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
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
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
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.