If your contribution has been vital there will always be somebody to pick up where you left off, and that will be your claim to immortality. – Walter Gropius
One of the quirky ways that we humans honor the accomplishments of a fellow being is to give that person’s name to his or her achievement, invention, or discovery. In so doing, we bestow a kind of immortality, although usually the name lives long after virtually everything about the person has largely been forgotten.
In researching for this issue of FAA Safety Briefing, I stumbled across stories of several of the people behind the terms so casually bandied about in any discussion of weather. Allow me to introduce them as we close this weather-focused edition.
What’s the Temperature?
Thanks to the work of these intrepid gentlemen, today’s weather-watchers have several ways to express the degree (so to speak) of heat or cold.
Celsius: A Swedish scientist, Anders Celsius (1701-1744) developed the Celsius temperature scale, which he himself called “centigrade” because it was developed on a scale of 0° for the freezing point of water to 100° for its boiling point.
Fahrenheit: In addition to inventing the temperature scale that bears his name, German scientist Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686-1736) invented the first mercury thermometer contained in glass. Fahrenheit developed his temperature scale by reference to three fixed points: 0°, 32° (ice forming on the surface) and 96° (thermometer’s reading when placed in the mouth).
Kelvin: William Thomson, the first Baron Kelvin (1824-1907), was a British mathematical physicist and engineer. Although the existence of absolute zero was known during his lifetime, Kelvin is credited for determining its exact value (-273.15 C, or -460 F.). For this reason, absolute temperatures are expressed in units of kelvin.
As the World Turns
Coriolis Effect: French engineer and mathematician Gustave-Gaspard Coriolis (1792-1843), was the first to describe the effect of motion on a rotating body in an 1835 paper. Today known as Coriolis force, this effect is important to understanding meteorology.
Doppler: The Austrian mathematician Christian Doppler (1803-1853) is best known for his 1842 paper which theorized that the pitch of sound from a moving source varies for a stationary observer. The “Doppler effect” is used in weather forecasting, radar and navigation.
Fujita: Tetsuya Fujita (1929-1998) is famous for developing the “Fujita scale” for measuring tornado intensity. For pilots, he may be best remembered as the scientist who discovered downbursts and micro-bursts. Fujita’s research led to the development of pilot training to avoid or escape these phenomena.
Saffir & Simpson: Herbert Saffir (1917-2007) and Robert H. Simpson (1912-2014) devised the 1-to-5 “Saffir-Simpson” scale that forecasters use to describe the severity of an oncoming hurricane. Saffir, an engineer, had written building safety codes in Florida before being asked to develop a hurricane-preparedness model for the United Nations. Saffir’s scale, based primarily on wind speeds, was later expanded by Simpson, then director of the National Hurricane Center, to include potential storm surge.
People We Ought to Know
Dalton: John Dalton (1766-1844) was a British scientist who theorized that all matter is made up of small particles (“atoms). Dalton also loved weather and he created his own instruments to record his weather observations. The data he gathered on humidity, temperature, atmospheric pressure, and wind through 57 years built the foundation for weather record-keeping.
Wegener: German scientist Alfred Wegener (1880-1930) was most famous for his theory of continental drift, but he had a lifelong interest in meteorology. Wegener was the first to use balloons as a means to track weather and air masses. Wegener died on an expedition to study the circulation of polar air in Greenland, part of his attempt to prove the existence of the jet stream.
These are just a few of the notables whose work we enjoy today. We salute them! (FAA Safety Briefing – MarApr 2015)