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Weather

Prediction by Numbers

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries really began to put weather on the map. In 1600, Galileo built the first primitive thermometer. Later, his student Torricelli made the first barometer. Mathematicians such as Descartes and Pascal began to explain the principle of the physical world in a special mathematical language. By 1660, the barometer was first used to predict the weather. During the middle of the century, one of the greatest scholars of all time was born. With his work, Principia, published during the second half of the century, Sir Isaac Newton laid the foundation of physics for the next 200 years and provided the scientific framework of weather forecasting.

That was the first Renaissance in meteorology—the second one came in the twentieth century. That's when the tools were developed to actually take Newton's principles and apply them to forecasting tomorrow's weather. The basic laws that made the weather happen were pretty much defined by the end of the seventeenth century. Additional principles were uncovered and refined through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Certainly by the turn of the twentieth century, a completely objective and mathematical forecast could be made. Forget about looking at clouds, looking outside, or trying to sense what could happen next. Just use Newton's calculations and devise a solution from the basic physical laws. It seemed easy enough—until it was tried.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Weather © 2002 by Mel Goldstein, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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