George Cowling, 1954.
The first televised weather forecast.
George Cowling, 1954.
The first televised weather forecast.
Hippocrates believed that in order to study medicine properly, it was essential to also study the seasons. In society, people consume and debate weather forecasts on a daily basis to plan their schedules and to review plans. Nevertheless, little is ever mentioned about the ways in which such forecasts represent the bigger picture, the circumstances to come, the methods used to conduct prediction, or the bureaucratic structures that drive forward the scientistic approach to broadcasting. How does it go from data to media? This essay aims to answer such question by exploring the science of meteorology, some of its historical contexts, and some of its wide
We are living in an age when weather forecasting is subject to the technological development of meteorology and climatology. There are many reasons why these sciences have made it to daily news and lifestyle. Not only does meteorology allow scientists to create a more accurate picture of the past, but it also helps society understand current events, as well as possible future catastrophes. That is essentially what weather forecasting is. “It is widely accepted that the weather is something of a British obsession… an awareness of the impact of ‘weather stories’ in the media is vital if information regarding changes in the Earth’s climate are to be conveyed effectively.” (Keeling, 2009).
Satellites, high-speed electronic computers and telecommunication systems are not something new. Weather stations, as well as military ships and aircraft have monitored these meteorological conditions for a while. Artificial satellites such as the International Space Station record polar orbital data, which is transmitted every 24 hours- the time it takes to map the full globe (The Open University, 2016). Additional information- which often comes in the form of images- is transmitted to ground stations for analysis every hour. Satellite images are powerful because they show things that the human eye cannot see, such as invisible radiation emitted from warm planetary bodies. These remote geostationary observations are able to record an electromagnetic spectrum from space. Once the hourly sequence of satellital data is transmitted to different stations through radio signals, it is then fed to the World Meteorological Organization for global sharing. All this, mixed with locally collected surface data (wind and air masses) is what forms a weather forecast that is then disseminated through television or the Internet to the public.
Common measurements found within a scientific weather forecast are atmospheric surface pressure, the temperature of the air; the speed and direction of the wind; rainfall and precipitations; humidity; cloud formations; and visibility, among other things. These elements become part of extreme weather reports and climatological archives. Analog instruments used to perform such observations must first be calibrated accordingly, and used in ways that can contribute to the forecast model and the weather chart. Nevertheless, automated electronic meteorological data can be fitted and distributed in something as small as a modern digital wristwatch. According the Open University: “An automated weather monitoring station is essentially a set of electronic sensors linked to a telecommunications channel that need be little more than a mobile phone or a wireless radio link” (The Open University, 2016). This is relevant to economists, who believe that data is now a more valuable resource than oil (Elvy, 2017).
Postmodernism looks into how technology challenges tradition, with the Internet of Things being an undeniable portal of global interaction implemented in local structures, similarly to weather stations. News broadcasts provide individuals and audiences with relevant, formalized and public information. Data transmitted in news coverages is rarely random or isolated. Its form is structured into understandable narratives that have social and public relevance. For instance, when it comes to television broadcasts, each frame is a perspective composed of information and form (Gronbeck, 1997). Weather forecasting has a technical nature, and its tempo is rapid in television (Lutcavage, 1992). Even though this art is something acknowledged as mundane, some of the information provided in journals about this practice is quite disturbing. In April 2009, the UK Meteorological Office (the Met Office) was subjected to a media scandal following the issued summer forecast. The audience expected a “barbecue summer”, but instead, they experienced a really wet summer. Since then, the trust the people placed on the forecasters decreased, nevertheless the industry made it out unscathed from such situation (Keeling, 2009).
“These forecasts by government meteorologists in Regional Forecast Offices, formerly present in every major city, though today often restricted to major metropolitan centers… The trials and tribulation in the workaday lives of these forecasters, as well as their defeats and victories, make an interesting story. But it is not so much a scientific story as a story of the sociology of work under conditions of close management in a bureaucratized regime… The Internet as we know it today embodies not one but a series of imagined worlds, conceived in the minds of people from a variety of backgrounds and brought into existence through their dedication and hard work and through chance” (Greene, 2009).
In contrast, The Latin American Studies Association published an article where the impact that climate is having on society and individual well-being was explored. Among their conclusions, they stated that such predictions have become more accurate and more widely distributed than in the past (Orlove, 2011). Since 1873, The WMO has strived towards the global cooperation of the forecast model (The Open University, 2016). According to a report published by them in 1975, “meteorology offers an extremely rich and varied field of activity. In the first place, it is a physical science with broad openings for research… a fact which cannot be ignored in the study and formulation of solutions to problems of such consequence to mankind as: hunger in the world; limited resources of raw materials; man’s considerable energy needs, and; the protection of the environment” (WMO, 1975)
In conclusion, weather forecasts are important in society because they provide information about the past, the present and future; as well as an idea of socio-economic factors that can arise from climatological conditions. Surface stations, meteorological satellites; as well as radiosondes and aircraft, are used to conduct the required measurements that compose a weather broadcast. The media industry has played a major role in the dissemination of such predictions, which are part of a global framework that is built through internationally shared data coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization since 1873, and consumed by the masses for planning and schedule. The role of the military in weather forecasting is an area where further research can be implemented for a better understanding of the bureaucratic nature of such sciences.
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