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THE WEATHER BUREAU
AT the cost of a cent and a half a year apiece we Americans are supplied with detailed information in advance about the weather. And the information is correct for more than four-fifths of the time. If stock brokers never missed oftener, what reputations would accrue!
Cheapness, accuracy, and a certain modesty are the three qualities that distinguish the outgivings of the Bureau from the old-fashioned predictions of the weather which used to appear in almanacs. Almanacs have probably kept appearing ever since the art of printing first allowed unscrupulous persons to juggle with words. They cost fifty cents and their predictions were based on nothing but the strength of their author's imagination. Of course, it was impossible for him to guess wrong more than half the time so that when he announced in January that July would be hot with thunderstorms he was often right. This gave him prestige, but aided his clients little.
The Weather Bureau was in about the same position in regard to the quack predictions of the almanacs as was the honest doctor of the last decade who could only prescribe good food and fresh air and moderate exercise for the patient who much preferred the expensive allurements of the medicinal cure-all as advertised. In humility the Bureau said that as things stood it could not forecast with accuracy for more than 48 hours, and its honesty brought it into disregard.
But, although the Weather Bureau, -- like the Christian Church and other things that have had to combat superstition at every step -- has grown slowly it has grown surely and its work is being recognized more widely and relied upon more understandingly every month. It was an American scientist who discovered the rotary motion of cyclones and their progressive character, but due to the conservative nature of our Government three other nations had established weather services before we had. In 1870 the War Department was authorized to start a system of observations that would permit of a rough sort of forecasting. The forecasts proved of so much value to shippers and sailors that the work was handed over to the Department of Agriculture and enlarged (1891).
To-day every part of our country contributes to the knowledge of existing weather conditions. At 8 A.M. observations are made at hundreds of stations and wired to the Central Office at Washington. The Chief there, knowing these conditions, is enabled to locate a storm, to gauge its rate of speed, to learn its course, and to measure its intensity. He can dictate storm warnings and be sure that within an hour every sailing master will have a copy. He can detect a cold wave at its entrance into our territory and know that within an hour every shipper, every truckster (who has signified that he wishes to be informed) will have the facts that will save him money.
At 8 P.M. the same stations telegraph the changed conditions, and if any very violent disturbance is in progress an observation is made at noon. Besides the Washington distributing station there are 1700 others from which warnings are sent by telegraph, telephone, or mail. There are 100,000 addresses on the mailing list and 5,000,000 telephone subscribers can get them within an hour. The newspapers reach many millions. And all this at a cost of 1½ cents a year. If we, in a fit of generosity, should pay 2 cents, or even 2½ the Government would be enabled to work out many of the larger problems awaiting only a larger appropriation to be attacked.
The people's investment of $1,600,000 a year is a good investment. In one year the Service saves a great many hundred per cent. A few known savings are worth giving; $3,500,000 worth of protection was made possible from one exceptionally severe cold wave; the California citrus growers estimated that one warning saved $4,000,000 worth of fruit; $30,000,000 of shipping (and cargoes) was known to have been detained in port just on account of one hurricane warning, and there are many warnings of gales every year. Uncalculated savings have been effected among the growers of tobacco, sugar, cranberries, truck. The railway and transportation companies save, through use of the forecasts, in shipments of bananas, oysters, fish, and eggs. Farmers, manufacturers, raisin driers, photographers, insurance companies, and about a hundred and fifty other occupations increase their profits by a systematic study of the forecasts.
The people who live along the rivers often owe their lives and frequently much of their property to telephone warnings of approaching floods. The flood stages in all the principal rivers and streams have been calculated and losses are reduced by 75 per cent by accurate predictions as to when the crest of the flood may be expected and how high it will reach. A hundred uses of river forecasts, even when flood stages are not expected are given in the booklet, "The Weather Bureau" which, you can have from Washington for the asking, like many another of their publications.
Yet, with all the good it does, the man on. the street still regards the Bureau as an uninteresting, undependable exhibit in the upper corner of the newspaper, -- if he regards it at all. It is his child, however, who is instructing him. For his child is being taught in the public school all about it and he takes his teaching home and becomes the teacher. The child is father of the (old) man in lots of instances.
The most impressive thing about the whole output of the Bureau to the child is its Map. The Bureau issues a map every day which is posted in post-offices and railroad stations and in schools, too, if they ask for it. And every day this map shows in all its gripping details the way our storms are sidling across the continent or rushing up our coasts. It prints the word low where the stormy area of low barometer is.
About the low run continuous black lines numbered 29.7, 29.8, 29.9, etc., which show where in the country the pressures are the same.
As the numbers run up to 30.0, 30.1, 30.2 they begin to circle about the word High which denotes where the pressure is highest. Little circles will be observed on the map. Some are clear, indicating clear weather; others are half clear, half black, indicating partly cloudy conditions; others are all black, showing clouds; others have R. or S. inside them, telling where it is raining. The numbers under the circles show how much it has rained or snowed and the numbers under the other numbers are the velocities of the winds. The arrows through the circles fly with the wind. A little zig-zag locates each thunderstorm and the shaded portions show over what portions of the country it has rained during the last 24 hours. As an intelligent puzzle picture the map is unequaled and no wonder the child likes it.
With this map you can tell at a glance what the weather is doing to your uncle in Tacoma and to your cousin in Missouri. With two successive maps you can find out about how fast the storms are traveling, in what direction, and how low the temperatures are under their influence, and so estimate for yourself the weather for the next three days.
Besides the invaluable daily weather map the Bureau issues many other maps that present the phenomena of the week, the month, and the season in graphic form. Masters of vessels are now cooperating with the government to provide observations at sea, and both on our northwest and southeast coasts such information is very valuable. In the west several hundreds of stations are maintained in the mountains for the purpose of obtaining the depth and content of the great snowfalls there. Estimates can then be given out as to the amount of water to be available for irrigating purposes. In addition to the 220 stations of the first class there are 4200 cooperative stations at which observations are made and mailed to 44 centers for distribution.
Special local data help to establish the relations between climate and forestry, agriculture, water resources, and allied subjects. Many bulletins are compiled by experts in their respective lines and these are for free distribution. A study of forest cover is being made in Colorado and the effects of denudation on the flow of streams will soon be scientifically established.
As soon as practicable the Bureau hopes to extend its period of forecasting. Weekly forecasts have been tried in a general way with success, but long-range forecasting depends upon so many relationships of the air that present knowledge and facilities do not warrant its adoption.