Let’s start with the term meteorologist. Do you know where it came from?
After all, a meteorologist does not study meteors; that job is reserved for a meteoriticist. A meteorologist studies weather, and the most common tools used through the ages are the human senses.
In the year 340 BC, the philosopher Aristotle published one of the first known works on weather called Meteorologica, perhaps the origin of the modern-day title of meteorologist. But Meteorologica was not just simply about weather. Aristotle included lessons on geology, hydrology, and even physics.
Needless to say, his work was very crude, based largely on simple interactions between the 4 elementals- fire, water, air, and earth. But his work was largely based on observation, simply recording what he saw. For example, Aristotle noted that frost formed more easily on calm, clear nights; again, the simplicity of observation.
And let’s face it, the best way to see what the weather is doing is not to look at a computer. Just stick your head out the door. Of course, I need to be able to see the weather in Tennessee today if I want to know what kind of weather to expect around here tomorrow. Enter the radar.
Weather radar, like many advancements in meteorology, was initially a military application. During World War II, operators of aviation radar noticed that certain kinds of weather, like snow or heavy rain, produced noise in their echos. As the years progressed, the ability to detect this noise gave way to the weather radar.
Combined with advancements in satellite technology in the 1960’s, meteorologists had new eyes for spotting weather. Today, we combine these tools with a few old fashioned devices- thermometers, barometers – sprinkle in a few new toys like computer models, and we get a much more complete picture of the weather.
The history of meteorology: science, pseudo-science, luck, and a healthy dose of humility. Even today, it’s still a work in progress.