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284674.  Mon Feb 25, 2008 3:29 pm Reply with quote

I see the Tempest Prognosticator - a method of telling the weather by leeches in glass bottles - has come up on a non-series forum. This was only the most sophisticated - and complex - form of leech forecasting, which was carried on more simply for centuries; I have here a list, which I will transcribe if required, of the positions of leeches in jars and what they tell you about the weather. For instance, If hes in continual movement, expect thunder and lightning soon.

More about the TP at

284797.  Mon Feb 25, 2008 6:37 pm Reply with quote

How they name hurricanes: post 24598.

285082.  Tue Feb 26, 2008 7:59 am Reply with quote

No discussion of forecasting can be complete without mention of the man who, according to "Predicting the Weather: Victorians and the Science of Meteorology" By Katharine Anderson (University of Chicago Press, 2005), first used the term:

When he began to send statements about the coming weather to the newspapers in August 1861, the first director of the Meteorological Department of the Board of Trade adopted, as a new term, the word "forecast." "Prophecies or predictions they are not," Robert Fitzroy wrote. "The term forecast is strictly applicable to such an opinion as is the result of a scientific combination and calculation."

Robert FitzRoy is a pretty remarkable man, not only for the fact that, for some inexplicable reason, his surname seems to have been what we in the IT trade call a "camel word" (at least, The Royal Society seem to think so, and I'm not going to argue with them).

Joining the Royal Navy at the age of 13, he was promoted to lieutenant at the age of 19 having passed the relevant examination with a previously unheard of score of 100%. After serving on the HMS Thetis and HMS Ganges, he was finally given his own command when he took over captaincy of the HMS Beagle.

The Beagle's first captain, the splendidly named "Pringle Stokes", freed up the post when he became depressed and shot himself. Rear-Admiral Sir Robert Waller Otway (for whom FitzRoy was working as flag lieutenant) then placed FitzRoy as temporary Captain of the Beagle while it finished a hydrographic survey of Tierra del Fuego and returned home.

During the survey, some locals pinched one of the Beagle's whaling boats. In retaliation, FitzRoy took four "local savages" hostage. His plan was to bring them back to England to "civilise" them, then return them on his next voyage so that they might spread Christian values to the dark continent. He began by giving them new names. A young girl (the only female) he named "Fuegia Basket". A boy he named "Jemmy Button" after the pearl button he was exchanged for. The two men of the group were named "Boat Memory" (who sadly died of smallpox shortly after docking at plymouth) and "York Minster."

For the Beagle's second voyage, FitzRoy was wary of suffering the same fate as Pringle Stokes if forced to spend months at sea with only deckhands and three Patagonians for company. This is why he advertised for a travelling companion, preferably a naturalist, with whom he could hold intelligent conversations during the voyage. As history records, the man who eventually answered that particular call was one Mr C Darwin, who went on to become moderately famous in his own right. It seems that FitzRoy introduced Darwin to Charles Lyell's "Principles of Geology" which was one of the first works that postulated the Earth was much older than described in The Bible.

Upon return from that voyage, FitzRoy was appointed Governor of New Zealand, although his lack of resources made it a virtually impossible job and he was eventually sacked and returned home. Three years later, he retired early from his final command on grounds of ill health and became a member of the Royal Society.

FitzRoy had been a protege of the famous Francis Beaufort (he of the wind scale) and his interest in meteorology lead to the president of the Royal Society recommending him as the head of a new department to collect meteorological data at sea, with the title "Meteorological Statist to the Board of Trade."

In order to better collect data, FitzRoy campaigned for barometers to be installed in every port so that sailors could consult them before setting sail. Although FitzRoy's name was associated with several different types of barometers, it's questionable whether he could be called the inventor of all of them. The barometers he campaigned for were placed in stone housings (some of which are still visible today) with engraved instructions for interpreting the results. The FitzRoy barometers were enormously popular, both because of their ease of use and their association with the highly respected Admiral FitzRoy.

Quickly FitzRoy extended his remit from not merely collecting meteorological data, but predicting storms as well. A particularly bad storm in 1859 caused the loss of the Royal Charter, and inspired FitzRoy. Readings from as far afield as Nairn, Rochefort, and Galway were sent to the Meteorological Office in London by telegraph. By 1860, daily forecasts were being published in The Times, and by 1861 the Meteorological Department of the Board of Trade was co-ordinating the world's first weather service. By 1862, the Coast Guard of the Admirality were displaying "cautionary symbols" (usually cones hoisted on a prominent mast) to warn sailors of incoming storms.

Whilst doing sterling work, the new Meteorological Office was very poorly manned and FitzRoy was very overworked. This, combined with an apparent regret over his previous embracing of such "heretical" ideas as geology and evolution (wikipedia suggests this change of tack was due to his marriage to an overly religious woman) and possibly even a genetic influence (his uncle, Viscount Castlereagh, had also committed suicide), produced a deep depression and FitzRoy died at the age of 59 after slitting his own throat.

In 2002, the United Nations World Meteorological Organisation decided that the Shipping Forecast region of Finisterre should be renamed since, although having been used since 1949 to refer to a patch of the Atlantic near Spain, the Spanish also used the name "Finisterre" to refer to a smaller patch of the same ocean. To avoid confusion, the British Shipping Forecast region was renamed "Fitzroy" in honour of Robert FiztRoy's pioneering efforts in meteorology.


285089.  Tue Feb 26, 2008 8:07 am Reply with quote

The admirable Fitzroy also pops up in
post 62073


post 60998

286485.  Thu Feb 28, 2008 8:34 am Reply with quote

American weather forecasters:

Dallas Raines

Storm Field

286496.  Thu Feb 28, 2008 8:45 am Reply with quote

Some of the "red sky at night"-type folk wisdom is valid, isn't it? Mackerel skies and mares' tails, for one.

Also, hanging a bit of seaweed up in the kitchen always worked for my grandma and has the whiff of various things including possible merit, to my nose.

289846.  Tue Mar 04, 2008 4:24 am Reply with quote

Not weather forecasting, but on the subject of astrology, this just in:
British intelligence chiefs tried to guess Hitler's plans by studying his horoscope, according to files released by the National Archives.

Hungarian Ludwig von Wohl persuaded senior intelligence figures that he could replicate the forecasts of the Nazi leader's personal astrologer.

He claimed that if London knew what astrological advice Hitler was getting, then they would know his next move.

De Wohl ... came up with his proposal to examine the astrological advice being given to Hitler by Swiss stargazer Karl Ernst Krafft.

De Wohl claimed that as Hitler relied heavily on Krafft's predictions, which were based on mathematics surrounding birthdates, the British could gain a unique insight into his thinking if they knew the astrological advice he was receiving.

The plan appealed to some leading figures, including the Director of Naval Intelligence Admiral John Godfrey, who found Hitler's erratic strategic moves hard to work out.

While his plan was enthusiastically embraced by member of SOE and the Political Warfare Executive, MI5 and MI6 were appalled.

"One of our senior officers comments that he cannot believe that anyone is going to re-employ this dangerous charlatan and confidence-trick merchant," a report from MI6 said.

Another MI5 officer said none of de Wohl's predictions had come true, apart from his forecast of Italy's entry into the war, which he made when it was "quite patent to anybody with the slightest knowledge of international affairs".

Historians now say that Hitler took no notice at all of astrological forecasts.

I think there might be a Gen Ig aspect to this - there is an idea out there that Hitler believed in the supernatural, which I trace back to Indiana Jones - though it's evidently older than that. We could perhaps have klaxoned the Director of Naval Intelligence.

289854.  Tue Mar 04, 2008 4:39 am Reply with quote

According to the AFP reporting of the story:

De Wohl, who was born Lajos Mucsinyi Wohl in Berlin in 1903 to Hungarian parents, scraped a living writing pulp fiction in Germany before fleeing to Britain in 1935 as Hitler's purge of Jews gathered pace.

Changing his name to Louis De Wohl and claiming to be the son of a Hungarian nobleman, he reinvented himself as an astrologer of some repute, inveigling his way into high society, where he attracted the attention of government.

MI6 described him as a "dangerous charlatan and confidence trick-merchant," while MI5 said he had a "mysterious, if not murky, past."

Link to Fraud/Fakes/Falsehoods/Fakirs

289894.  Tue Mar 04, 2008 5:38 am Reply with quote

I think there might be a Gen Ig aspect to this - there is an idea out there that Hitler believed in the supernatural

I had exactly the same reaction, but in fact on reflection I think Hitler was a fairly conventionally observant Christian, and it was some of his less buttoned-up colleagues who were into weridness. There's a fair amount of Nazi/occult stuff in back issues of FT.

298143.  Tue Mar 18, 2008 1:22 pm Reply with quote

I'm not sure that the man who authorised the final solution to the Jewish problem can be described as a 'fairly conventionally observant Christian' though Mat. 'Nominal', perhaps.

298244.  Tue Mar 18, 2008 4:10 pm Reply with quote

Sounds conventional enough to me, Jenny, going by Christians in history. Mass murder is what they do, isn't it?

299254.  Thu Mar 20, 2008 5:50 am Reply with quote

This is more fortune telling than forecasting, but made me laugh rather a lot.

Read about the art of telling fortunes with asparagus.

Couldn't we bring a few bunches of asparagus into the studio and have the panel hurl them about and tell fortunes with them?

This link came from the QI Rolling News thread in QI Lists, by the way.

299264.  Thu Mar 20, 2008 6:04 am Reply with quote

We did something like that under D for Divination. It wasn't a great success, unfortunately.

299266.  Thu Mar 20, 2008 6:05 am Reply with quote

Rats - it sounded promising.

299268.  Thu Mar 20, 2008 6:06 am Reply with quote

"Two spears facing away from you means what you get out of life you have to work for."

So, if you don't have two spears facing away from you, that means that you don't have to work for what you get out of life? Ill have that one, then, please.


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