For much of the first half of the twentieth century, meteorology was more art than science, dependent on an individual forecaster's lifetime of local experience. In Weather by the Numbers, Kristine Harper tells the story of the transformation of meteorology from a “guessing science” into a sophisticated scientific discipline based on physics and mathematics. What made this possible was the development of the electronic digital computer; earlier attempts at numerical weather prediction had foundered on the human inability to solve nonlinear equations quickly enough for timely forecasting. After World War II, the combination of an expanded observation network developed for military purposes, newly trained meteorologists, savvy about math and physics, and the nascent digital computer created a new way of approaching atmospheric theory and weather forecasting.
This transformation of a discipline, Harper writes, was the most important intellectual achievement of twentieth-century meteorology, and paved the way for the growth of computer-assisted modeling in all the sciences.
Kristine C. Harper is Kristine C. Harper is Associate Professor of History at The Florida State University in Tallahassee. In 2007-2008, she was a Fellow at the Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow.
Jed Z. Buchwald is Director of the Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology and Bern Dibner Professor of the History of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.