The Interesting History of Weather Forecasting

People have always enjoyed trying to predict things. Gambling is a major indication of our tendency to try to calculate outcomes before they take place. One such favorite pastime people employed for fun or to impress is predicting the upcoming weather conditions. Since ancient times, people have carefully analyzed the weather patterns and tried to predict what would happen next. Nowadays of course, we know of weather forecasting as a job done on television with the aid of satellite imagery and computer predictions. There are apps for weather forecasts as well. But weather forecasting didn’t always enjoy the accuracy and methodology of today, and that is what we will be talking about in this post. It might seem like there isn’t much to unwrap here, but the art of weather forecasting has a long and rich history behind it that has varied from time period to time period.

Ancient Forms Of Weather Forecasting

The Babylonians, around 650BC, analyzed the patterns in clouds and made use of the pseudoscientific practice of astrology to predict the weather. The famed Greek philosopher Aristotle is noted to have described weather patterns as well. By 300BC, the Indians and the Chinese had started to come up with their own methods to predict the weather. Ancient methods of weather prediction mostly relied on simple pattern recognition. So, people used to guess it would rain the next day if the sky was getting cloudy and overcast. Of course, as we progressed, we realized simple pattern recognition is not nearly enough due to the chaotic nature of our atmosphere.

Early Tools And Methods

By the 15th Century it was becoming clear that just pattern recognition and guesswork was not enough to accurately predict the weather systems. Following this realization, people sought to change this fact and come up with better and more advanced forms of predicting the weather. One of the first tools ever designed for this purpose was the hygrometer, a tool that could measure humidity in the air. In the 16th Century, Galileo Galilei invented an early prototype of sorts of a thermometer. And in the 17th Century, Evangelista Torricelli invented the barometer, a tool to measure the atmospheric pressure.

The Invention Of The Telegraph

Until only a couple of centuries ago, weather forecasting remained dubious at best. Reports of weather conditions at one place could only travel so far. It wasn’t until the year 1835, when the telegraph was born, that weather forecast reports got a chance to relay weather information much further. The implementation of the telegraph allowed people to get news of approaching weather systems, and experience first hand just how quickly weather conditions can change, no matter what it may look like.

Historically Important Beginnings

The Wind Force Scale, a scale that observes wind speed in relation to conditions on land or out at sea, was invented by Beaufort. Meanwhile, a new department was set up inside the Board of Trade to look over and manage the collection of weather data at sea. This was as a service to mariners, and was the forerunner to today’s Meteorological Office. Robert FitzRoy, chief of said new department, came up with charts to predict the weather after the loss of a ship to a storm in 1859. He called it “forecasting the weather”, and thus coined the term ‘weather forecast’. His service, using telegraph stations, began operations two years later in February of 1861. This led to the first ever weather forecasts being published in a newspaper, The Times.

The Birth Of Modern Weather Prediction

In the 20th Century, our understanding of the laws of physics that governed our planet’s ecosystem blossomed, and we were able to actually take into account the physical pressures and changes the atmosphere was constantly facing. This was called ‘Numerical Prediction’ at the time, with an English scientist named Lewis Fry Richardson even publishing a work titled ‘Weather Prediction By Numerical Process’. The first ever weather forecasts via computer predictions were carried out by a team of American meteorologists, a Norwegian meteorologist, acclaimed mathematician John Vonn Neumann, and ENIAC programmer Klara Dan Von Neumann.

The Spread Of Weather Forecastsa

After a network had been established for telegraph stations, weather forecasting boomed in popularity. By 1911, the Meteorological Office was issuing marine weather reports over radio. In 1936, the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) aired the world’s first televised weather forecasts, complete with weather maps. In the late 70s and early 80s, American weatherman John Stewart Coleman made use of on-screen weather satellite information to deliver his weather report and revolutionized the industry.

Modern Day Weather Forecasting

Nowadays weather forecasting has reached levels of accuracy previously undreamed of. No longer do we simply rely on visual data and try to make sense of it and predict what it will do next. Powerful computers work around the clock monitoring weather systems and patterns around the globe via an intricate satellite network and take into account millions of factors and variables while simulating an accurate picture of future weather events. Weather forecasts for up to the next ten days are now simply a tap away in our hands.


Pretty interesting isn’t it? It is always a fascinating read when we take a look at how modern systems came into being and how they evolved from their initial crude selves. Today’s world really is a marvel, and it often tickles the brain thinking about what our ancestors would say if they could see us now. If you enjoyed this brief insight into the history of weather forecasting, be sure to check out our piece on National Weatherman Day. If you just like 100% accurate predictions, why not read up on the solar eclipse of 2017.