Cleveland Abbe and American Meteorology, 1871–1901

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Cleveland Abbe (1838–1916) joined the U.S. Signal Service as the government's first chief meteorologist early in 1871. An honor student in chemistry and mathematics, and a trained astronomer, Abbe brought scientific rigor and a far-reaching vision of worldwide scientific cooperation to the endeavor. He remained with the weather service until his death. During the first 30 years, he functioned as initiator and scientific watchdog in the burgeoning organization. He focused on two major scientific tasks: the optimization of the Signal Service, and the study and advocacy of theoretical meteorology. Over time he came to recognize the interconnectedness of climatology, forecasting, and physical theory. His efforts in forecasting and verification, establishing standard time, climatology, the transfer of scientific knowledge, and physical theory reveal the thrust of his professional thought. He brought all of this together in 1901. In a comprehensive scientific paper he argued against long-range weather forecasts based on empirical methodology. Instead, he proposed integration of the basic equations of physics and fluid dynamics, and laid out the mathematical means by which this might be accomplished. Just over a century later we take a new look at his work, and suggest a revised appreciation for his place in the history of meteorology.

Alexandria, Virginia

American Meteorological Society, Washington, D.C.

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Dr. William Hooke, Director, Atmospheric Policy Program, American Meteorological Society, 1120 G Street NW, Suite 800, Washington, D C 20005, E-mail: hooke@ametsoc.org

Cleveland Abbe (1838–1916) joined the U.S. Signal Service as the government's first chief meteorologist early in 1871. An honor student in chemistry and mathematics, and a trained astronomer, Abbe brought scientific rigor and a far-reaching vision of worldwide scientific cooperation to the endeavor. He remained with the weather service until his death. During the first 30 years, he functioned as initiator and scientific watchdog in the burgeoning organization. He focused on two major scientific tasks: the optimization of the Signal Service, and the study and advocacy of theoretical meteorology. Over time he came to recognize the interconnectedness of climatology, forecasting, and physical theory. His efforts in forecasting and verification, establishing standard time, climatology, the transfer of scientific knowledge, and physical theory reveal the thrust of his professional thought. He brought all of this together in 1901. In a comprehensive scientific paper he argued against long-range weather forecasts based on empirical methodology. Instead, he proposed integration of the basic equations of physics and fluid dynamics, and laid out the mathematical means by which this might be accomplished. Just over a century later we take a new look at his work, and suggest a revised appreciation for his place in the history of meteorology.

Alexandria, Virginia

American Meteorological Society, Washington, D.C.

CORRESPONDING AUTHOR: Dr. William Hooke, Director, Atmospheric Policy Program, American Meteorological Society, 1120 G Street NW, Suite 800, Washington, D C 20005, E-mail: hooke@ametsoc.org
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