After we unsubscribed from our cable TV a year or so ago, we signed up for a number of streaming services. One of these little rascals is BritBox, which offers a tremendous collection of programs from British TV, including dramas, comedies, mysteries, documentaries, soaps, lifestyle programs, and more, all for only $6.99 a month.
In turn, one of these programs is a daily breakfast show called Good Morning Britain, in which Piers Morgan, Susanna Reid, and a bunch of other characters tackle the latest news, sport, and weather from the UK. I like to catch the occasional episode here and there to help me stay in tune with what’s happening back in the old country.
I was watching yesterday morning’s show last night (if you see what I mean). At one point, the weather forecaster said that the rest of the week would be “Wet and windy with more rain to come.” As I heard these words, I had a flashback to the summer holidays of my youth. I told my wife (Gina the Gorgeous) that this was pretty much the same weather forecast I’d heard for the first 33 years of my life (which goes some way to explain why I now live in America).
I was joking, of course. The whole country enjoyed a fortnight of perfect weather in the summer of 1975, and we were spoiled by another flawless fortnight in 1976. People from England are still regaling each other with tantalizing tales about these four glorious weeks, desperately wringing any drop of happiness out of them that they can whilst yearning to see the sun once more before finally shrugging off this mortal coil.
As an aside, do you know how to use a piece of seaweed to determine the weather? The next time you go to the beach, pick up a large piece of the widest seaweed you can find and dry it out in the sun. When you return home, if you want to know what’s going on weather-wise, place the seaweed in the palm of your hand, stick your arm out of a window, and wait 20 or 30 seconds. When you bring your arm back in, look at the seaweed; if it’s wet, then it’s raining, but we digress…
All this set me to thinking about how we’ve grown used to anticipating the weather. In addition to the ever-present news on the radio, television, and the internet, all I have to do at home or in my office is say “Alexa, what’s the forecast for tomorrow?” to be informed of the predicted high and low temperatures (see also What the FAQ are Celsius and Fahrenheit?), prevailing and anticipated windspeeds, and the expected chances of precipitation or snow.
I can also use weather apps on my smartphone or tablet computer — or the web browsers on any of my other computers — to provide me with 10-day forecasts, but how did people predict the weather before modern technology?
I just had a quick Google for “How did people predict the weather before modern technology?” Perhaps not surprisingly, the first suggestion was an Observer article titled How People Predicted the Weather Before Modern Technology.
As this article notes, “[…] before satellites and computers, people didn’t have much to go on when trying to figure out what the weather would be like later that day, much less tomorrow and beyond.”
Following the invention of things like thermometers and barometers, the next major technological leap involved the invention of the electric telegraph. The first commercial system in England was the needle-based Cooke and Wheatstone telegraph, which was invented in 1837. But the system that came to dominate the market was the armature-based American version, which was invented by Samuel Finley Breese Morse in 1838. This allowed people to send telegrams saying things like “There’s a really bad storm here with 60 MPH winds and it’s heading south-west at 15 miles an hour.” If you happened to be located 250 miles south-west of the message’s originator, for example, then you now had a clue that it would be a good idea to carry an umbrella if you were planning on being out-and-about in 16 hours’ time.
These days, it has to be acknowledged that weather forecasting is coming along in leaps and bounds. I remember how hit-and-miss everything was in the 1970s, which really isn’t all that long ago. I know we all joke about how unpredictable the weather is, but it’s a heck of a lot more predictable than it was.
I like reading post-apocalyptic tales and watching shows and films in this genre. One thing that’s rarely mentioned in these stories is the challenge of forecasting the weather. We take so many things for granted, but I bet that if everything went pear-shaped and we lost access to our satellites, computers, and the internet, it wouldn’t take long before we realized just how wonderful modern weather forecasting technology really is. How about you? Do you have any thoughts you’d care to share on this topic?