History of Weather Reports

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I have shared the idea of checking weather reports for specific family events. As I conducted research I was surprised to discover that the history of weather forecast is not as old as one may think.

So, what is the history of weather reports?

The earliest approaches to predicting weather were based on astrology and practiced by priests.

Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, wrote of formation of ” rain, clouds, hail, wind, thunder, lightning, and hurricanes” along with topics of “astronomy, geography, and chemistry” in the 4th century BC, making “some remarkably acute observations concerning the weather, along with some significant errors, and his four-volume text was considered by many to be the authority on weather theory for almost 2000 years.”

In 1441, Prince Munjong of Korea, invented the first standardized rain gauge.

Christopher Columbus wrote the first European account of a hurricane in 1494.

Thomas Jefferson

In the early 1600’s, Governor William Bradford, who came over on the Mayflower, wrote of the winters of Cape Cod,  “…Sharp and violent, and subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, and much more to search an unknown coast.”

Many of our Founding Fathers would observe the weather.  Thomas Jefferson bought his first thermometer while writing the Declaration of Independence.

George Washington recorded his last weather entry in his diary the day before he died.

Weather observation began to grow and expand.

Newspapers would print the weather for that day or the day before, but the idea of actually forecasting the weather was not invented until the 1860s.

By the end of 1849, over 150 volunteers throughout the United States were regularly reporting weather observations to the Smithsonian. By 1860, these reports were being published in the Washington Evening Star and the network of volunteers grew.

In the 1860s, the Civil War was raging in the United States.  However, across the ocean in England, the Victorian Era was in full swing.

Only within the last decade had the idea of forecast become an idea.  Before then the men on the sea, fishermen and farmers had to rely on their own weather wisdom.  This often stemmed from the behavior of animals or the appearance of the clouds.

The early 19th Century had begun to reveal studies and revelations on how storms formed and functioned.

Weather charts had also been invented and were growing in popularity and use. But, many believed that the weather “was completely chaotic”.

In 1851, Austria established the ZAMG {the Central Institution for Meteorology and Geodynamics}. which is the oldest weather service in the world.

In 1854, Admiral Robert FitzRoy established what is called the Met Office. For those of us who do not know what this means it stands for the Meteorological Department of the Board of Trade.

This was the same year, a Member of Parliament suggested that the weather in London could be known  “twenty-four hours beforehand” to which the House of Commons “roared with laughter”.

FitzRoy, a sailor, founded the chart depot with the intention of reducing sailing times and providing better wind charts.

Even after opening the Met Office, many ships still saw great loss of life.  FitzRoy believed lives could be saved with forewarning.

“After the disastrous sinking of the Royal Charter gold ship off Anglesey in 1859 he was given the authority to start issuing storm warnings.”

George Washington was the first President of the United States

FitzRoy used an electric telegraphy, which was a new technology of the day, to warn the ships. The telegraphy network began to expand quickly and more data of weather conditions was being gathered.   When FitzRoy realized a storm was imminent, he would telegraphy a port.  In the port, “a drum was raised in the harbour”. He began these warnings in 1860.

In 1861, his predictions began to be published in the London Times.  Soon these weather predictions were syndicated across Britain and very popular, particularly with fishermen and sailors.  FitRoy became known as the “Clerk of the Weather” and “The First Admiral of the Blew”.

FitzRoy was often “surprisingly accurate”. He had a prize racehorse named after him and “one occasion Queen Victoria sent her messengers to his house to find out if the weather was going to be calm for her crossing to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.”

“Dame Julia Slingo, the Met Office’s current chief scientist explains: “FitzRoy was really ahead of his time. He was not mistaken or eccentric, he was just at the start of a very long journey, one that continues today in the Met Office.”

Sadly, FitzRoy became completely exhausted from his pursuits and took his own life on April 30, 1865.

But his invention had not failed and the effects and lessons learned were not only met positively in England and the United Kingdom, but also across the sea in the United States.

In 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant and a joint resolution of Congress established the Weather Bureau of the United States.  Many other countries would establish national meteorological services over the next 50 years.

“At 7:35 a.m. on November 1, 1870, the first systematized and synchronous meteorological reports were taken by observer-sergeants at 24 stations in the new agency. These observations, which were transmitted by telegraph to the central office in Washington, D.C., commenced the beginning of the new division of the Signal Service.”

Early forecasts were originally made three times a day for eight large districts that covered the entire United States.  By October 1872, predictions were made for 24 hours in 9 districts.  The time period began to lengthen and the districts expand.  By 1898, forecast could be made 48 hours in advance.

In 1873, forecasts were distributed to rural post offices as “Farmers Bulletins”.  This practice continued until 1881, when local signal flags replaced the bulletins.

By 1878, there were 284 stations and the weather was taken three times a day.

In 1890, the agency became part of the Department of Agriculture and a civilian enterprise.

The American Meteorological Society was founded in 1919.

The first Weather Bureau radiosonde was launched in 1937 in Massachusetts. In 1940, the Bureau was moved to the Department of Commerce.

In August 1966, the Weather Bureau became part of the Environmental Science Services Administration.

In 1970, the name was changed to the National Weather Service.

The pattern of observing and announcing the weather reports have change over the course of time with the invention of the radio, television and internet.

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