Archive for Sunday, October 20, 2002

Storm Watchers’ chronicles meterology

October 20, 2002


In mid-September, top government weather officials called in reporters for the official announcement of the winter weather forecast, a long-range affair that has become an annual ritual. Their pronouncements were both cautious and confident, reflecting today's improved ability to forecast weather.

It hasn't always been so, of course. Weather prediction in the past has been rife with good and bad theories, guesswork and even charlatans.

Modern meteorologists get it right most of the time thanks to the pioneering work of scientists and forecasters who often fought bitter battles with one another in the process of developing the science.

The work of 28 of these pioneers, from Benjamin Franklin to men still working today, is detailed in "Storm Watchers," a fascinating volume in which John D. Cox looks both at the science and personality of the men who made modern meteorology.

Franklin is the obligatory starting point for scientific study of the weather, having figured out that storms move across the country and discovered the Gulf Stream, as well as having performed that dangerous kite experiment.

The volume ends with Ants Leetmaa who, in 1997, stood before a crowd of reporters in Washington and made the first ever forecast of El Nino, the Pacific Ocean climate event that can affect weather worldwide. He turned out to be right and is now working on global climate models at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J.

"I probably don't belong there," Leetmaa said of his inclusion in the book. But his forecast revolutionized climate predictions, and forecasts months into the future are now issued regularly.

In between Franklin and Leetmaa, Cox introduces the reader to Englishman Luke Howard, who invented the system of naming clouds that is still in use; Americans William C. Redfield and James P. Espy, who fought for years over rival theories of how storms work; and Elias Loomis, who invented the weather map.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.