the early meteorologists

Fara_06_15Patricia Fara at Literary Review:

The Greek origins of the word 'meteorology' indicate that trying to foretell the weather is nothing new. In Aristotle's model, the universe was divided, like a two-tiered gobstopper, into the heavens – where the planets serenely rotated in orderly circles – and the central chaotic terrestrial sphere, the skies of which extended out as far as the moon's orbit, home not only to birds, clouds and rainbows, but also to meteors. Like other transient phenomena, such as comets, meteors were often interpreted as messages from God. Only gradually were they relegated from terrestrial to astronomical science.

Following the invention of thermometers, barometers and other measuring instruments, Enlightenment gentlemen attempted to rationalise the cosmos, faithfully recording everything and anything that might help establish regular patterns of behaviour. To their humiliation, despite investing in the latest equipment, these meticulous observers were outperformed by illiterate farmers and sailors drawing on decades of experience. Even frogs and farm animals seemed more prescient, apparently possessing a sixth sense about trouble lying ahead. Self-styled experts remained fallible, especially when viewed in hindsight: in 1938, a British steam engineer correctly calculated that industrially generated carbon dioxide would cause the earth's temperature to rise, but concluded that the extra few degrees would help ward off an impending ice age.

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