Theory Development and Application

In the immediate postwar years, European nations recognized the importance of strong military and civilian aviation programs and devoted financial resources to supporting meteorological services. As Bergen School techniques continued to evolve, European weather services adopted their air mass analysis and frontal theories. Not confined to forecasting the weather, these university-trained meteorologists also conducted extensive atmospheric research.

The United States was not so forward-looking. Demobilization at the close of the Great War left the nation with only a skeleton crew of trained meteorologists—most of whom had no college education at all—to provide general and aviation weather services to the entire country. The budget for the U.S. Weather Bureau was so small (two cents per capita) that the department struggled to keep up with competing demands from agriculture, industry, and aviation. With no dedicated meteorology programs in U.S. colleges and universities, the Weather Bureau was forced to train everyone on the job. Weak in mathematics and physics—the very subjects required for understanding Bergen School methods—and demoralized by being the lowest-paid scientists on the government payroll, bureau forecasters were extremely reluctant to adopt Bjerknes's methods.

The advances in mathematical meteorology did not eliminate work on statistical methods of forecasting based on "cycles"—many of which had absolutely no relation to factors related to the weather. Claims for these methods put meteorologists on the defensive as they attempted to dissuade the general population from listening to people they considered to be cranks and quacks. While some people still promoted cycles, the British meteorologist Lewis Fry Richardson was proposing that future weather could be forecast by finding a mathematical solution to the so-called primitive equations—the equations of motion, the hydrodynamic equation, and the thermodynamic equation. Although this first-ever attempt at numerical weather prediction was a huge failure, it did lead meteorologists to consider alternate ways of calculating the weather.

In the 1920s the rapid advances in meteorological theory that had been under development since the first decade of the century continued. Climatology remained a descriptive science but was increasingly used in the service of weather forecasting.

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