says Moore. "FitzRoy's vision of a weather-prediction service funded by government for the benefit of its citizens would not die. In 1871, the United States would start issuing its own weather "probabilities", and by the end of the decade what was now being called the Met Office would resume its own forecasts in Britain."
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The Pioneer Who Invented the Weather Forecast

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  • that's a category Ewww!
    • There are probably all sorts of researchers trying to bracket the dude in a 'protected class' of one sort or another. I'm sure there's an alphabet character the guy qualifies under.

  • All too often (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Saturday May 02, 2015 @08:56AM (#49599721) Journal
    Innovative thinking is often modded down by conventional wisdom.

    To be fair, there is usually a great deal of noise to sift through in any given period.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "Now in creative thought common sense is a bad master. Its sole criterion for judgment is that the new ideas shall look like the old ones.- In other words it can only act by suppressing originality."

    • The article was pure-navel-gazing for the BBC.

      The term "meteorology" was coined in Ancient Greece. The science of meteorology was studied in Ancient Greece and probably in many older ancient civilizations like India or China under other names.

      Weather is such an important and life-threatening phenomenon, you can bet that there were warning systems in place in small fishing villages and/or over large territories.

      One of the earliest scientific approaches to weather prediction occurred around 300 B.C.E., documented in Aristotle's work, "Meteorologica." The ancient Greeks invented the term meteorology, which means the study of atmospheric disturbances or meteors. Aristotle tried to explain the weather through the interaction of earth, fire, air, and water. His pupil Theophrastus really went to work and wrote the ultimate weather text The Book of Signs, which contained a collection of weather lore and forecast signs. Amazingly it served as the definitive weather book for 2,000 years! (What if they're still reading this 2,000 years from now?)

      Theophrastus's weather lore included colors of the sky, rings and halos, and even sound. Hippocrates—also known as "the Father of Medicine"—was also very much involved with the weather. His work On Airs, Waters, and Places became a medical classic, linking good health with favorable weather conditions. The opening of his work begins with the advice that those who wish to investigate medicine must first begin with an understanding of seasons and weather.

      Weather forecasting advanced little from these ancient times to the Renaissance. Then beginning in the fifteenth century, Leonardo da Vinci designed an instrument for measuring humidity called a hygrometer. Later Galileo Galilei invented the thermometer and his student Evangelista Torricelli came up with the barometer for measuring air pressure. With these tools, people could monitor the atmosphere. Then Sir Isaac Newton derived the physics and mathematics that accurately described the atmosphere. Newton's work on motion remains The Book of Signs of modern meteorology. To this day, his principles form the foundation of all computer analyses and predictions.

      Read more: Weather: Forecasting from the Beginning http://www.infoplease.com/cig/... [infoplease.com]

      • One of my hands is a crafty devil, and he has come up with more than a few epic one liners and (+5 insightful) comments in his day. We debate often about the likelihood that even his very best idea was ever truly original, given the 107 {+/-} billion humans to have ever lived. Our consensus is, despite the probability someone has built that mousetrap before, there is no shame in hitting the nail squarely on the head a second, independent, time.
  • by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Saturday May 02, 2015 @09:32AM (#49599815)
    My conservative friend RIghtford and I were talking

    "The gummint has no business being in the weather business!"

    "But!" I says.

    "None of those buts", says he, it's not only socialism, but a duplication of effort" - The Government should get their weather maps and satellite imagery just like we do - from The Weather Channel or Accuweather!"

    • We laugh at them and their equally idiotic leaders. Remember Glenn Beck saying "libraries are free"? or the thousands with handwritten boards, "Take your dirty Gummint hand off my medicare".

      But you know what? The joke is on us. We laugh and stay home, while they dutifully show up at the polling places and vote for their idiot leaders. The fundamental difference between Democratic base and the Republican base is this. Republican base says, "give me this one thing, all the rest will be ignored". Democratic

  • by Michael Woodhams ( 112247 ) on Saturday May 02, 2015 @09:39AM (#49599863) Journal

    He quickly became very unpopular with settlers due to trying to be fair to the Maori. In one notable occasion [wikipedia.org] some colonists invaded Maori land in an attempt to seize it and got massacred. (They were a poorly armed militia and on the other side was Te Rauparaha [wikipedia.org], who was so scary that to this day his haka is used by the All Blacks to intimidate their opposition.) After an investigation, Fitzroy sided with the Maori.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I have this idea I would like to patent. It involves using current conditional data and historical trend models to predict what meteorological conditions may be present in various geographical areas at some future point. I would like to call it "forecasting" and I would like nobody but me to be able to do this because nobody has ever done this before.
    • Don't be silly, brides do it every day.

      "I'm going to have my bridal pictures taken in the same park that my mother and grandmother had theirs taken, and it WILL NOT rain!"

  • Poor guy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Saturday May 02, 2015 @10:04AM (#49599993) Journal
    Just coincidence, I suppose. I just finished reading a bio of Charles Darwin. Fitzroy had a tragic life. He became the governor of New Zealand and then was recalled from the post in just two years. He felt slighted by the implied insult and loss of prestige. Became a rear-admiral ran the met office etc. Eventually he committed suicide, tragically.

    He was caricatured because he strongly disagreed with Darwin on evolution and was portrayed as a bible thumper. But Darwin owes much to his old Captain for long chats over the voyages and the extra mile he went to accommodate Darwin, who was a bit of a spoiled son of a rich indulgent father at that time. Darwin had quit college, quit the seminary when he got on Beagle. Darwin was quite sick later in life. Darwin had spent 1000 pounds during the voyage to collect the specimens, probably worth quarter of a million dollars today. There was nothing to stop Darwin from calling it quits and catching a ship home at any port of call. It is entirely due to Fitzroy's help and understanding Darwin stayed on board for the entire 5 years.

  • I'm pretty sure Noah invented the weather forecast. And the litter box.

  • But they were always right before when they said:

    The weather will be better or worse or it will stay as it is.

  • The groundhog had it first!

Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap; it will be dear to you. -- Thomas Jefferson