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A look at weather's history

| July 11, 2022 1:07 AM

The science of weather forecasting has certainly come a long way, especially within the last 20 years.

Prior to the days of the internet, we would have to listen to the forecasts from the weather bureau using a weather radio, news broadcasts from the local television station or radio broadcaster. Today, we have weather apps and all kinds of forecasts and current weather information we can access with our phones. Thanks to websites like Weather Underground, we can also set up our own weather station and report the current conditions from that location directly over the internet.

With better technology, including sophisticated newer satellites, forecasting the weather has dramatically improved over time. As a meteorologist, I believe that it’s an important science and essential for agriculture and tracking severe conditions. The one to two-day forecasts are usually very accurate, but we certainly hear about it when a forecast doesn’t work out very well.

According to NOAA, a five-day forecast has an accuracy rating of approximately 90%. For a 7-day outlook, the accuracy rate is about 80%. Many weather apps and websites have recently expanded their outlooks to 14-days, or even higher in some cases. Beyond 10 days, the outlooks are about 50% accurate, but certainly better than what it used to be. But, as the technology improves, so will the long-term outlooks.

Every day, Michelle Bos and I put together a 14-day forecast for The Press. The real purpose of the 14-day outlook is to give North Idaho residents an idea or trend of what the long-range computer models are indicating down the meteorological roadway.

It’s also similar to the long-range forecasts that are prepared by Cliff and myself. We will look for trends based on the climatological history and combine them with lunar and other weather-related cycles to come up with our extended outlooks. The job can be stressful as more extremes are affecting people’s lives and making forecasts more challenging.

Weather forecasting dates back to ancient times. Many ancient forecasters relied upon observing similar weather patterns, which led to “weather lore” as the knowledge was passed down from generation to generation. Back in 650 B.C., the Babylonians tried to predict the weather by observing cloud patterns and using astrology. Aristotle’s “Meteorologica,” written in 350 B.C., described weather patterns, earthquakes and other scientific phenomena.

A big leap forward for weather forecasting began with the invention of the telegraph in 1835. By the late 1840s, this device was used to report current weather over a particular area, plus it enabled forecasters to predict and transmit where these conditions may be seen downstream.

The grandfathers of weather forecasts were Francis Beaufort and Robert FitzRoy, as their knowledge of weather forecasting became important to the Royal Navy. Beaufort was an officer of the British Royal Navy and FitzRoy was his protégé. Francis Beaufort also developed what is called the Beaufort Wind Force Scale, a scale that estimates wind speeds and its effects, which is still used today.

Many of the current weather forecasts that are prepared are based upon numerical predictions. This process began in 1922 as an English scientist named Lewis Fry Richardson published a book called, “Weather Prediction by Numerical Process.” During that time without computers, there were too many calculations needed to process this data. However, numerical weather prediction started to gain more traction in 1955 with the development of programmable computers.

Satellite technology is one of the big reasons why weather forecasting has seen big strides. The idea for these devices came in 1946, but the first successful launch from NASA was on April 1, 1960. The TIROS operated for only 78 days, but led to better satellites in the late 1960s and beyond. The latest $1 billion instrument sends the sharpest and fastest pictures of hurricanes, tornados and other U.S. weather events in high-definition that help scientists and forecasters predict the weather much farther in advance to help save lives when severe weather strikes.

I started the weather page for the Press in 2004, but the first daily weather forecasts were published in a British paper called “The Times” on Aug. 1, 1861. In 1911, the Met Office in Britain started issuing forecasts over the radio and the U.S. followed a similar format in 1925. The BBC was the first to televise weather forecasts using weather maps back in Nov. 2, 1936. The U.S. started airing weather forecasts in the 1940s, which began in Cincinnati, Ohio. The founder of the Weather Channel, John Coleman, was the first on-air weather person to use weather satellite data and computer graphics beginning in the late 1970s. Certainly, a lot has changed since then.

Briefly looking at our local weather, it looks like we’re going to be experiencing some hot and dry weather this week with a good chance of some 90-degree temperatures. With this new weather pattern, Cliff and I do not see much moisture over at least the next several weeks.

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Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com.

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