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Old 05-23-2016, 12:14 PM
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Reaction to early weather forecasting?


Hi SD,

I am not a historian or history buff so I am not sure when this happened, but I'm curious to know the reaction of the general population to the first correctly proven weather prediction.

In other words, I want to know how people who had for years believed that weather was influenced by divine or supernatural sources, would have reacted when some random person started showing that it was possible to predict weather with some degree of accuracy based on science and practicable techniques?

When did this happen, in what culture, and did the general population immediately get behind science or did they stick to their traditional beliefs? As knowing the weather was vitally important to people in the past (for farming, certainly) did the rise of science shake their belief in a supernatural or divine being? It seems like it would if people all of a sudden realized that "God" or whoever doesn't control the weather, and that there is nothing humans could do to influence it (whether through prayer or sacrifice). Are there any records of this happening?

Thanks,

Dave
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Old 05-23-2016, 12:50 PM
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If I may change the OP's question a bit ... when did scientific weather predictions become important ... then the answer would be World War I, because of the new aviation corps. The term "weather front" comes from the "battle front" idea.

I would think the basic devote Catholic medieval farmer knew that when the skies were clear during the day in mid-spring, it was going to freeze that night and he should try to protect his young plants.

Here where I live, if it's sunny and warm, and then a layer of high cirrus clouds starts moving in, it's a sure bet it'll rain within 24 hours. I'd be hard pressed to believe the original Native Americans wouldn't notice this 10,000 years ago.

OTOP, there's still people who believe hurricanes striking Miami is atonement of sin from God.

The opinion of the general population would have changed slowly, over many generations. It's not like they would be surprised, accurate weather predictions would have already been fairly common.

We also need to address what you mean by "accurate". We're a hell of a lot better than even 50 years ago, but it's still something of a crap shoot. I once had a 3am forecast of "wet, windy and cold", couple hours later it dawned on me that the day was going to be "dry, calm and warm". Turns out the relative humidity was a single percentage point lower than expected, and that made all the difference.

Perhaps we still have to wait to find out the general population's reaction to accurate weather forecasts ...

Last edited by watchwolf49; 05-23-2016 at 12:53 PM.
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Old 05-23-2016, 01:02 PM
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...the reaction of the general population to the first correctly proven weather prediction....
Ironically, the idea that a single "correctly proven" prediction validates a method is precisely the cognitive flaw (confirmation bias) that leads to superstition and folklore! There have been attempts to forecast the weather as a purely natural phenomenon for thousands of years, but (like early medicine) absent rigorous scientific methods the relevant causal factors could not be reliably distinguished or understood.

The development of accurate weather forecasting required two things: rigorous statistical methods, and rapid transmission of data over large distances. The latter came about only in the early nineteenth century with the invention of the telegraph.

So, there was never a primitive society that was suddenly confronted with the philosophical challenge of consistently accurate weather forecasts. The first accurate weather forecasting was roughly concurrent with Darwin's presentation of the theory of evolution.

Last edited by Riemann; 05-23-2016 at 01:04 PM.
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Old 05-23-2016, 02:42 PM
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Weather forecasting has been around a long time, and the tools have been getting progressively better along with communication methods. Early on, they had strictly local tools (anemometers, thermometers, hygrometers and barometers), and shared their observations by telegraph. They also didn't have decades of precise observations to look back on. As you can imagine, this was extremely imprecise.

For example in 1900, some Cuban Jesuit forecasters had correctly interpreted their observations with the help of hundreds of years of observations in Cuba, but due to American arrogance, that information never made it to Galveston.

Meanwhile, the Cline brothers in Galveston (of the US Weather Bureau) misinterpreted their own observations (likely due to lack of historical context, IMO) and failed to order an evacuation in time, and as a result, between 6,000 and 12,000 people died in the storm.

But over time, the tools got better, and the communication and coordination got better, so that they could at least predict large storms beforehand, and even tornadoes based on patterns seen in radar.
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Old 05-23-2016, 02:48 PM
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I don't understand what a "correctly proven weather prediction" is. Obviously it must have happened many times, even back in paleolithic times, that someone said, "I think it's going to rain tomorrow", and then it rained the next day. Does that count?

--Mark
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Old 05-23-2016, 03:19 PM
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Weather Prediction is not a science.
It is a Black Art.
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Old 05-23-2016, 03:22 PM
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Weather Prediction is not a science.
It is a Black Art.
So true ... so true ...
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Old 05-23-2016, 03:24 PM
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It's not like you need 21st century weather pattern models to say "it's cloudy; might rain today"... people have been saying that ever since there were people. From there, it's just a bunch of gradual steps, to 'a falling barometer often means bad weather' to 'telegraph says cold weather at the state line, probably moving this way' to 1960's weather maps to 2016 seven-day forecasts. I don't think there's any one point where weather forecasting suddenly went from guessing to remarkably accurate science.
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Old 05-23-2016, 03:31 PM
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Today's xkcd seems relevant - don't miss the mouseover text.

http://xkcd.com/1684/
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Old 05-23-2016, 03:40 PM
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It rained all weekend so I couldn't cut the grass.

Today, the forecast was blue skies. So I came home and began mowing. I was an hour in, about 25% completed, and a black cloud burst overhead. Fuck you, forecaster.
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Old 05-23-2016, 03:56 PM
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It's not like you need 21st century weather pattern models to say "it's cloudy; might rain today"... people have been saying that ever since there were people. From there, it's just a bunch of gradual steps, to 'a falling barometer often means bad weather' to 'telegraph says cold weather at the state line, probably moving this way' to 1960's weather maps to 2016 seven-day forecasts. I don't think there's any one point where weather forecasting suddenly went from guessing to remarkably accurate science.
[My bolding]
I don't think this is an accurate representation. Ancient socieities had a jumbled mish-mash of real relevant factors such as cloud formations mixed in with a vast amount of superstition and nonsense, and no reliable way to distinguish between them. "Folk medicine" is similar - a few grains of truth subsumed by superstition. It's not just "gradual steps" to get from there to modern scientific knowledge.

Is there any evidence that medieval weather forecasting was any better than that of any ancient civilization?

The Enlightenment brought a qualitative and fundamental change in our approach to knowledge. Respect for evidence, the development of the scientific method, an understanding of the need for rigorous experimental methods to counter human cognitive flaws.

For weather forecasting in particular, the development of rigorous statistical methods and the technology for rapid data transfer across large distances did indeed mark a point where it quite quickly "went from guessing to remarkably accurate science".

Last edited by Riemann; 05-23-2016 at 03:59 PM.
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Old 05-23-2016, 04:09 PM
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Satellite imagery ... these help with forecasting, but there's a lot they don't say.

However, they're excellent if we want to know the weather right now anywhere in the hemisphere ... shipping and aviation ... they want to know where that hurricane is right now.
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Old 05-23-2016, 05:32 PM
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Originally Posted by pianodave View Post
Hi SD,

I am not a historian or history buff so I am not sure when this happened, but I'm curious to know the reaction of the general population to the first correctly proven weather prediction.

In other words, I want to know how people who had for years believed that weather was influenced by divine or supernatural sources, would have reacted when some random person started showing that it was possible to predict weather with some degree of accuracy based on science and practicable techniques?

When did this happen, in what culture, and did the general population immediately get behind science or did they stick to their traditional beliefs? As knowing the weather was vitally important to people in the past (for farming, certainly) did the rise of science shake their belief in a supernatural or divine being? It seems like it would if people all of a sudden realized that "God" or whoever doesn't control the weather, and that there is nothing humans could do to influence it (whether through prayer or sacrifice). Are there any records of this happening?

Thanks,

Dave
I think your idea of how ancients viewed weather is flawed. Yes they probably thought that supernatural forces could be called upon to change weather, or use weather, but they would also have noticed patterns and used weather signs since forever. Basically the ideas of weather being somewhat predictable and deities controlling weather has existed in parallel as long as people have been able to think ahead.
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Old 05-23-2016, 06:17 PM
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I think your idea of how ancients viewed weather is flawed. Yes they probably thought that supernatural forces could be called upon to change weather, or use weather, but they would also have noticed patterns and used weather signs since forever. Basically the ideas of weather being somewhat predictable and deities controlling weather has existed in parallel as long as people have been able to think ahead.
I hear what you are saying, but I am not sure I can understand how someone who sees patterns could ever believe that there is a supernatural force at the same time. Maybe they believe their deity created these patterns? Is that what happened?

Did the ancients just fit the patterns they saw into their religious worldview?

Come to think of it, in my Jewish prayerbook there's a prayer that thanks God for creating the seasons, the tides, etc. So is this idea a universal one? i.e. God (or any given deity) controls the weather and creates the seasons?

Religion must be really flexible to take random events and still process them within the framework of belief. I find it interesting that despite all the small and large scale catastrophes that have occurred, the need to believe outweighs the physical evidence of a random natural world.
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Old 05-23-2016, 07:46 PM
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Originally Posted by pianodave View Post
I hear what you are saying, but I am not sure I can understand how someone who sees patterns could ever believe that there is a supernatural force at the same time. Maybe they believe their deity created these patterns? Is that what happened?

Did the ancients just fit the patterns they saw into their religious worldview?

Come to think of it, in my Jewish prayerbook there's a prayer that thanks God for creating the seasons, the tides, etc. So is this idea a universal one? i.e. God (or any given deity) controls the weather and creates the seasons?

Religion must be really flexible to take random events and still process them within the framework of belief. I find it interesting that despite all the small and large scale catastrophes that have occurred, the need to believe outweighs the physical evidence of a random natural world.
I don't think that it is unlikely that people expected *some* regularity from their deities, especially the benign ones. It is perfectly sensible that before SkyWaterMake gets to work, that he might have a smoke (or light a fire and boil water; or some such), and those wise enough to read the signs might see what he was up to. Apply to any true or false weather sign you like, rinse, repeat.

It's not too cognitively different from us having to deal with unpredictable weather despite or super-science. We make excuses or call the weatherman stupid, etc.

Personally, I am amazed that they can make halfway decent predictions, especially 5-10 days out. Someday I'm going to learn more about weather predicting. But not real soon.
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Old 05-23-2016, 08:28 PM
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Spegetti Charts ... hold the marinara please ...
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Old 05-23-2016, 09:01 PM
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I hear what you are saying, but I am not sure I can understand how someone who sees patterns could ever believe that there is a supernatural force at the same time. Maybe they believe their deity created these patterns? Is that what happened?
The ancient deity didn't just make it rain. First, it would shift the wind to a different direction, then make the clouds gather in the sky, then tell the birds and beasts to be quiet and take shelter, then perhaps tell the temperature to drop a few degrees, then finally, to make rain.

An alert shaman (or a good farmer, for that matter) might be able to pick up on these signs hours before the rain actually arrived. Would that count as "predicting" what was going to happen?

Last edited by Kent Clark; 05-23-2016 at 09:01 PM.
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Old 05-23-2016, 09:40 PM
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Originally Posted by pianodave View Post
I hear what you are saying, but I am not sure I can understand how someone who sees patterns could ever believe that there is a supernatural force at the same time. Maybe they believe their deity created these patterns? Is that what happened?

Did the ancients just fit the patterns they saw into their religious worldview?

Come to think of it, in my Jewish prayerbook there's a prayer that thanks God for creating the seasons, the tides, etc. So is this idea a universal one? i.e. God (or any given deity) controls the weather and creates the seasons?

Religion must be really flexible to take random events and still process them within the framework of belief. I find it interesting that despite all the small and large scale catastrophes that have occurred, the need to believe outweighs the physical evidence of a random natural world.
I think the whole natural/supernatural distinction is a modern one. To the pre-modern mind, God created and sustained everything, and if the weather (or anything else) unfolded exactly as was usual and expected, that was as much God's doing as an unexpected weather event. It was only because of God that any weather happened at all.

And of course the natural world, when it came to weather, didn't look particulary random. The seasons unfold with regularity; they're not random at all. And since the cycle of the seasons is enormously beneficial to us - it's the foundation of most agricultural practices - naturally you thank God for it. Hence, harvest festivals.

There could be particular random events - rain at an unexpected time, for instance, but they only stood out because they were a departure from a well-observed pattern. And while you might ascribe them to God, they weren't any more God's doing than the well-observed pattern was.

(For "God" substitute "gods" or "the ancestors" or any other term appropriate to any pre-modern culture. This is pretty much a standard pre-modern take on the relationship between divinity and nature.)
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Old 05-23-2016, 10:24 PM
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[snip] ... An alert shaman (or a good farmer, for that matter) might be able to pick up on these signs hours before the rain actually arrived. Would that count as "predicting" what was going to happen?
Heck no ... once the shaman saw the signs ... he'd grab his gourd rattles, do his "shake-yo-booty" dance, bite the inside of his cheeks, fake an epileptic seizure ... THEN predict what would happen ...

Today ... once the meteorologist sees the signs ... he spins his wet-bulb hydrometer, write out some very complex math equations, look through a pile of computer spew, stare at the radar screen for twenty minutes ... THEN make his predictions ...

They wouldn't have to be right all that often to mesmerize a willing public.
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Old 05-23-2016, 11:05 PM
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I heard that the ancient Pharaohs had people who could tell him when the annual Nile flood would come.

He would then "order" the river to flood.

Fools the rubes.

(the flood is what brought down fertile soil - it was viewed as a 'good thing')
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Old 05-23-2016, 11:49 PM
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I heard that the ancient Pharaohs had people who could tell him when the annual Nile flood would come.

He would then "order" the river to flood.

Fools the rubes.

(the flood is what brought down fertile soil - it was viewed as a 'good thing')
Not quite. The Pharaoh, at the behest of the priests (who were the ones who could predict the flood) would ask the gods to cause the Nile to flood.

And they didn't think - so far as we know - that the gods only flooded the river because the Pharaoh asked them too. The gods would make up their own minds about whether and when to flood the river. The point of the Pharaoh's intercession was to please the gods by acknowledging their transcendent power over the flooding. And, of course, if the gods were pleased, then they were more likely to decide to arrange for a bounteous flooding.
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Old 05-24-2016, 09:20 AM
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I know when they first went into space and could then see hurricanes forming, everybody was quite glad they could predict those! It was a very welcome advance.
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Old 05-24-2016, 09:50 AM
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I knew that Almanacs had been around for a long time and, while definitely not trying to give minute by minute probabilistic updates, included weather predictions. After all, it's not as if "windy in the Ebro Valley" takes a genius... it's the default setting! The Almanaque de Bristol is in continuous publication since 1832, it is published in New Jersey for multiple Latin American markets and doesn't get listed in the English Wiki entry for Almanac. The Calendario Zaragozano (link in Spanish) has been around since 1840 and its name is a reference to one which used to be published back in the 16th century.

Their Greek name turns out to be Parapegma (well, in Greek letters) and they've been around for... quite a while. The oldest combined other astronomic information with the kind of stuff we now call "the weather", which after all isn't so different from having the weather man tell us about upcoming eclipses or star showers.

Last edited by Nava; 05-24-2016 at 09:51 AM.
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Old 05-24-2016, 10:30 AM
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I knew that Almanacs had been around for a long time...
The purported long-range weather forecasts in almanacs are complete nonsense, on a par with astrology. Any perceived success is confirmation bias.
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Old 05-24-2016, 11:58 AM
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The Enlightenment brought a qualitative and fundamental change in our approach to knowledge. Respect for evidence, the development of the scientific method, an understanding of the need for rigorous experimental methods to counter human cognitive flaws.

For weather forecasting in particular, the development of rigorous statistical methods and the technology for rapid data transfer across large distances did indeed mark a point where it quite quickly "went from guessing to remarkably accurate science".
Now, I'm no expert on weather forecasting; all I know is from the Wikipedia article. But from that, the Enlightenment may have been all that and a bag of chips, but all it brought to weather forecasting was the barometer. Which was useful and improved things, but not in a world-view-shattering way.

Rapid data transfer didn't happen until the mid 1800's and even then it started slowly and very gradually got better. Over the next century and a half, there were significant advances in theory, computers brought greatly improved modeling, and satellite sensing was another step forward in data transfer, but no single dramatic change. I also submit that anyone impressed by modern (1850+) weather prediction will have had many, many chances to be much more impressed by other aspects of modern science.
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Old 05-24-2016, 12:22 PM
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Actually, there are early examples of weather forecasting devices that are absolutely accurate:

http://s33.postimg.org/i26l2b933/wea...orecasting.jpg

The scientific genius is remarkable, even by modern standards.
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Old 05-24-2016, 12:28 PM
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I hear what you are saying, but I am not sure I can understand how someone who sees patterns could ever believe that there is a supernatural force at the same time. Maybe they believe their deity created these patterns? Is that what happened?
Of course. Plenty of people believe in God as the creator of the universe. If he's capable of doing that, why wouldn't he be capable of creating physical laws, patterns, and jillions of other things that humans discover? In fact, if he created the universe, how could he NOT have created the patterns? The patterns just show how clever God is. They don't disprove his existence.
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Old 05-24-2016, 01:14 PM
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The purported long-range weather forecasts in almanacs are complete nonsense, on a par with astrology. Any perceived success is confirmation bias.
Well, like I said, it doesn't take a lot to predict wind in the Ebro Valley. They weren't trying for more accuracy that that, and succeeding in such a prediction is not confirmation bias - it's knowledge of the weather patterns for the location, as what's weird in most of the Ebro Valley is when the wind isn't blowing (most because the Lleida Well is an exception). But it's not as if people had not been used to weather predictions before weather satellites. Those run by locals based on their knowledge of local weather patterns tend to be pretty good.

Last edited by Nava; 05-24-2016 at 01:18 PM.
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