Nelson & His World

Naval Weather men
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Author:  tycho [ Sun May 03, 2015 8:26 pm ]
Post subject:  Naval Weather men

A new book, The Weather Experiment, is reviewed very favourably in the Sunday Times today.
It is about the pioneers of weather forecasting, two of whom were naval officers.

The first was Francis Beaufort, who was shot while storming a Spanish brig and bore sabre scars all over his body. He devised in 1806, 'a 12 point scale for measuring wind according to the sails carried by a man-of-war: a gale force nine required close-reefed topsails, while a hurricane-force 12 was a wind 'no canvas could withstand'. It was a subjective, deeply naval way of measuring, but it is still in use today: we hear the Beaufort scale every time we're up late....enough to catch the Shipping Forecast.'

The second was Admiral Fitzroy, had been appointed by Beaufort to captain the Beagle in the company of Charles Darwin. In 1854 he took charge of weather warnings via the new telegraph networks, which became more firmly established following the terrible Royal Charter storm in 1859 when 800 men were lost. 'Telegraphs would flash urgent weather reports to London and Fitzroy would plot the course of incoming storms before relaying messages to key harbours, which would then hoist warnings.'

There is much more about these interesting characters, too much to quote here; though I can't resist mentioning one of Fitzroy's (many) eccentricities: he was a Biblical literalist who thought that the dinosaurs became extinct because they couldn't get up the gangplank of Noah's ark.

The Weather Experiment: the pioneers who sought to see the future, by Peter Moore (Chatto £20)

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