Weather Prophets

Prior to the end of World War II, only government weather offices provided national forecasts. Before radio and television, forecasts were often posted in public places such as post offices and train stations, and occasionally printed in some big city newspapers. As a government service, weather forecasts were free. Free or not, most people were dissatisfied with them.

Forecasts were most effective when they were tailored to a specific customer, for example, a farmer, construction firm, or road crew. Government forecasts were not tailored. By trying to meet everyone's needs, often they met no one's needs. People who needed long-range forecasts were willing to pay for them and they looked to whoever was willing to provide them.

Entrepreneurs who saw an opportunity to make money from long-range weather forecasting were referred to as weather prophets. Weather prophets shared some common characteristics:

• They were not part of a scientific community.

• Most had absolutely no training in meteorology.

• They dismissed government forecasters as "failures" because they declined to give long-range forecasts.

• Weather prophets claimed that unlike government forecasters, they could produce an accurate forecast well in advance—and they could do so without even making a meteorological observation.

Weather prophets did not analyze weather data to make predictions. Some made forecasts based on the behavior or appearance of animals. For example, heavily furred animals in the fall indicated a very cold winter. Others forecasted the weather by the motion of the Moon across the night sky, or by the position of planets and stars. Some weather prophets depended upon periodicities: recurring cycles of hot or cold, dry or wet weather. A few just used climatologi-cal records, basing their forecasts on long-term averages of temperature and precipitation—free information available from the U.S. Weather Bureau.

Weather prophets had a variety of backgrounds: Clergymen, naturalists, farmers, and woodsmen were equally likely to be weather prophets. They were accepted by the general public because most people thought meteorology was about guessing the weather, and one person's guess was as good as another's. Weather prophets had successful careers because so little was known about the atmosphere. For meteorologists, tired of taking time from their busy days to answer the nonscientific claims of weather prophets, the time had come to put their work on a more scientific footing.

weather forecasts. The U.S. Weather Bureau refused to provide such predictions because there was no science to support them. Others who made weather predictions were not worried about atmospheric science. They were very pleased to provide farmers with long-range forecasts—for a price.

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