The History of Forecasting the Weather

Weather has effected mankind since the dawn of time. Often being the turning points for outcomes in civilisations, empires, politics, religion and other everyday events. Therefore, throughout history people spent generations trying to perfect their analysis and predictions of weather patterns.


Since around 650 BC, government appointed and wise men of Babylon, used cloud movement and occurences, as well as astrology that coincided with climatic events to predict the weather. 300 years later Aristotle was able to record some recurring weather events, thus paving the way for a book that was published by Theophrastus about weather forecasting. While in China in around 900 AD Ibn Washiyya predicted the weather utilising atmospheric movements as well as planetary motion, star movement, precipitation at certain times and different lunar phases to come up with a few definitive meterological explanations as was thought back then, thus producting a calendar of twenty four different weather events each year.

Gradual accmulutation of repetitive events led to weather lore that people used successfully at times. For example, clear blue skies meant fair and warm conditions the next day. As it is now known, this is not always the case. As science developed, most of the weather lore began to break down, as it was unable to compete with accurate technology.


While Europe decelrated and stagnated with scientific endevour, that included weather recognition, the Muslim world in the middle East wasted little time on progress. By about 850 AD, Abu Yusuf Kindi created an explanatory treatise on meteorological phenomena, that tried to connect tidal movement to thermal changes. However, he was surpassed by Ahmad Bin Abubekr Bin Wahishih’s work, titled: Nabatean Agriculture, which was written around 900 AD; in which a lot of detail was used to explain meteorological changes due to planetary orbits, lunar phases that signalled different rain events and intensities, as well as wind movements and their effect on clouds and and other things.

Other events, such as creation of rainbows (by refraction of water droplets in the atmosphere) that was explained in a fairly detailed manner by Alhazen and his students in Iraq helped create a powerful foundation for the study of weather.


As Europe began to gain momentum, after centuries of religious persecution, a lot of arabic texts that delt with scientific theory and experimentaion was translated into Latin, among them was the study of weather. Scientists in Europe began to exapand on, where their arabic counterparts had left of. Between 1400 and 1450 AD Nicholas Cusa was able to measure the relative humidity of air, after inventing the hygrometer. While Evangelista Torricelli moved the study of meteorology by creating the world’s first barometer, implementing strings to give fairly accurate pressure readings. As independent research began to be funded by interested government bodies, sketches and plans of weather events and their locations began to appear for general use by the public, military and governments.


Francis Beufort, the inventor of the Beufort scale measured windspeed succefuly, while Robert Fitzroy was able to create the Fitzroy barometer. These accomplishments secured their scientifically infulential positions within the British governments and Navy. Although their inventions were at first ridiclued by many, eventually their instruments became the founding basis in the Navy’s weather predictions.

Severe weather events and forecasting became as essential part of life in the United States, Benjamin Franklin around 1740 AD determined the trajectory of a hurricane from the Pacific, using numerous reports and calculataions of weather data accessible from various postmasters. By the 1850’s, The Smithsonian Institute embarked on a three decade project, to collect variosu meteorological data from across the entire United States, hoping to understand stom genesis and movements. began a three decade

In 1868, Cleveland Abbe , while workign at the Cincinnati Observatory founded a partially privately owned meteorological Bureau, that consisted of over one hundred stations through the United States. Eventuall the government bagan to understand the gravity of weather predictions and established a national, government funded meteorological organisation in 1870. This was followed by ordered collection of data and other weather related information over the Great Lakes and the Eastern seaboad of the country. The creation and large scale distribution of the telegraph crucially aided the accumulation of weather data. This was simultaneously followed by Britain, who in 1848 began a telegraphic weather report and has the first severe weather (Storm) warning transmited by 1860 in the Netherlands further accelerated the understanding of weather.


As aviation developed the need for more detailed weather reports became paramount. In 1924, Colonel William Blaire experimented with weather balloons and precise weather measurements. The us of radio bearing temperature dependence helped his cause. When Robert Bureau developed the first radiosonde in 1929, more detailed weather analysis became available of the atmopshere at different levels.

During the Second World War weather prediction became essential as the rapid deployment of troops and aeroplanes became crucial to the war effort. An example being the invasion of the Normandy beaches, who’s success depended highly on detailed weather analysis and predictions. While by 1955 the discovery of computers allowed for the first time in history to process large quantities of meteorological data and create rather detailed and very useful numerical weather predictions. Once access into space became available the United states launched the first Geostationary weather satellite into space in 1976.

Today, fast supercomputers make gargantuan amounts of calculations together with the aid of multiple weather satellites and are able to produce detailed, and changing weather predictions, that aid our everyday lives; from avionics, to farming, right down to knowing whether to take the umbrella.