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Mostly Weather Episode 1 - Weather Forecasting Through Time

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Did you know that once upon a time weather forecasting was actually illegal under the sorcery act?


In this the first episode of Mostly Weather, podcast team members Niall Robinson (@NiallHRobinson) and Claire Witham are joined by Catherine Ross from the Met Office archives, to tackle the topic of weather forecasting through time.

They investigate the very first weather forecast, the birth of statistical forecast modelling, find out about Lewis Fry Richardson's forecast factory and talk about the founder of modern weather forecasting and the Met Office, Sir Robert FitzRoy. They also look into the history of supercomputing and explore the relationship between chaos theory and forecasting.

Additional show notes

1) The first hand written public weather forecast by Robert FitzRoy

First public weather forecast by Robert FitzRoy on 31st July 1861

2) A pencil sketch of Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy

Pencil sketch of Robert FitzRoy

3) FitzRoy's storm warning signals - the signals used to warn shipping of approaching gales in what is thought to be the world's first national forecasting system (the service is now known as the Shipping Forecast therefore the Shipping Forecast can be considered the world's first national weather forecasting service).

Storm warning signals

4) FitzRoy's storm barometer - the barometer he designed with Negretti and Zambra for the use of fishermen

FitzRoy's Storm Barometer

5) Lewis Fry Richardson - artists impression of a forecast factory....the text below is really helpful in understanding it (the text is Richardson's own description of his factory)

Lewis Fry Richardson's Forecast Factory

'Imagine a large hall like a theatre, except that the circles and galleries go right round through the space usually occupied by the stage. The walls of this chamber are painted to form a map of the globe. The ceiling represents the north polar regions, England is in the gallery, the tropics in the upper circle, Australia on the dress circle and the Antarctic in the pit.

A myriad computers are at work upon the weather of the part of the map where each sits, but each computer attends only to one equation or part of an equation. The work of each region is coordinated by an official of higher rank. Numerous little "night signs" display the instantaneous values so that neighbouring computers can read them. Each number is thus displayed in three adjacent zones so as to maintain communication to the North and South on the map.

From the floor of the pit a tall pillar rises to half the height of the hall. It carries a large pulpit on its top. In this sits the man in charge of the whole theatre; he is surrounded by several assistants and messengers. One of his duties is to maintain a uniform speed of progress in all parts of the globe. In this respect he is like the conductor of an orchestra in which the instruments are slide-rules and calculating machines. But instead of waving a baton he turns a beam of rosy light upon any region that is running ahead of the rest, and a beam of blue light upon those who are behindhand' (Richardson 1922)

6) First Met Office super computer (English Electric KDF-9)

First Met Office super computer (English Electric KDF-9)

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