National Geographic : 1901 Oct
THE WEATHER BUREAU::: BY WILLIS L. MOORE, LL. D., CHIEF U. S. WEATHER BUREAU ABOUT the only knowledge that most people have of the workings of the United States Weather Bureau of the Department of Agricult ure is gathered from the daily predic tion of rain or snow that they encounter at the breakfast table as they glance over the morning paper. They base their estimate of the utility of the weather service on the accuracy of the predictions thus hastily scanned, and many are prone to inquire whether it is true that this service has really made a place for itself in the great industrial economy of our country; whether or not an adequate return is made for the expenditure of over $i,ooo,ooo annu ally ; whether the science of weather forecasting has reached its highest de gree of accuracy, and whether it holds out possibilities of future improvement. They would doubtless be amazed if they knew the thousand and one ramifications through which it reaches, daily, prob ably more than one-half of our adult population. The United States Government spends more for scientific research than any other country in the world. Today every wheel turns with scientific precision, and the arts, the manufactures, and the com merce of this wonderful country are, by the aid of systematic knowledge, being developed far beyond the dreams of the most optimistic person of a quarter of a century ago. The ingenuity of the Yankee and the skill of the American mechanic are only physical and outward manifestations of the inward spirit whose life has been called into existence by the many schools, colleges, and polytechnic institutions with which our broad land is dotted and which, through the knowl edge that they reveal of the forces of nature, enable man to harness the in visible powers and make them obedient to his will. Probably in no way have we shown our aptitude in divining from apparent confusion some fundamental principles and in applying those princi ples to the commerce and the industry of our country more than in the devel opment of the present meteorological service. Where but a few years ago man thought that chaos reigned supreme we are now, by the aid of simultaneous daily meteorological observations, able to trace out the harmonious relations of many physical laws that were previously but little understood. DFVELOPMENT OF METEOROLOGICAL SCIENCE It will be interesting to note that at the time of the founding of the first of the thirteen colonies, at Jamestown, Va., in 1607, practically nothing was known of the properties of the air or of meth ods for measuring its phenomena. It was not until 1643, twenty-three years after the landing of the Pilgrims on Plymouth Rock, that Torricelli discov ered the principle of the barometer and rendered it possible to measure the weight of the superincumbent air at any spot where the wonderful, yet sim ple, little instrument might be placed. Torricelli's great teacher, Galileo, died without knowing why nature, under certain conditions, abhors a vacuum; but he had discovered the principle of the thermometer. The data from the readings of these two instruments form * An address presented at the Convention of Weather Bureau Officials, Milwaukee, Wiscon sin, August 27-29, 1901.