In 1800, no one had a clue about what controlled “the heavens,” which made the unlikely science of meteorology one of the most remarkable accomplishments of the 19th century.
At the turn of the century, the unpredictability of weather was often devastating. Storms tore through cities and upended ships without mercy. These conditions were perfectly suited to the mostly divine theories about what controlled the weather. Despite the progress in fields including astronomy, geology, and physics, no one had yet unlocked the mysteries of the skies. This sets the scene for the arrival of an eclectic group of intrepid observers committed to decoding the weather. Moore (Damn His Blood: Being a True and Detailed History of the Most Barbarous and Inhumane Murder at Oddingley and the Quick and Awful Retribution, 2012) writes about this band of ad hoc scientists with brio, and it’s hard not to be awed and charmed by their united “quest to prove that earth’s atmosphere was not chaotic beyond comprehension, that it could be studied, understood and, ultimately, predicted.” This diverse group shared a naturalist bent, and they included adventurers, sailors, engineers, chemists, inventors, and artists. The author argues that perhaps the most notable figure was Robert FitzRoy, who famously captained Darwin’s Beagle. An enigmatic and complex man, he went on to forge the analytical and social foundations of meteorology. By the 1860s, a vocabulary that categorized weather patterns had begun to codify, and the first storm warnings and weather forecasts were introduced. Enhanced by a revolutionary new technology, the telegraph, the weather shifted from an experience that always occurred in the present to a hotly discussed topic that transcended time and place. Moore complements chapters of readable scientific history with lyrical interludes reminding us that, even when deconstructed, the harmonies of the natural world cannot be contained.
Detailed and insightful, this book is as relevant as ever in this era of rapid climate change.