Weather by the Numbers
For much of the first half of the twentieth century, meteorology was more art than science, dependent on an individual forecaster's lifetime of local experience. In Weather by the Numbers, Kristine Harper tells the story of the transformation of meteorology from a "guessing science" into a sophisticated scientific discipline based on physics and mathematics. What made this possible was the development of the electronic digital computer; earlier attempts at numerical weather prediction had foundered on the human inability to solve nonlinear equations quickly enough for timely forecasting. After World War II, the combination of an expanded observation network developed for military purposes, newly trained meteorologists, savvy about math and physics, and the nascent digital computer created a new way of approaching atmospheric theory and weather forecasting.
Harper examines the efforts of meteorologists to professionalize their discipline during the interwar years and the rapid expansion of personnel and observational assets during World War II. She describes how, by the 1950s, academic, Weather Bureau, and military meteorologists had moved atmospheric modeling from research subject to operational forecasting. Challenging previous accounts that give sole credit for the development of numerical weather prediction to digital computer inventor John von Neumann, Harper points to the crucial contributions of Carl-Gustav Rossby (founder of MIT's meteorology program and a member of the "Scandinavian Tag Team" working with von Neumann). This transformation of a discipline, Harper writes, was the most important intellectual achievement of twentieth-century meteorology, and paved the way for the growth of computer-assisted modeling in all the sciences.
About the Author
Kristine C. Harper is Kristine C. Harper is Associate Professor of History at The Florida State University in Tallahassee. In 2007-2008, she was a Fellow at the Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow.
“Harper’s exhaustive archival research and entertaining narrative enliven the history of numerical weather prediction as an important development of meteorological science that continues to shape the way scientists understand the weather and climate, both in the present and in the future.” — Ruth Morgan, Metascience
"Kristine C. Harper illuminates the 'genesis' of numerical weather prediction,its 'exodus' from Weather Bureau captivity, and its arrival at the edge of adigital 'promised land.' Her ordering and 'numbering' of the meteorologicaltribes is anchored in archival sources and enlivened by her sense of a goodstory."
James R. Fleming, Department of Science, Technology, and Society, ColbyCollege
"Between 1945 and 1965, digital computers revolutionized weather forecasting, transforming an intuitive art into the first computational science. Deeply researched and beautifully written, Weather by the Numbers delivers the definitive account of this exceedingly important story, filled with complex, well-drawn characters, political maneuvers, risky physics, and creaky new technology."
Paul N. Edwards, School of Information, University of Michigan
"Kristine Harper tells a great and important story in Weather by the Numbers, a story which should interest a wide range of intelligent readers, not just historians of science. People interested in the influence of scientists in national and international policy should read it. So should those interested in the fundamental changes that occurred in the 20th century between humanity and the planet."
Gregory A. Good, Acting Chair, and Director of Graduate Studies, History Department, West Virginia University
Winner, History Category, 2008 ASLI's Choice Award given by the Atmospheric Science Librarians International.