Weather by the Numbers
The Genesis of Modern Meteorology
- Winner, History Category, 2008 ASLI's Choice Award given by the Atmospheric Science Librarians International.
320 pp., 6 x 9 in, 20 illus.
- Published: January 13, 2012
- Publisher: The MIT Press
- Published: August 1, 2008
- Publisher: The MIT Press
The history of the growth and professionalization of American meteorology and its transformation into a physics- and mathematics-based scientific discipline.
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.
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.
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 maneuver, risky physics, and creaky new technology.
Paul N. Edwards, School of Information, University of Michigan
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 Fleming, Department of Science, Technology, and Society, Colby College
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 futurre.