On the evening of 22nd January 1901 Queen Victoria died after reigning over the UK since 1837. On the same day, a ‘hurricane’ killed 35 people in Herøy in north-western Norway. What can we understand about the weather that long ago?
We now have the ability to reconstruct the weather on any particular day as far back as 1900 (at least) by combining our modern weather forecast models with the available measurements from the day in question. But, the further back in time we look, the more uncertain we are, as the available observations become fewer. Continue reading
In late February 1903, a large storm came across Ireland and Scotland. It is believed to have inspired a small passage in the novel Ulysses by James Joyce:
O yes, J.J. O’Molloy said eagerly. Lady Dudley was walking home through the park to see all the trees that were blown down by that cyclone last year and thought she’d buy a view of Dublin.
The storm caused structural damage to many regions, and uprooted trees.
Our current best view of the storm comes from the 20th Century Reanalysis – this is essentially a modern weather forecast model used to simulate past weather by filling in the gaps between the fairly limited observations available. Continue reading
Although we are focussed on rescuing the weather data taken by the meteorologists, the observatory at the summit of Ben Nevis is also famous for providing the inspiration for C.T.R. Wilson to invent the cloud chamber.
This invention, for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1927, was used to track particles as they passed through super-saturated air. The cloud chamber was later used to make other Nobel Prize winning discoveries of new fundamental particles such as the positron. Continue reading
For twenty years between 1883 and 1904, three intrepid meteorologists lived at the top of Ben Nevis – the highest mountain in the UK – experiencing some of the worst weather the country has to offer.
Every hour, day and night, winter and summer, and whatever the weather, one of them would step outside and check the meteorological instruments, diligently recording the observations.
This was a uniquely Victorian-era endeavour. Science for the sake of science. Rather than exploring the world’s polar regions like some of their contemporaries, these Weathermen of Ben Nevis were exploring the atmosphere.
There was simply no other way of learning in detail about how the atmosphere changed with height without living at the top of a mountain. So that is what they did.