Weather by the Numbers: The Genesis of Modern Meteorology
Author(s)Ferng, Jennifer H.
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Farmers sometimes relied upon the intuition of wind direction, the natural instincts of animals, imminent storm clouds and heavy rainfall to predict how the weather would influence the prosperity of their forthcoming harvest. The U.S. Weather Bureau during the early 1920s, partially composed of several thousand unpaid volunteers who collected and transmitted local observations for regional forecasts that affected crop and road services, was, at the time, an ineffective government bureaucracy that envisaged how extreme heat temperatures would impact the transport of livestock and published empirical data on fruit frost for tobacco and alfalfa seed districts. Placing the Weather Bureau as one of the many strategic organizations at the heart of meteorology’s expansion into a theoretically sophisticated science, Kristine Harper traces from World War II into the 1960s the tribulations and successes of American and European scientists who introduced numerical computing techniques to the art of forecasting the weather as part of the Meteorology Project based at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. She shifts the spotlight away from the better-known contributions of mathematical prodigy John von Neumann and instead accentuates the daily decisions made by American meteorologists collaborating with external Norwegian experts who possessed more theoretical training and time-tested experience. Harper challenges some historians’ interpretations of von Neumann’s central role in developing numerical weather prediction, represented by such works as Frederik Nebeker’s Calculating the Weather: Meteorology in the 20th Century (1995) and William Asprey’s John von Neumann and the Origins of Modern Computing (1990).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Architecture
Ferng, Jennifer. Review of “Weather by the Numbers: The Genesis of Modern Meteorology by Kristine C. Harper. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, U.S.A., 2008. 308 pp., illus. Trade. ISBN: 978-0-262-08378-2.” Leonardo 43.1 (2010): 75-76. ©2010 ISAST.
Final published version