Fair or Foul, Part 3: Meteorological Observation Networks

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In Flint, 1633, Chapter 14, Jesse tells Jim, "We need someone to organize a weather service. . . ." In Huff and Goodlett, "High Road to Venice" (GG19), set in 1634, Merton Smith of TransEuropean Airlines calls up the weather service and he has weather information from Rome and Bolzano (and it appears that at one point there were stations in Saxony and Brandenburg). By 1635, there is a weather observation network in part of Russia.

In parts 1 and 2, I discussed the meteorological instruments that can be made based on knowledge in Grantville. Now we'll look at how those instruments can be integrated into an observation network in the new time line (NTL) created by the Ring of Fire (RoF) event in May, 1631.

This article will from time to time describe meteorological developments in the old time line (OTL). The historical perspective can help us understand how difficult it can be to win acceptance of new ideas and some of the obstacles our characters may encounter in trying to institute a weather observation and forecasting program.



Meteorological Knowledge in Grantville


None of the up-timers majored in meteorology, worked as meteorologists before RoF, or are identified in the grid as having amateur meteorology as a hobby.

Hence, formal educational exposure to meteorology is likely to be limited to a single course, taken as an elective. Meteorology, like astronomy, is a popular science distribution elective for non-science majors but such an elective is likely to be light on mathematics (see, e.g., Ahrens, Meteorology Today). Hopefully, one of more of the up-timer physicists took the more rigorous version for those majoring or minoring in meteorology. It is also possible that one or more of them, or of the chemical engineers, took fluid mechanics.

There are several up-timers with piloting experience in Grantville, and it is important to neither exaggerate nor discount their knowledge of meteorology. The logical starting point is, what would they have needed to know in order to receive a pilot's license? In general, their study would cover the broad divisions of the atmosphere; the trends of pressure, temperature and density in the standard atmosphere, the relationship of pressure to altitude; the proper adjustment of (and causes of possible errors in) a barometric altimeter; Buy-Ballots law; cloud classification and (qualitatively) formation; measures of sky opacity; causes of turbulence; weather associated with lows, highs, and fronts; local wind and fog phenomena; and how to read a METAR weather bulletin, station plot, or synoptic chart. (PSA; Air Force Manual 11-203, Weather for Aircrews). But they don't learn how to construct meteorological instruments, how to analyze observations and make a synoptic chart, or how to forecast (except in the most limited sense, as in recognizing the significance of towering cumulus or nimbostratus, or of a fall in pressure).

Naturally, in the course of flying, they will have an intimate opportunity to observe weather in action. An individual pilot with experience may of course have a very good feel for what the weather is going to do in their normal area of operation in the next few hours. But it is not knowledge that we can count on, and it is not knowledge that is easily transferable to others (or to distant places). The experience with aviation weather in the USA is only partially applicable to Europe (admittedly, ex-military pilots may have flown there).

The up-time pilots also received briefings from meteorologists, and there may have been some acquisition of some qualitative guidance (e.g., reference to omega blocking patterns) by osmosis. Again, relevancy depends in part on whether they flew in America or Europe.

For ship pilots it's only a little different. Look at the weather chapters (34-37) in Bowditch 2002. Besides what we see for aircraft pilots, these talk about the Beaufort scale, about the safer and less safe sectors in a hurricane, and also about adjustments to weather observations. But they do not discuss forecasting, except in the limited sense that they mention the signs of an approaching hurricane (which I used in 1636: Seas of Fortune).

Looking at the pre-RoF holdings of Mannington libraries, the high school has Blanchard, From Raindrops to Volcanoes: Adventures with Sea Surface Meteorology; Dickinson, Exploring the Sky Day by Day; Neiburger, Understanding Our Atmospheric Environment; Chandler, The Air Around Us; Taylor, Weather and Climate; Reiter, Jet Streams; Berger, Can It Rain Cats and Dogs; Lane, The Elements Rage; and Sutton, Nature on the Rampage.  The public library has Allaby, A Chronology of Weather; Burroughs, Weather; and a few juvenile books on extreme weather.

Private library holdings are likely to be slim pickings; but it would not be surprising for a farmer to own a lay book on weather forecasting. My own library includes Laird, Weathercasting; Lee, Weather Wisdom; and Watts, Weather Handbook, and there are others of a similar vein.

The bottom line is that we are going to fall well short of what was considered adequate education and training for meteorological personnel (Draghici).

The odds are pretty good that the high school has at least basic weather station equipment: barometer, thermometer, sling psychrometer, rain gauge, weather vane and anemometer, and it might have continuously recording apparatus (mine did). An individual farmer might, too.  However, at present there are no personal weather stations in the Mannington area registered with Weather Underground; the closest are in Curtisville and Worthington.



Meteorological Instruments in Canon


In Fall, 1635, Peter Boglonovich's weather station at "the Dacha" is equipped with a thermometer and a barometer (1636: The Kremlin Games, Chap. 65).

In December, 1635, the weather station at the USE's Tetschen airfield has just a mercury thermometer and a crude barometer (Flint, 1636: The Saxon Uprising, Chap. 15).


The Meteorological Observer Network


While a single observer may make short term forecasts for his own location based on his or her own observations, multiday and regional forecasting requires a network of observers who can communicate their observations to analysts, who in turn communicate their "nowcasts" and forecasts to the public (or some particular segment thereof).

The network will be much more effective if there is standardization of the instruments, of observing methods (including observing time), and of reporting (terminology and encoding) of observations. This is to assure both a minimum level of accuracy, and consistency between reports from different locales or different observers. The speed and accuracy of communications are also important but will be discussed in a later section.

It is absolutely necessary that all observation reports include the date and time of observation. Synchronization of observations is tricky. In the 1850s Smithsonian network, observers were told to use "mean time" of their station. These could differ by several hours at the extreme western and eastern ends of the network. Standard time was initially created by railroads for the sake of timetables. In the USA, national observations weren't simultaneous until the 1870s.


We can get some sense of how proposals for a meteorological network will be received in NTL by looking at how weather observations were made later in the OTL seventeenth century.

The first international meteorological network was created by the Medicis in 1654, and reached its peak level of participation in the period 1655-60. Observers in Florence, Vallambrosa, Pisa, Cutigliano, Bologna, Parma, Milan, Innsbruck, Warsaw, Osnabruck, and Paris participated at one time or another. The main stations were at Florence and Vallambrosa. The network was officially shut down in 1667 for political reasons—too close an association with Galileo—but the main stations continued operation until 1670.

The observers were monks (Benedictines or Jesuits) and followed a precise observational schedule (5-8 readings a day, covering both daytime and nighttime, but unevenly). The thermometers were "Little Florentine Thermometers" provided in duplicate by the network secretary, with one to be hung on a north-facing wall and the other on a south-facing wall. Observations were sent, daily or weekly depending on the distance, to the Grand Duke of Tuscany. (Given the communication delay, the network is perhaps best considered one for collecting climatological data.) The reports included the date, reading time, north and south thermometer readings, and "notes on the weather."

In 1659-61, William Balle showed the Royal Society his weather diary, which used a tabular format to show the place, date and time of observation, daily temperature ("water glass"), pressure ("height of quicksilver"), and "weather" (e.g, "clear," "gloomy") (Vogel). In 1663, Robert Hooke read a paper (published in 1667) to the Royal Society, describing a proposal for a more elaborate tabular scheme for recording weather observations (Crewe). This had columns for recording the day and hour of the observation, the age and sign of the moon at noon, the direction and strength of the wind, the temperature, the humidity, the pressure, and "the faces or visible appearances of the sky, the notable effects, and general deductions to be made. . . ." (Egerton). Not only temperature and pressure, but also humidity and wind strength, were quantified. Hooke also proposed that weather observations be "made to a common standard" and collected internationally (Crewe).

While there were individuals who kept weather diaries in sixteenth-century Europe, they did not have tools to measure temperature, pressure, or wind strength. However, they could quantitatively report wind direction, as was done by, for example, Tycho Brahe and David Fabricius. One diarist who was still alive at the time of RoF was Karel starsi ze Zerotina (1564-1636) in Moravia (Pfister). In Britain, many of the weather diarists were physicians, clergymen, or landed gentry.

Some of these diarists made daily entries; others were more haphazard in their observing practices. For the meteorological network, we will need individuals willing to go out and take readings, even in harsh weather, on a daily basis.


For later networks, it is particularly interesting to note who organized (and paid for) the network and who the observers were, as this may provide some inspiration for our writers. The Meteorological Society of the Palatinate was organized by a politician-amateur meteorologist. It collected weather data thrice daily from 39 volunteers in eighteen countries, 1781-1792, but just for later study (Monmonier 18).

A network was established in New York State in 1825 by the Vice Chancellor of SUNY; it relied on observers in the 62 academies under state supervision, and these were given a standardized thermometer and rain gauge, and instructions for their use (39). The Board of Regents told them that they must submit meteorological observations before they could receive public funds (Fleming 19).

In 1837 the Franklin Institute successfully lobbied the Pennsylvania legislature for financial support for statewide meteorological observation. There was to be a set of instruments (barometer, two thermometers, and rain gauge) for each of the 52 counties, and a Philadelphia manufacturer agreed to supply them at $16/set. Standardization (the permissible deviation was 2%) proved difficult, as did shipping the instruments without suffering breakage. The Institute preferred to recruit, as an observer, "the principal of a College, Academy, or Lyceum." (60).

In 1834, the US Navy ordered yard and ship surgeons—not captains—to keep thermometer and barometer records. The motivation was to investigate the effect of the weather on health (Fleming 61). In a similar vein, US army stations were ordered to keep weather journals in 1842 (70).

In the British network organized (1861) by the Meteorological Department of the Board of Trade, the observers were telegraph clerks, who weren't paid for observing, but did receive instructions and standard instruments. Observations were made 8 AM daily, except Sunday (Anderson 112). Telegraphy was the department's biggest budget item (114).

The Smithsonian network (1847-70) had several hundred volunteer observers who took measurements thrice daily and mailed monthly reports to DC. They fell into three categories: those without instruments, those with just a thermometer, and those who also had at least a barometer (sometimes also a psychrometer and rain gauge). There was also a separate, sparser telegraphic network. A word to the wise: the mail network generated far more data than the clerical staff could process (40ff).

In 1851, 47% of the observers had scientific, technical, or educational backgrounds, while only 8% were farm workers. By 1870, the values were 16% and 37% respectively (Fleming 92). While the Smithsonian observers weren't paid, they enjoyed several perks: they could obtain free scientific advice and were given greater access to government and Smithsonian publications (88).

The instruments were provided to telegraph offices and exploratory expeditions; others could sometimes get them on loan or at reduced cost. Some instruments were broken during transit, and there is an instance of a thermometer stolen by Indians (86). Not surprisingly, there were observers who didn't follow observational instructions or filled their reports with "hieroglyphics" (83).

In 1870, the telegraphic weather service became a function of the Signal Office of the U.S. War Department (49). The original meteorological network model was centralized; all observations were reported to the central office, and it issued any forecasts. In the U.S., the Signal Corps authorized the NY district office to issue local forecasts in 1881. Thereafter, more district offices, and even local stations, prepared local forecasts, and some even produced daily weather maps for posting at public places (53).

The military wasn't very responsive to the meteorological needs of the farming community and in 1891, the function was transferred to the newly created USDA Weather Bureau (Id.).


Ultimately, of course, it will be desirable to have some automated weather stations for remote or harsh locations. Christopher Wren (1632-1723) and Robert Hooke (1635-1703) together designed, and Hooke built, the first automated weather station, the "weather wise." The first working model is from 1669, but they continued to tinker with it. This contraption "made recordings at the Royal Society with trip hammers that made marks on paper to record wind direction, wind speed, temperature, humidity and pressure. Not surprisingly, it spent more time being repaired or developed than actually working. . . ." (Crewe). I have not been able to document other pre-twentieth century automated weather stations.


Station Bulletins and Plots.  Currently, weather observations (bulletins) are reported in one of several standard international formats so they are concise and can be understood without linguistic skills (Stegman). WMO's SYNOP bulletin format for a land station is twelve four- or five-character code groups, and for a ship 15-18 (plotmanual). There are also (to name a few) METAR (for airports), TEMP (for weather balloons), and most recently BUFR.

At the analysis center this information is first plotted on a very large weather map (or a set of smaller maps) so that all of the station information is visible. Several standardized "station plot" formats have been developed in which the numbers and accepted graphical symbols are arranged in a predetermined configuration (plotmanual; NWSSSP).

It's not very likely that these formats are fully explained in Grantville literature, but some kind of system needs to be developed in the NTL and the ex-pilots probably know more about the historical formats than anyone else in town.



Observations Generally


In part 1 (Grantville Gazette 72) I discussed measurement of temperature, humidity, and precipitation, and in part 2 (Grantville Gazette 73), pressure and surface wind speed and direction. But there are other meteorological variables of interest.

The observer may and should also report on the appearance of the sky—the percentage covered by clouds, the types of clouds seen, and their apparent rate and direction of movement. The vocabulary of clouds was developed by Luke Howard (1772-1864), and there are definitely books in the Grantville public and school libraries that illustrate the cloud genera (e.g., "altocumulus"). They are less likely to drill down to the level of species (e.g., stratiformis vs. floccus) or variety (opacus, translucidus, etc.) (Pretor-Pinney) but it is doubtful that these minutiae will be useful from a forecasting standpoint.

Observation stations may be on land or on the water, and with the right equipment they can make upper air as well as near-surface observations. They also be manned or unmanned (automated).

Automated stations require recording instruments (meteorographs). All must connect the sensor so that a change in the meteorological variable causes a movement of the recording element. Often some sort of amplification is necessary. The recording element must in turn produce a record: e.g., by causing a pen to move across or intermittently press against paper, scraping a smoked or silvered surface with a stylus, or causing a spot of light (natural or artificial) to traverse photosensitive paper. Finally, the recording medium is mounted on a drum that is rotated at a uniform rate by clockwork (MiddletonMM 6ff). Generally speaking, meteorographs have to be periodically recalibrated against the corresponding meteorometers.

Automated stations can be expected to receive maintenance visits only occasionally, and are likely to be used primarily in harsh environments where it is difficult for a human to live, and thus must be engineered with robustness in mind.

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About Iver P. Cooper

Iver P. Cooper, an intellectual property law attorney, lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and two children. Two cats and a chinchilla rule the household with iron paws. Iver has received legal writing awards from the American Patent Law Association, the U.S. Trademark Association, and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, and is the sole author of Biotechnology and the Law, now in its twenty-something edition. He has frequently contributed both fiction and nonfiction to The Grantville Gazette.


When not writing (or trying to get an “orange blob” off his chair so he can start writing), he has been known to teach swing dancing and folk dancing, or to compete in local photo club competitions. Iver adds, “I can’t get my wife to read my fiction, but she has no trouble cashing the checks.”

Iver’s story “The Chase” is in Ring of Fire II