Weather Notebook
Bryan Yeaton

Mon Mar 17, 2003

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Lewis Fry Richardson: he wrote the groundbreaking thesis on numerical weather prediction while driving an ambulance during World War I. Hi, I'm Bryan Yeaton for The Weather Notebook.

During lulls between transporting wounded French soldiers, Richardson developed forecasting techniques -- equations for atmospheric motion -- using only pencils, paper, slide rule and logarithm tables. When finished, his research produced perhaps the most famous book in modern meteorology, "Weather Prediction by Numerical Process."

Richardson envisioned practical global weather forecasts produced by 64,000 computers working in unison. But his computers were not silicon chips; they were slide-rule-wielding human beings.

Richardson visualized his forecast-factory as a great spherical hall, its walls painted as a global map. The computing team members calculated results for the map region where each sat: arctic zones near the ceiling, England in the gallery, tropics at center, Antarctica in the pit.

From the pit floor, a large pulpit rose to mid-hall. Here sat the operation coordinator, like an orchestra conductor, combining individual efforts into a single, coordinated product, and assuring uniform progress over all parts of the globe.

Richardson's initial forecast, unfortunately, was a bust. While the actual weather changed slightly over the forecast period, his calculations predicted barometric pressure rising fast enough to make ears pop.

But though his forecast failed, Richardson had foretold the future of weather prediction. For this he is heralded as the grandfather of numerical weather prediction.

The Weather Notebook is a production of The Mount Washington Observatory, and is supported by Subaru of America, and The National Science Foundation.

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