19th Century Scientists Set Out to Solve the Problem of American Storms
November 8, 2023 5:12 PM   Subscribe

The long history of weather observation and prediction in the US (National Endowment for the Humanities)
posted by moonmilk (13 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for this! The contributions of a number of the people mentioned in the article (Glaisher, Espy, Redfield, Loomis, Henry, etc.) are sketched out in more detail in the 2002 book "Storm Watchers: The Turbulent History of Weather Prediction from Franklin's Kite to El Niño" by John D. Cox.

Cleveland Abbe, who is also mentioned, was the first head of the US Weather Bureau, which is the direct precursor to the present day National Weather Service. His son, Cleveland Jr., was a geologist and geographer, editor of the Monthly Weather Review and the Weather Bureau's assistant librarian. He was removed from the latter position after being accused of being sympathetic to the German government in WWI.

Cleveland, Jr.'s daughter, Elfriede, was a well-known botanical illustrator at Cornell University (for whatever reason there is no cross-linkage between her and her father's Wikipedia entries). She also hand-printed a number of books featuring her wood block prints. Many of those prints, I've got three on my office wall, depict the seasons and weather conditions.
posted by plastic_animals at 6:06 PM on November 8 [10 favorites]

Should we talk about the weather? (hi, hi, hi)

Yes, we should. Awesome post!
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 6:10 PM on November 8 [1 favorite]

So much of this happening right about the time we also discovered that weather would be forever unpredictable except over short time-scales. However, we've also seen quite an increase in the time scale of useful predictions within my lifetime...
posted by the antecedent of that pronoun at 6:13 PM on November 8

I think there's quite a lot about the US Weather Bureau in Erik Larson's book "Isaac's Storm", centering as it does around meteorologist Isaac Cline & the 1900 Galveston hurricane.

The thing that really stuck in my head though was how the Bureau director refused to listen to the Cuban meteorologists & did his level best to prevent them from telling anyone that no, seriously it's a bigass hurricane & it's heading into the Gulf towards Texas.
posted by Baethan at 8:00 PM on November 8 [2 favorites]

My great-aunt Elfriede made a very limited number of prints of each piece, but was so prolific in making the woodcuts that one time my dad found her out behind her house, throwing the wooden blocks onto a fire one after the other! (He convinced her to save at least some, to paint and sell or give away. Here's one.) Art was everything to her. She built her Vermont house around her printing press in the basement, they had to knock a wall out to get it out of the house after she died. She also worked in other media, for example sculpting this piece for the 1939 World Fair.

Cleveland Abbe, Sr. was a big proponent of time zones, knowing they would enable more accurate timing of weather observations.
posted by johnabbe at 10:46 PM on November 8 [21 favorites]

Wow. Thanks @Johnabbe for the additions
posted by DeepSeaHaggis at 12:03 AM on November 9 [1 favorite]

Thanks for sharing!

Also of note is Sara J. Grossman’s recent book Immeasurable Weather: Meteorological Data and Settler Colonialism from 1820 to Hurricane Sandy, which goes deep into the colonial history of US meteorology.
posted by 3zra at 12:35 AM on November 9 [2 favorites]

What an extremely interesting article.

If you're interested in weather and have the chance to do the Skywarn spotter training, it is easy and absolutely worth it.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:36 AM on November 9 [2 favorites]

well this is absolutely the best of Metafilter! a thread about a really interesting subject, a deep-dive into the history, personal tales and amazing art, anecdotes from the very descendants!! I have 3 new books to add to my reading list now. and maybe a spotter training to sign up for :)
posted by supermedusa at 10:14 AM on November 9

For more recent history see Profitable Prophets, on how a 5-day forecast in 2019 is as accurate as a one-day forecast in 1980 among others.
posted by persona at 11:10 AM on November 9

Seconding "Isaac's Storm"--fascinating account, and one of those books that has a high grrr-factor because of the obvious stupidity from the higher ups.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:58 PM on November 9

Mod note: [btw, this post and plastic_animals' and johnabbe's comments have been added to the sidebar and the Best Of blog.]
posted by taz (staff) at 3:26 AM on November 14

« Older We're all tryin' to tell you something about our...   |   Out of one's depth in the field. Here's the fix. Newer »

You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.