As a matter of fact, the weather bureau of the United States Department of Agriculture instead of being a joke, testifies to its efficiency by issuing more than ten thousand weather bulletins daily, not including the forecasts printed in the newspapers. While weather prognostication frequently goes awry, the science (for science it is) of meteorology not only deserves commendation in its present stage of development, but has shown itself acceptable even by the most skeptical.
This science is one of the tendencies. Where other sciences are based on actual and existing facts, the work of the weather bureau has to do with the probable developments of atmospheric phenomena. The weather man, equipped with rain gauges, weather vanes, gauges for calculating the speed of wind, and an intricate system of communication with other weather men throughout the country, makes it his business to register conditions of the weather and to deduce from them the kind of weather likely to prevail at a certain time in any given locality.
A storm may be brewing around Medicine Hat. The direction of the wind, the lowness of the barometer and other conditions may indicate clearly that the storm will slide down in a southeasterly direction and strike Chicago. Immediately the weather man from his eyrie, in the Auditorium tower, in Chicago, for instance, sends out messages over the whole Central West warning mariners on the great lakes, as well as farmers who have perishable crops, that a storm is approaching. From an apparently unknown cause, a "low" barometer is noted in Kansas. The storm suddenly veers in that direction, and the Chicago weather man once more is the subject of many jests.
Such conditions constantly, arise and it is only by the most careful observation that all of them are noted, and proper deductions made therefrom. As a matter of fact, however, so efficient has become this country-wide service, that some weather prognosticators have to their credit as many as nine out of ten correct predictions.
So complete is this service that every year millions of dollars' worth of property are effectually protected from damaging storms by timely signals.
Among the great storms which have been accurately forecasted is that which resulted in the tidal wave and hurricane that swept over Galveston, Texas, in 1900. This was detected in the ocean south of Porto Rico, on September 1 of that year. So timely was the warning that little or no loss of property occurred to the shipping interests of the open waters of the Gulf. The destruction at Galveston was less than it would have been had no warning been received.
There is an instance on record where, more than three and a half million dollars worth of property was saved by a warning of the advance of a single cold wave. The fruit interests of California profit much by these warnings.
Flood-gates in the cranberry marshes of Wisconsin are regulated by the frost warnings of the weather bureau. Sugar growers of Louisiana, orange growers of Florida, and truck gardeners in many quarters receive timely warnings of frosts, and protect their growing products.
It is frequently possible to foretell several days in advance, the possible flooding of a river. High water is noted far up the stream, and residents in the low lands have time to save their chattels. During the great floods of 1897 so complete were the warning bulletins which predicted the submergence of great districts that, it is estimated, $15,000,000 worth of live stock and removable property were saved.
A word about the instruments in use by the weather bureau is here appropriate. Naturally the thermometer is of prime importance as it registers the degrees of heat and cold. The barometer indicates the pressure of the atmosphere and its changes and generally shows the origin of a storm or its direction.
The barograph is an automatic barometer, which keeps perpetual record of changes in atmospheric pressure. The anemometer registers the speed of the wind; it is a small windmill connected with a dial.
The telethermometer is a combination of telegraph and thermometer, registering automatically, inside of the signal office, the outside temperature as communicated by wire from the thermometer without. The hygrometer notes the humidity of the atmosphere and aids in forecasting rains.
The anemoscope, or weather vane, points in the direction of the wind. There is also a triple register, which notes the conditions of rain, wind and sunshine.
This country is in the lead in the matter of practical weather bureaus, which is largely due to the great extent of our territory. The government expends about $1,000,000 annually upon this service.
1Instrument at Weather Bureau, which records the direction and velocity of the wind, the sunlight, and the rainfall on the same sheet of paper. A late invention.