Friday, January 11, 2008

Foolproof Weatherman of 1989 (1939)

The September 17, 1939 Montana Standard (Butte, MT) ran an article titled, "Foolproof Weatherman of 1989." Excerpts along with the article in its entirety appear below. My apologies to Pittsburgh.
Weather for November: First to tenth, rainy with some snow or sleet; tenth to twentieth, mostly fair, with frost and probably a severe freeze in the northern part of the state; twentieth to thirtieth, unsettled, clearing toward end of the month; Thanksgiving Day certain to be fair and only moderately cool.

Guesswork prophecy from an old-fashioned patent medicine almanac? No: official forecast, dated July 1, 1989 from the Weather Bureau headquarters in your home state. Based strictly on scientific analysis of exactly observed conditions months in advance, and made possible by improvements in instruments and mathematical methods that will come during the next 50 years.

We have the word of veteran weathermen that this kind of forecast is within the bounds of imaginable possibility, to come in the lifetime of our younger children.

A few months ago, the then chief of the U.S. Weather Bureau, Dr. Willis R. Gregg, wrote to all the leading meteorologists, both in government service and in universities throughout the country, asking them to take a holiday for a moment from the forecasting - to tell what they thought it might be like, half a century hence.

The article goes on to describe the push-button future of weather forecasting.
Looking ahead 50 years on our own account, we may vision the future chief of the U.S. Weather Bureau sitting in his laboratory. A screen is on the wall. He pushes a button, and sees a clear sky above the smoky pall of Pittsburgh (or maybe there won't be any smoke above Pittsburgh by then). He pushes another, and sees clouds scudding over Chicago, driven by a strong northwest wind. Another, and the screen blurs blind white; there is a raging blizzard at Medicine Hat. And so on, across Alaska and Siberia.

See also:
Communities May Be Weatherized (Edwardsville Intelligencer, 1952)
American Version of Postcards Showing the Year 2000 (circa 1900)
The Coming Ice Age (1982)


Charlene said...

So he thinks Medicine Hat is in the US?

Anonymous said...

The most amazing prediction was that there would be no more smoky skies in Pittsburg.

(re: comment 1 -- No one said all the sites in the meteorologist's video tour were in the U.S. ... he does go on also to name Siberia...)

Laurie Mann said...

Actually, that's been true for many years - Pittsburgh was one of the first cities in the country to institute various smog controls.

And then, the steel mills went away, so there's surprisingly little smog in Pittsburgh these days.

Due to our location, however, we're something like the 2nd or 3rd cloudiest city in the country, after Seattle and Buffalo.

What's interesting about this prediction is that is was only off by about five years. By the mid-90s, most cities had cameras that let you immediately see what the weather was like from the Internet.

Laurie Mann said...

Missed the word "has't" there - we haven't really had much smog in Pittsburgh in years!

Janet said...

"So he thinks Medicine Hat is in the US?"

Not any more than he thinks Siberia is.

Actually, I was thinking that the US weather department is probably one of the few American government departments that would even know Medecine Hat exists, being the only one that routinely looks past the borders. To get the attention of any of the others, you have to start shooting at Americans. ;o)

Anonymous said...

The writer's prediction of instantly viewing conditions around the world could also describe imaging by weather satellites, so I'd say it's remarkably prescient.

Anonymous said...

I think the point is, the author was a bit optimistic about weather prediction. You can't really, even today in the shiny 21st century, predict with that kind of accuracy what's going to happen more than 4 days ahead of time. And in my area, no more than 12 hours ahead. Stupid weathermen!


Anonymous said...

Just as architectural futurism and predictive technological models ("concept cars" etc.) tend to underestimate the engineering challenges involved, so we underestimated the complexity of the fluid dynamics that make up weather. I wonder whether chaos theory will have evolved enough in a hundred years to provide us a few percentage points more accuracy.