The 150th Anniversary of the first public weather forecast

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    Weather August 2011, Vol. 66, No. 8

    Record hailstone at Vivian, South Dakota

    secure and grounded. If that is not possible, cover the head in some way to prevent potentially fatal head and brain injuries. Remember, too, that in extraordinary situa-tions, there may be little or no warning of the extreme magnitude of the event.

    Johns RH, Doswell III CA. 1992. Severe local storms forecasting. Mon. Wea. Rev. 7: 588612.Knight CA, Knight NC. 2005. Very large hailstones from Aurora, Nebraska. Bull. Amer. Meteorol. Soc. 86: 17731781.Ludlum FH. 1958. The hail problem. Nubila 1: 1296.Monfredo W. 2008. Blown away in Greensburg, USA: prediction and analysis of an EF-5 tornado. Weather 5: 116120.Neisteadt S. 2010. World record hailstone weighed in Vivian. KELOJuly 27.,102949 [accessed August 2010].NGS (National Geographic Society). 2003. Largest hailstone in US history found. NationalGeographic News August4. [accessed August 2010].NPR (National Public Radio). 2010. A recordsetting hailstone in South Dakota? All Things ConsideredJuly 27. [accessed August 2010]. NWS (National Weather Service). 2010. Record setting hail event in Vivian, South Dakota July 23, 2010. Weather Forecasting Office Aberdeen, South DakotaJuly 30. [accessed August 2010]. Rauber RM, Walsh JE, Charlevoix DJ. 2005. Severe and Hazardous Weather.

    ReferencesAmburn SA, Wolf PL. 1997. VIL density as a hail indicator. Wea. Forecast. 12: 47378. Blair SF, Deroche DR, Boustead JM, Leighton JW, Barjenbruch BL, Gargan WP. 2010. An operational assessment of the predictability of giant hail events. 25th Conference on Severe Local Storms, American Meteorological Society, Denver, CO, 1114 October 2010.Bluestein HB, French MM, Tanamachi RL, Frasier S, Hardwick K, Junyent F, Pazmany AL. 2007. Close-range observa-tions of tornadoes in supercells made with a dual-polarization, X-band, mobile Doppler radar. Mon. Wea. Rev. 135: 15221543.Browning KA. 1963. The growth of large hail within a steady updraught. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 89: 490506.Carlson TN, Ludlum FH. 1968. Conditions for the occurrence of severe local storms. Tellus 20: 203226. Greene DR, Clark RA. 1972. Vertically integrated liquid water A new analysis tool. Mon. Wea. Rev. 100: 548552.

    Kendall/Hunt Publishing: Dubuque, Iowa. Roos DvdS. 1972. A giant hailstone from Kansas in free fall. J. Appl. Meteor. 11: 10081011.SPC (Storm Prediction Center). 2010. Tornadoes, wind, and hail, 1200 UTC 1159 UTC. Storm Reports 7/23. [accessed August 2010]. US Census Bureau. 2010. Fact sheet Vivian, South Dakota. American FactFinder. [accessed August 2010].Wehde L. 2010. Vivian residents relate tales of massive hailstorm. The Daily Republic-Mitchell, South Dakota 29July. [accessed August 2010].Willis JT, Browning KA, Atlas D. 1964. Radar observations of ice spheres in free fall. J. Atmos. Sci. 21: 103108.

    Correspondence to: William Monfredo, University of Oklahoma, Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences, 119 Mt. Vernon Dr., Norman, OK 73071, USA

    Royal Meteorological Society, 2011

    DOI: 10.1002/wea.734

    The 150th Anniversary of the first public weather forecast

    Helen RobertsBBC Weather, Plymouth

    General weather probable during next two days: North Moderate westerly wind; fine. West Moderate south-westerly; fine. South Fresh westerly; fine. These were the historic, if rather inauspicious, words published in The Times on Thursday 1August1861. It was the first ever weather forecast to be issued to the general public in the UK, making this month the 150th anniversary.

    Admiral FitzRoy (Figure 1) was the man responsible for this forecast. He was the Meteorological Statist to the Board of Trade, essentially the first head of the Meteorolo-gical Office. He had long been interested in meteorology and was particularly convinced of the value of the barometer. On his cele-brated surveying voyage in charge of HMS Beagle (18311836), he weathered the sever-est gales without the loss of anyone on board or even damage to his ship. Amongst those on board was Charles Darwin, with

    whom he disagreed at the time of the voy-age, and later, over the origin of species.

    FitzRoy was appointed to the Board of Trade in 1854 to set up uniform meteoro-logical observations at sea. His depart-ments initial purpose was purely to collect weather data from ships at sea, but it became apparent to him that by systemati-cally collecting and collating the data over a wide area he could identify trends in weather patterns and, particularly, foresee oncoming storms. In fact, he is credited with coining the word forecast. He was very care-ful about this word being used rather than prophecy or prediction, as he was well aware of his limitations. His empirical meth-ods were more scientific than the weather lore which had preceded them (although he had actually coined some of his own weather lore, based on observational evi-dence of weather systems). Moreover, he had devised his own model of depressions which pre-dated the Norwegian frontal models by many years.

    Figure 1.A portrait of FitzRoy in his naval uniform.

    The winter of 1859 was of particular sig-nificance for FitzRoy. It was a devastating winter in terms of ships being wrecked by storms, but it was the Royal Charter disaster in particular which altered the course of weather forecasting history. In the worst

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    There was an immediate outcry over the withdrawal of storm warnings, and these recommenced on 10 January 1868. Public weather forecasts did not start again until 1 April 1879, by which time the Royal Society, which controlled the Meteorological Office, considered them reliable enough. In fact, the accuracy of the forecasts at that time was assessed at 76% partially or com-pletely successful! Forecasts were also increasingly important for farmers, in par-ticular those for hay harvests.

    So, weather forecasts for the public had a very interesting but difficult start. Since FitzRoys time, though, they have gone from strength to strength, with significant improvements in accuracy as a result of computer modelling in the latter part of the twentieth century, along with the availabil-ity of data from satellites and automatic weather stations at sea and on land. Thousands of forecasts are now produced every single day, with only brief gaps between 1879 and the present day, with a partial withdrawal of public weather fore-casts during World War One and a complete stop during the Second World War.

    AcknowledgementsWith huge thanks to Malcolm Walker for his advice, knowledge and guidance in making this a more accurate and well-rounded arti-cle. Also to Steve Jebson at the Met Office Library for providing a copy of FitzRoys chart from The Weather Book.

    Correspondence to: Helen Roberts

    Royal Meteorological Society, 2011

    DOI: 10.1002/wea.848

    storm to strike the British Isles since 1703, this ship ran aground off Anglesey and an estimated 459 lives were lost. FitzRoy was sure that storms could be forecast, thus sav-ing many lives. In a letter to The Times, he wrote: Man cannot still the raging of the wind, but he can predict it. He cannot appease the storm, but he can escape its violence, and if all the appliances available for the salvation of life from shipwreck were but properly employed the effects of these awful visitations might be wonderfully mitigated. Using weather data from a network of coastal sta-tions, including readings of barometric pres-sure, he developed a gale-warning system which he felt sure would prove indispensa-ble to seafarers. On 6 February 1861, with reluctant permission from his superiors, he issued the first storm warning for shipping. Warning signals were displayed at coastal stations: these consisted of a cone or drum or combination of the two (with lamps at night) representing the force and direction of the approaching storm (Figure 2).

    The storm warnings were not without their critics, but overall appeared to be a success for FitzRoy and the Board of Trade. Nevertheless, it came as a surprise, not least to his superiors, when, only six months later, on 1August1861, he exceeded his authority and published a weather forecast for the public. It is still uncertain as to why he made this bold step, and why he did it at that particular moment in time. His role in the Board of Trade was to collect climatological statistics for the maritime department, but he had been drawing up charts (which bore an uncanny resemblance to modern satel-lite imagery, see Figure 3) and making

    forecasts internally, and he may have feared being upstaged by Francis Galton and James Glaisher who were doing similar work and looked as though they might get there first. FitzRoys superiors were annoyed but did not stop him.

    However, FitzRoy was to have an unhappy time in the following years. His forecasts were criticised by many, including scientists, astro-meteorologists and the media, with the public relentlessly pointing out when forecasts were wrong, to which he con-stantly felt he had to respond through the letters page of The Times. One example per-haps reflects the exasperation still felt by forecasters even now: I need hardly repeat, Sir, what has been so often explained, that the forecasts are expressions of probabilities and not dogmatic predictions. He also received criticism of his storm warnings by Matthew Fontaine Maury, with whom he had been close. Maury wrote about his con-cerns in a Paris newspaper, and this upset FitzRoy immensely. This and other criticism caused his health to deteriorate, and on 30April1865 he took his own life.

    After FitzRoys death, a government inquiry into the work of the Meteorological Department of the Board of Trade was car-ried out, with Francis Galton as chairman. A report dismissive of most of what FitzRoy had done was presented to parliament on 13 April 1866. As a result, storm warnings and public weather forecasts ceased: Galtons committee were actually in favour of continuing the storm warnings, but the Board of Trade decided to stop them any-way. Weather forecasts for the public ceased on 28May1866.

    Figure 3.A chart produced by FitzRoy repre-senting air masses and their temperature differences. From FitzRoys Weather Book, 1863.

    Figure 2. FitzRoys storm warning system. ( Crown Copyright 2011, the Met Office.)


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