Talks About the Weather but Nobody Does Anything About it
forecasting is an area where astronomy and popular cosmology merge.
Although the use of astronomical phenomena as a predictive tool
is generally derided by the scientific world, weather forecasting
is a field where forecasting and prediction are not only utilised
but also encouraged. Weather forecasting is classified as science.
The methodology and the tools used are conventionally scientific
and therefore, so the argument goes, more traditional methods of
predicting the weather are based on ignorant superstition.
the advance of science, and the invention of a variety of scientific
instruments in the last two hundred years, today's weather forecasts
should be vastly more accurate than those made in the past. It should
be possible to make accurate and long-term predictions. This paper
seeks to examine whether this is the case; whether there is any
validity in traditional forms of weather prediction and what the
relationship was between traditional and scientific methods of weather
forecasting in the nineteenth century - the era of the birth of
modern weather forecasting.
set the scene we must first examine the history of weather forecasting
in the western world. The term "weather forecasting" is used deliberately
- the term meteorology originally meant the study of astronomical
phenomena in relation to the atmosphere of the earth and included
the forecasting of epidemics and plagues.
has always been concerned about the weather, and effective ways
to predict it. The origins of long-range weather forecasting date
back to the work of early scientists such as Aristotle , Hipparchus,
Kepler, and Newton, who observed that planets had a major bearing
on terrestrial weather, and backed their belief with accurate weather
the importance of weather to agriculture, it's not surprising that
there was a good deal of interest in weather in the ancient world.
Over a lengthy period of time and through shared effort and cooperation,
ancient people determined an astronomical calendar to guide agricultural
activities through the course of the year.
first known works of planets and their effects on weather, comes
from Aristotle, (400-322 BCE), in his treatise on the weather called
The Meteorologica written about 340 BCE. This includes theories
about the formation of rain, clouds, hail, wind, thunder, lightning,
and hurricanes. Aristotle's pupil Theophrastus further expounded
upon the works adding two more volumes On Winds and On the signs
of Rain, Storms and Fair Weather. His four-volume text was considered
by many to be the authority on weather theory for almost two thousand
instrumental in theories of weather forecasting in early times was
Claudius Ptolemy. Ptolemy's (127-145 CE) Phaseis deals with
topics that Ptolemy considered inappropriate for the Almagest. The
surviving part of the Phaseis is a parapegma, or weather-calendar.
Parapegmata were a traditional part of Greek astronomy, going back
in some form to the fifth century BCE. A parapegma was a list of
dates of regular weather changes, first appearances and last appearances
of stars or constellations, and solar events such as solstices,
organised according to the solar year.) Ptolemy believed that there
was a causal relationship between astronomical phenomena and changes
in weather, but that the correlation of these events was not perfectly
regular or predictable because other factors come into play. For
him weather prediction was a special division of astrology.
of the first comprehensive treatises on weather forecasting often
regarded as being based on scientific principles, are two letters
of the Philosopher to the Arabs Jaqub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi,
(ca. 800-ca.870 CE). Al-Kindi combines at least three traditions
of weather-forecasting: the Islamic agricultural tradition of prediction
from the constellation in which the Moon is, the astrological tradition
represented by al-Kindi's predecessors Umar ibn al-Farrukhan and
Masha'allah, and deriving from Pahlavi and Greek sources including
the Greek tradition of Pseudo-Aristotle and Ptolemy. Each begins
with a theoretical discourse concerning cosmology and the order
of the sciences and roles of reason and experience.
Merle, (d 1347 CE), kept daily diaries of weather observations from
1337 to 1344 in Oxford, which are the first on record of Western
attempted forecasts. This was during the Little Ice Age when the
Baltic Sea froze over twice and years of unseasonable cold followed
with storms and rains. The colder weather meant a shorter growing
season. This meant disaster, for population in the last century
had already reached a delicate balance with agriculture techniques.
In 1315, after incessant rains that were compared to the Biblical
flood, crops failed all over Europe, and famine became familiar.
Weather mattered more than ever and it is no coincidence that the
earliest records we have date from this period.
Brahe (1546-1601 CE), was extremely interested in the subject of
weather forecasting and passed on his observations and knowledge
on the subject to his student Johannes Kepler (1571-1630).
Kepler (1571-1630 CE) noted that certain magnetic angles among the
planets had a major bearing upon weather patterns. He discovered
further harmonic or magnetic angles of planetary configurations
and also observed that certain types of terrestrial weather patterns
coincided with certain magnetic angles forming among the planets.
Before he conceived his laws of planetary motion, Kepler's initial
recognition came through his accurate long-range weather forecasting
in predicting the bitterly cold winter in Austria in 1593. Kepler
published his observations from June 28 1618 to August 9 1629.
next major work on weather forecasting was Astrometeorologica
by Dr. John Goad in 1686. Goad's book was based upon forty years
of his own weather observations in which he also included a transcript
from Kepler's research. Goad then became the foremost authority
on weather forecasting until the early 19th century and was followed
by seventeenth century astrologers such as John Gadbury who wrote
about weather astrology in his Nauticum Astroligucum or The Astrological
Seaman Directing Merchants, Mariners &c. how (by God's blessing)
they may escape diverse dangers which commonly happen in the ocean
the mid seventeenth century, scientific circles began to reject
talk of planets influencing weather. With scientific attitudes beginning
to change, astro-meteorology and astrology were dismissed as unscientific.
Astronomy became the only officially recognized celestial science.
the end of the Renaissance greater knowledge was sought to further
understanding of the atmosphere. To do this, instruments were needed
to measure its properties of the atmosphere, such as moisture, temperature,
and pressure. The first known design in western civilization for
a hygrometer (an instrument to measure the humidity of air) was
described by Nicholas Cusa (1401-1464) in the mid-fifteenth century.
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) invented an early thermometer around
in 1592 and Evangelista Torricelli (1608-1647) invented the barometer
for measuring atmospheric pressure in 1643.
now, the forecasting of weather was considered to be part of natural
astrology, which encompassed a geocosmic relationships between celestial
phenomena and the natural environment of the earth. It was considered
a unified, reputable body of knowledge. It formed an important part
of natural philosophy. The study of natural astrology reflected
the view of the universe that everything is connected. All earthly
forms were seen as bound to the power of the Sun, Moon, stars, planets,
and other phenomena of celestial or atmospheric origin, such as
meteor showers, comets, aurora borealis, lightning, and precipitation.
was one of the first to define the difference between natural and
judicial astrology. Ptolemy referred to natural astrology as universal
and judicial astrology as genethlialogical. An established tradition
of distinguishing these two in practice had already existed for
a long time, for example among the Babylonians.
distinction was noted throughout history and formed the basis of
arguments by astrology sceptics of astrology. For example, at the
beginning of the 7th century CE, Isidore, Bishop of Seville, wrote
in his Etymologia about the difference between natural astrology
(which he accepted) and what he called "astrologia superstitiona"
(horoscopic and predictive astrology) and the 14th century sceptic
Nicole Oresme, who attacked astrology in his Book Against Divination,
expressed tolerance for natural astrology.
the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries weather records
were kept however the recorder wished, as weather recording was
still an amateur hobby. John Dalton began keeping daily meteorological
records in 1787. Dalton constructed his own rain gauges, barometers,
thermometers and hygrometers. In 1793 he published tables of rainfall,
barometric pressure, temperature, wind and humidity in his Meteorological
Observations. He continued to record his observations until
the morning of the day he died in 1844.
phenomena were still little understood in the early nineteenth century.
One problem was that although instruments were now available to
measure atmospheric change, and with the advent of the Fahrenheit
system temperature measurements could be recorded in a single system,
there was no quick way of transferring weather data from one location
to the next. Often the weather being warned about would arrive before
the data. When Samuel Morse invented the electric telegraph it became
possible for weather reports to be circulated widely and speedily.
The age of modern weather forecasting had begun.
forecasting in the nineteenth century was dealt with by a strange
combination of scientists and hobbyists. As weather predictions
from every source sometimes failed, no single approach established
its authority through a string of successful predictions. A wide
range of weather forecasts had plausibility. Forecasting was played
out in the public arena. Anyone could supply themselves with data
from which to compare predicted and actual weather.
meteorology was originally established to collect observations.
Its competitors usually based their forecasts on theories of planetary
or lunar influences on the Earth's atmosphere. Some of the amateurs
concerned would later be redefined as scientists because of their
such example is Luke Howard, (1772-1864), the man credited with
developing the basis for our cloud classification system, a manufacturing
chemist and pharmacist. Howard produced several works including
On the Modification of Clouds, The Climate of London, and
Seven Lectures on Meteorology. Howard became a devoted observer
of the atmosphere for the rest of his life, augmenting his visual
observations with readings from barometer and thermometer. For over
thirty years, Howard maintained a record of accurate meteorological
observations. His publications of the 1840's showed his interest
in a lunar influence on the weather. In Barometrographica
he concluded that the fluctuations of the barometer showed a periodicity,
which could be linked speculatively to the Moon's gravitational
effect on the atmosphere and he analysed an eighteen-year period
of the Moon's relative position to the Sun and Earth, which influenced
1854, the British government created the Meteorological Department
on the recommendation of the Royal Society. The first head of the
department was Capt. Robert Fitzroy, who was expected to collect
data from ships and, because of the recent invention of the telegraph,
create weather charts. From these charts, Fitzroy issued some of
the first forecasts.
mandate was to compile statistics on wind to assist the efficiency
of navigation. He enlarged on that role promoting weather observations,
establishing barometer stations, telegraphic reporting and, in 1861,
the first storm warnings. These he soon extended to routine weather
forecasts. In 1862 he published The Weather Book.
techniques used were not up to the standard needed to establish
credibility. He was criticized in Parliament, in newspapers and
by other scientists. His role in assisting Darwin also greatly troubled
him, and on April 30th 1865 he took his life at his home at Upper
Norwood, outside London. The inquest attributed his action to overwork.
(From noon on February 4th 2001 the BBC remembered Fitzroy as Finisterre
disappeared from the famous litany of areas such as Dogger, Fisher
and Rockall, to be replaced by a new name: Fitzroy.)
after, a special committee was formed to investigate the Meteorological
Department and concluded: "The first step toward placing the predication
of storms on a clear and accurate basis was taken by Fitzroy. He
compelled scientists and society in general to take note of this
branch of meteorology, and he gave his life in the effort." The
Meteorological Office was closed, to be reopened in December 1867
in response to public demand, and forecasts were resumed.
the stools of astro-meteorologists and scientists fell the lunarists,
those who predicted according to the cycles of the Moon. These were
not accepted by either side, but each claimed that lunarists belonged
to the other.
addition to Howard, mentioned above, one such was Stephen Martin
Saxby, born in 1804 in Kent. He gained employment as a naval engineering
instructor, published several books and the spherograph, for navigation
on a sphere. He is best known for weather prediction using the moon.
Saxby was careful to make a distinction between his predictions
based on the orbit of the Moon and astrology, which he derided.
The distinction was not recognized by many meteorologists who were
struggling to establish their own credibility in their predictive
science. In 1868 Saxby predicted a major storm -- and published
the forecast in the London Standard. There was no mention
of a specific location in the warning.
particular storm that coincided in time with Saxby's prediction
was a hurricane that made landfall in the area of the Maine/New
Brunswick border. Strong winds and high tides caused extensive property
damage and loss of life in New Brunswick and surrounding areas.
Saxby ended his letter with a promise that come September-with the
newspaper's permission-he would send along a brief reminder of his
prediction, for the safety of all mariners. In the meantime, he
wrote that the weeks and months leading up to the impending disturbance
should provide ample time for the repair of unsafe sea walls. He
concluded with, "I am quite aware that in taking this step I am
allowing a sense of social duty to outweigh personal considerations;
but I accept the consequences ..."
Allison was living in Nova Scotia when he heard of Saxby's prediction
and writing a monthly column for the Halifax Evening Express
on the weather of the past month. The October 1st edition of the
Evening Express had a letter to the editor written by Allison providing
a more explicit warning than Saxby's.
did Allison realise that, as his prediction of a major gale rapidly
spread across the Canadian Maritimes, a powerful tropical hurricane
was working its way northwestward through the western Atlantic waters.
As this storm passed over the colder waters of the North Atlantic,
it was transformed from a hurricane into a deep, extra-tropical
depression. Its centre made landfall on October 4th and 5th in the
area of the Maine/New Brunswick border. Its strong winds and excessive
rainfall created one of the worst natural disasters for this part
of the world. It was responsible for the death of about one hundred
people. For much of New England, rainfall records were set that
still stand today. The storm was also responsible for the world's
highest known tidal excursion, at the head of the Bay of Fundy,
flooding salt marshes. This storm went down in the weather annals
as The Great Storm, The Saxby Flood" or The Saxby Gale".
had peaked during the seventeenth century with the career of William
Lilly. During the Restoration it fell into a gradual decline. Its
rejection by religious and philosophical authorities forced astrology
into two directions - one in which cosmological and medicinal elements
were assimilated into respectable areas of though while the second
into popular almanacs in the form of horoscopes. The split between
natural and judicial astrology as defined by Ptolemy was wider than
had gone through a rebirth in the early nineteenth century following
the work of Robert Cross Smith (Raphael). Raphael's' and Zadkiel's
work sold hugely and new books were flourishing.
work of John Goad was broadly followed by astro-meteorologists.
It was accepted that the Earth's atmosphere was vulnerable to planetary
influence, that its position relative to other planets was the key
to its weather, that a mathematical analysis of the angular distance
between the planets coupled with observation would expose causal
relationships and that this information would be valuable for farmers
and sailors. Both astro-meteorologists and lunarists were concerned
with long term prediction. The 48-hour forecasts offered by the
Met. Office seemed inadequate by comparison.
relied upon an analogy with the tides. If the Moon exerted a gravitational
effect on the oceans, it could do the same with the atmosphere.
The mechanism varied. Some thought that the Moon disturbed the electric
tension of the atmosphere, others looked towards gravitational forces
put in motion by the proximity of the Moon. Scientists saw lunarism
as a form of astrology. Astro-meteorologists argued a more mathematical
science calculating intensity and types of influence depending on
the specific combinations of planets and positions. Like many lunarists
they sought the cause of these effects in electrical, magnetic or
gravitational forces. A prestigious name associated with lunar meteorological
theories was that of Sir William Herschel. His son, John Herschel,
found it difficult to shake the public's belief that he too was
a lunarist. However, he acknowledged that too little was known about
the emerging science to make categorical statements about methodology.
"Meteorology, so far as prediction of the weather is concerned (which
most people consider, very erroneously, to be its only practical
object) may be regarded as a science still in its infancy" and did
not dismiss the effect of the Moon totally.
Fitzroy attached great importance to "lunisolar" effects arguing
that the Moon and Sun exerted a gravitational pull on the atmosphere,
generally undetectable as it simply reinforced the wind patterns
first detailed by Halley, that of warmed air rising at the equator
and sinking at the poles. He argued that the combined effect of
Sun and Moon was significant enough to cause disturbances at the
equinoxes. While he denied that he was a lunarist it is easy to
see why others would jump to that conclusion. Astro-meteorologists
acknowledged the effects of the Moon but believed them to be minor
in comparison with planetary influences.
shared forms and audiences with phrenology, mesmerists, scientific
demonstrations, and instrumental exhibitions in the Victorian market
for scientific amusement. However, astrology was illegal and its
practitioners in danger of persecution and imprisonment. The astro-meteorologist
William Joseph Simmonite refused personal interviews following a
colleague's prosecution and carried out his practice solely by correspondence
to avoid entrapment. Simmonite, in his Scientific and Literary Messenger,
(devoted to astrometeorology, astronomy, predictive astronomy, astrology,
geology, botany, chemistry and the physical sciences), was fairly
traditional in his approach. He described the influence of the Moon
on the atmosphere, stating that the atmosphere changed when the
Moon reached the Sun's declination. He also listed the angular positions
of planets by zodiacal sign.
had an immense audience, which it reached through inexpensive almanacs.
Old Moore's Almanac had a circulation in the hundreds of
thousands. Zadkiel's Almanac, which flourished until the
end of the century, sold from 22,000 to 70,000 a year. There were
dozens of others, some of which specialised in weather predictions.
1837 Patrick Murphy issued a volume called The Weather Almanack
(on Scientific Principles, showing the State of the Weather for
every day of the year 1838). Almost immediately it became a
best seller and ran through forty-five editions. The success he
achieved through is based on his forecast for one day, January 20th.
Under this date he wrote 'Fair, probably lowest degree of winter
temperature'. January 20th turned out to be a remarkably cold day
and at sunrise the temperature was four degrees below zero. At Walton-on-Thames
a reading of fourteen degrees below zero was reached. This event
made a celebrity out of Murphy, and almost brought about a catastrophe
to his publishers. So many people rushed to their to buy his book
that they almost wrecked the place. It wasn't long before that winter
became known as 'Murphy's Winter'. His fame was such that a one
act play Murphy's Weather Almanac was performed at Sadlers
Wells in 1838, partly based on his story. Murphy tried again to
give a daily forecast for the whole year, though he never repeated
competitors emerged; for example, Robert Scott of the Met endorsed
The Seaman's Almanac Office in 1869 when in its 35th year. Weekly
journals also provided a venue for astro-meteorology. The English
Mechanic published exclusively on astro-meteorological theories.
astro-meteorologists claimed that astrology and planetary weather
science were unconnected, going so far as to call the latter "astrono-meteorology"
to stress the connection to astronomy rather than astrology. "They
have chosen an Astronomical title because they consider that all
great meteoric phenomena are the result of various electric currents,
produced in this globe, from other orbs composing the Copernican
system, as the earth makes her orbital revolution among them." The
Journal of Astronomic Meteorology for one claimed that is was
different to other publications as astro-meteorology was based on
the fact that in Ptolemaic astronomy, planets in their progress
around the earth formed a constant association of angular positions
or aspects with each other. This publication also claimed that astro-meteorology
in the past had failed as a system because of the lack of knowledge
of earlier ages in the areas of astronomy and philosophy. They could
be scathing of the work of others "Has this scene of grandeur and
magnificence been called into being merely to amuse a few astronomers
- to gratify the fancies of a few star-gazers?" This publication
also sees the assertion of not being adept at astrology.
of its type, the Journal covered a lot of ground and devoted
much of its space to commenting on other publications. It reminded
readers that atmospheric conditions being analysed allowed the forecasting
of disease and epidemics, carried obituaries, and discussed how
forecasts could be derived from plants animals and inanimate objects,
for example, watching how pigeons washed before rain or how a leech
lies. White in particular had a fondness for comets. Other publications
reminded readers of such facts as Jupiter having a great influence
on the death rate.
MacKenzie's Manual of Weather devoted space to discussing
the principle of cycles. Although nowadays this is one of the most
acceptable of early theories in many quarters, at this time it was
seen by the Journal as "unreliable".
The 1862 Journal claimed to promote the study of atmospheric
phenomena on practical astronomic principles. However, many Astro-meteorologists
were either astrologers or sympathetic to astrology. Two of the
best-known Richard Morrison (Zadkiel) and William Simmonite, published
their weather predictions in almanacs, which also contained horoscopes,
political predictions and advertisements for personal astrological
services. A little later AJ Pearce (Zadkiel 2) published a weather
almanac in the 1860's and wrote The Weather Guide Book (1864)
as well as a Textbook of Astrology (1879). There were dozens
of almanacs. Old Moore's sold as many as 560,000 in 1839.
offshoot of astro-meteorology was psychological meteorology, which
centred on the assertion that celestial bodies influenced terrestrial
matter by rays of magnetic fluid or electrical nature. Fitzroy was
also interested in the investigation of invisible fluids in the
atmosphere. His detailed analysis of a storm in 1859 stressed the
electrical and magnetic disturbances that accompanied it.
area in which astro-meteorology and science met more comfortably
was that of "sunspottery". Evidence of a sunspot cycle was brought
to light in 1851 when Alexander Humboldt publicised the work of
an observer in his book Cosmos. Twenty years later sunspot
observation became one of the pillars of solar physics. It was argued
that sunspots could be used to predict weather cycles and produce
long term forecasts.
main figure in Britain associated with sunspots and weather was
Norman Lockyer who began to promote the connection between sunspots
and weather in 1871. The parallels between sunspot claims and astro-meteorology
were obvious to contemporaries. Astro-meteorologists in the 1860's
frequently cited spectroscopy work, suggesting that chemical properties
could explain the influence of different planets. It was claimed
that sunspot theory indeed belonged to astro-meteorology by those
supporting the more conventional scientific approach.
main critic, Richard Proctor, published a lengthy article entitled
Weather and the Sun that drew the parallels between planetary
speculations of Zadkiel and his cohorts and the work of Lockyer.
Proctor pointed out that the correlations between sunspot cycle
and terrestrial conditions were often less strong than a correlation
between the position of Jupiter and sunspots but that the evidence
required to shake the first speculations was far greater than in
the latter case. He condemned the claims to long term predictions
and elsewhere lumped together the planetary speculations of Lockyer
and meteorologists as attempts to gull the public.
sunspot investigator openly acknowledged the connection with astrology.
In 1875 William Stanley Jevons, the economist, turned to correlations
between sunspot and metrological data o supply an explanation for
economic crises. His theory was regarded by many as a joke but he
himself placed great weight on the theory, defending it with vigour
and collecting his sunspot articles for publication with other writings
on economic fluctuations. His speculations were not unprecedented.
At the end of the eighteenth century William Herschel had tried
to find a link between corn price series and sunspots. Jevons recognised
that if his theories were proven to have validity then science would
go in the direction of what would appear to be akin to the astrology
of the Middle Ages.
and Lockyer supported weather prediction research using sophisticated
instrumentation and rigorous numerical analysis. The question of
statistical analysis was becoming fundamental to meteorology. The
statistician Francis Galton played an important role in this development
and was a member of a committee investigating meteorology in 1865-6.
Forecasting in Fitzroy's hands was a matter of individual judgment,
one reason why it ceased after his death. Fitzroy himself spoke
of using intuition and mentally channelling. The Royal Society designed
the new government meteorology to avoid this unscientific tendency,
establishing a chain of eight model observatories. From henceforth
instruments and numerical analysis offered an escape to the close
identification of the person of the scientist with his work.
prediction was based on numbers gathered from precise instruments.
Zadkiel's response to the reforms of 1867 warned against both dangerous
atmospheric conditions on 26th August and the misleading meteorology
of the "helpless old ladies, who figure away at the British Association."
Saxby wrote scathingly of the mistaking of mechanical facilities
for scientific progress. There was a widespread popular critique
of instruments as they convinced only those schooled to interpret
and accept their evidence.
of sunpottery shared with astro-meteorologists a suspicion of numbers.
The sunspot cycle itself was an uncertain figure and numerical analysis
offered a process that was closed to public scrutiny. Today sun
pottery is used by supporters of astrology as an explanation for
how it works. For example, Dr Percy Seymour - "...astrology is not
mystical or magical but magnetic. It can be explained by the tumultuous
activity of the sun, churned to a lather by the motions of the planets,
borne earthward on the solar wind, and perceived by us via the earth's
magnetic field while we grow inside our mother's wombs." - speaks
in terms instantly recognisable to the nineteenth century astro-meteorologists.
simplest form of astro-meteorology is weather lore, sayings and
omens used for many centuries to forecast weather, many based on
simple astronomical phenomena. They are generally accepted as nonsensical
and cited to show the deficiencies of astro-meteorology. Unfortunately
for this argument, many of these sayings have been proven in recent
times to have validity.
most commonly known saying comes in many forms, one being, "Red
sky in the morning, shepherd's warning; red sky at night, shepherd's
delight". This is a derived from a biblical quotation from Matthew
16:2 "He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say,
fair weather: for the sky is red." And it is also correct. near
sunset and sunrise rays from the low sun travel a much longer distance
through the atmosphere encountering more dust particles. These scatter
at the longer wavelength red end of the light spectrum (when the
sun is high in the sky, that is why the sky appears a blue colour).
A red sky at night suggests a clear sky for hundreds of miles beyond
the western horizon, and no imminent frontal systems bringing rain.
Red sky in the morning tells us little about what is approaching
from the west, but only that eastern skies are largely clear. However,
when this corresponds to the zone of fine weather, which often exists
between two depressions, then it suggests that it is moving away
eastwards with more bad weather not far away to the west.
was argued that weather prophets were no more than jumped up fortune
tellers, who by adopting scientific pretensions had taken all the
amusement out of the subject. Despite the best efforts of some astro-meteorologists,
the link with astrology was undeniable.
Morrison, William White and Patrick Murphy, all Astro-meteorologists
of one form or another, built scientific identities for themselves
through astro-meteorology. The most famous was probably Lieutenant
Richard James Morrison (1795-1874) who published under the name
of Zadkiel Tao-Sze.
his life Morrison sought a professional and scientific respectability
for astrology. He campaigned against the legal penalties attached
to astrology by forming the British Association for the Advancement
of Astral Science and Protection of Astrologers in 1844. He took
up meteorology as a way of demonstrating the philosophical importance
of theories of planetary influence on the natural world. He maintained
that weather prediction fell into the category of mundane astrology
and was part of the most difficult branch of astrology.
the 1830's and 40's, Morrison involved himself in the London Meteorological
Society, which was founded in 1823. It had been revived in 1836
under the secretaryship of William H White who enlisted thirty new
members. Morrison joined around 1837 and was a member of the council
from 1840-3, chairing many of its meetings. Because of the involvement
of Morrison and White, the Society was closely identified with astro-meteorology.
January of 1837, Patrick Murphy submitted a letter and essay to
White outlining his theories and asking for a hearing. A few months
later he donated his weather registers and joined later that year.
He was publicly associated with the Society although one member
had warned White in 1837 that even a hearing of Murphy could give
the Society a bad name. At the end of 1838 his famous prediction
appeared and illustrated how almanacs could be big business.
success led White and others beginning comparative investigations
into weather prophecies. In July 1839 White founded another society,
The Uranian, which met to discuss the question of planetary influence.
This society, whose members included White, Morrison, Simmonite
and others, dissolved by 1841.
Gardener's Gazette published a weekly column by White from
27 January 1838,which continued until 1844. The column compared
the forecasts of several astro-meteorologists and debated their
respective merits. White made it clear that he was a keen astro-meteorologist
favouring Zadkiel's predictions. Other publications included Simmonite's
The Meteorologist (1839-1860's), JR Hind's Atmospheric
Almanac (1839-40), Peter Legh's Ombrological Almanac (1840
to at least 1857) and Orlando Whistlecraft's Whistlecraft's Almanac.
to Murphy's coup, White's work and the publications of Zadkiel amongst
others, weather prediction was publicly associated with ideas of
planetary influence. In 1850, several years after the disbandment
of the London Meteorological Society the British Metrological Society
(later Royal Meteorological Society) appeared and published a manifesto.
It stressed instruments and precision and defined as its goal the
advancement of the aerostical branch of physics. It worked hard
in its early history to avoid controversy, rejecting the overtures
of Morrison and White. It later kept its distance from the disputes
surrounding the introduction of official weather forecasting in
true Victorian style, numerous societies were formed to study the
weather during the nineteenth century, comprising members of the
scientific establishment and astro-meteorologists, often together.
The British Association for the Advancement of Science, founded
in 1830, included meteorology among the sciences which it intended
to advance. The leading figures in the Association were quick to
recognise the need for the standardisation of instruments and for
theoretical frameworks to guide the gathering of data.
3rd April 1850, ten men assembled in the library of Hartwell House,
near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. According to the minutes of the
meeting, they gathered "to form a society the objects of which should
be the advancement and extension of meteorological science by determining
the laws of climate and of meteorological phenomena in general".
They called the society the British Meteorological Society and appointed
as its president Samuel Charles Whitbread, a grandson of the founder
of the famous brewing firm. The society they formed still exists
and flourishes. It became The Meteorological Society in 1866, when
it was incorporated by Royal Charter, and the Royal Meteorological
Society in 1883, when Queen Victoria granted the privilege of adding
Royal to the title. It worked hard to escape controversy rejecting
Morrison and White's overtures. Official weather forecasting began
1860's and it kept its distance from the disputes surrounding it.
The forecasting work of the Met. Dept. gave meteorology an official
and public identity.
"advancement of meteorological science" remains the primary aim
of the Royal Meteorological Society today, with meteorological science
including climatology, physical oceanography and other related disciplines.
Among its 3,500 members, the Society numbers not only professional
meteorologists and other scientists but also people whose work is
affected by the weather or climate and many who take an interest
in the weather as a hobby. Weather observation was born as a hobby
and even today it is impossible to ignore the many amateurs involved.
British Meteorological Society was not the first meteorological
society to be formed in the United Kingdom. On 15 October 1823,
at the London Coffee House, a group of scientists founded the Meteorological
Society of London. This society flourished for seven months and
then, despite the initial enthusiasm and activity, languished until
1836, when it was revived, only to fail again in 1843 partly through
overspending. William White was responsible for reviving this society
and served on its committee.
years later, another Meteorological Society of London was founded,
but this, too, was short lived as in the summer of 1850, its Council
dissolved the Society and recommended the members to join the British
Meteorological Society. Many of the books and papers of the Meteorological
Societies of London were handed over to the British Meteorological
Society in 1851 and have survived. They are now cared for in the
National Meteorological Archive, along with papers and books of
the Royal Meteorological Society from 1850 onwards. The Scottish
Meteorological Society, founded in 1855, amalgamated with the Royal
Meteorological Society in 1921.
made by government scientists, astro-meteorologists, lunarists or
hobbyists, weather predictions were, in general terms, notoriously
unreliable throughout the nineteenth century. The major difference
so far as the public were concerned was that forecasts made by those
who weren't associated with the governments efforts were far longer
ranging than those that were. From 1860, the forecasting work of
the Meteorological Department changed the status of meteorology,
giving the emerging science a new official and public identity.
work of the department was closely associated with Fitzroy, whose
initiative the forecasting was. With Fitzroy's publicising of his
work weather science became highly visible, rather than being a
part time occupation of hobbyists, or a sideline for astrologers.
Writing frequently to the Times and attending meetings to
canvass support for his system Fitzroy wrote his Weather Book
(1863) in the hope of bringing meteorology to a general audience.
suicide in 1865 damaged the reputation of government weather forecasting
owing to the close association his name had with it. He died in
debt and a public campaign had to be launched to raise funds for
his widow and family. In Victorian England suicide meant either
sin or madness depending on your viewpoint. Weather forecasts temporarily
ceased, although storm warnings were continued. Fitzroy was seen
as a fraud and attacked in the press.
reputation of astro-meteorology had already been damaged by this
time, owing to Morrison's libel trial in 1861. Morrison had managed
until this point to keep his scientific and astrological identities
separate. In Zadkiel's Almanac of 1861, Morrison had predicted
ill health for Prince Albert. When the Prince died of typhoid on
14th December 1861, "Zadkiel's" prestige and sales shot up. The
Daily Telegraph mounted an attack against astrology and Zadkiel
in particular. Unaware of Zadkiel's identity they were informed
by a letter from an anonymous reader. The writer, Rear-Admiral Sir
Edward Belcher, urged that Morrison be ferreted out and prosecuted
as a rogue and vagabond - referring to the statute under which astrologers
had been punished since 1824. Morrison immediately sued for libel.
trial took place in June 1863 and many eminent witnesses testified
on Morrison's behalf agreeing that he received no money for his
ventures inn the 1850's. Although he won the case, Morrison was
only awarded £1 in damages and nothing for costs.
became high profile just as Fitzroy's forecasts were getting under
way. The Astro-Meteorological Society were meeting in Pall Mall
under Morrison's presidency, (he was elected president in 1840)
and Zadkiel was publicising White's theories in his almanac. Although
Morrison's identity as Zadkiel was hidden in weather circles, with
the connection now being made the issue of scientific versus traditional
weather prediction was placed firmly in the public arena. In many
ways it was reduced to a battle between Morrison and Fitzroy.
Morrison died in 1875 Alfred James Pearce took over editing the
Almanac. Pearce was also interested in meteorology having
joined the Astro-Meteorological Society shortly after his twenty
first birthday in 1861. Morrison was dead but Zadkiel continued
to predict the weather.
the nineteenth century Zadkiel was a byword for weather prediction.
Meteorological office scientists were known as the government Zadkiel.
During the nineteenth century the majority of weather predictions
failed, whatever their source. The other side of this of course
is that the same number were successful, whatever their source.
Forecasting required public explanations and justifications. The
object was to warn people of bad weather and anyone within reach
of an almanac could supply themselves with data to compare predicted
and actual weather. Fitzroy and Zadkiel both wrote letters and published
their achievements as much as they could. Where lay the difference?
scientific consensus is that weather forecasting has only been possible
to any level of accuracy in recent years because of the development
of technology. However, even today, observers such as Theodore Fujita,
long-time professor at the University of Chicago, still use their
own eyes as one of their principal observing tools.
sunspot theory was first advocated in the 1870s it was seen as part
of astro-meteorology and so largely ignored. It was difficult to
separate it from astrology and so threatened to undermine the role
of solar physicists as representatives of a modern science. It was
necessary for the theory to be "discovered" by a scientist before
it could gain acceptance. The Serbian astrophysicist Milutin Milankovitch
is now credited for developing theories relating Earth motions and
long-term climate change. The Milankovitch Theory, developed in
the 1920s, states that as the Earth travels through space around
the sun, cyclical variations in three elements of Earth-sun geometry
combine to produce variations in the amount of solar energy that
weather models can predict as far in time as nine to fifteen days,
but the accuracy goes down to 50 percent only 48 hours into the
forecast. This is mainly due to the fluidity of the atmosphere.
Many forecasters see metrology as an art, as the data has to be
interpreted by an intuitive and creative meteorologist.
weather forecasting strictly scientific? Don't forecasters use the
latest in computers, satellites, laser beams, and other high-tech
aids undreamed of just a short time ago? Yes, they do. And still,
they can't predict weather more than three days into the future
with complete confidence.
scientific part of forecasting the weather doesn't seem to be that
difficult. Atmospheric motions follow laws of physics that have
been known about for years. One reason give for the forecasters
failure is that, unlike most other scientists, meteorologists cannot
verify their calculations by making measurements in a controlled
research has not been produced which analyses the success or otherwise
of nineteenth century weather forecasts in terms of their provenance.
Fitzroy's predictions when compared with modern day forecasts compare
favourably. There is little written on the modern history of meteorology
and that which exists generally dismisses astro-meteorology as a
superstitious hangover from an earlier age.
claims to the contrary weather forecasts are no more accurate today
than they were a century and a half ago. To be fair, it can be difficult
to judge accuracy. Is a forecast incorrect if the predicted drop
in temperature was three degrees instead of four? Technically, of
course it is. In reality, a small drop in temperature is a small
drop in temperature and most people aren't so concerned with the
take Fitzroy's speciality - storm prediction. Current forecasting
gives about 30 minutes warning for storms, with fairly imprecise
information about extent and severity. The Centre for Analysis and
Prediction of Storms in Oklahoma are proud that they have been able
to predict storms six hours in advance.
detailed forecasting has a success rate of around 85% when looking
forward 24 hours. This has dropped to about 70% by the time you
look at 3-5 days ahead. The general trends of weather patterns can
still be forecast with some certainty up to 10 days ahead, although
without much detail. There are methods that look further ahead,
but they aren't renowned for their reliability. An investigation
undertaken in Tennessee of extended forecasts, (3-5 days), found
such results as false alarms for rain occurring over 50% of the
time in three of the four forecast periods,
weather forecasts may appear to be more accurate than those of earlier
times, partly because they can be amended at a moment's notice when
conditions change. In the nineteenth century forecasts were published
months ahead - and they still compare favourably to modern predictions.
addition to government forecasters there exist a large number of
private forecasting companies, many of whom keep their methodology
secret. Sunspot theory is now respectable having been discovered
by modern science. The relationship between astronomical phenomena
and weather is back under discussion. A small but rising number
of astrologers are again predicting weather. And given the celebrity
status of a number of forecasters, weather remains part of popular
entertainment; astronomy and astronomical phenomena are again aligned
to this area of popular culture. For the majority of people the
astronomical connection never went away, it simply had to take a
rest while scientists rediscovered it.