Growing up in a rural dairy farming area provided me with ample opportunities to see cows grazing in pastures. My mom would predict the weather by observing the cows. If they were standing, she would say, "It must be going to be nice today." If they were lying down, she said "It's going to rain." I often wondered what was going on when half were standing and half were lying down. Was it going to be partly cloudy? 

Predicting the weather has always been a fascination for man. After all, weather is very important. In this issue, we will explore a number of small inventions that combined to form a much larger invention: the weather station.

The World Before the Weather Station

Do you think that weather is important? As Christians, we should. Weather has had a profound impact on all of us. In Genesis 7:4, we are told of the first major weather event on earth: the Flood. God used weather as a tool to remove wickedness from the earth.

For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth.

It might surprise you just how many times weather is mentioned in the Bible. Here are some types of weather phenomena and a few corresponding Bible passages you can explore:

     •   Rain: Deuteronomy 11:14-15, 1 Samuel 12:18

     •   Hail: Exodus 9:22-29, Joshua 10:11, Revelation 16:21

     •   Thunder: 1 Samuel 7:10

     •   Wind: Nahum 1:3

     •   Drought: Leviticus 26:19-20, Deuteronomy 28:24, Hosea 13:15

One question you might ask is, "How did people in biblical times predict the weather?" There were no weather stations, and they certainly could not go on the Internet to see what the forecast was going to be. As it turns out, they did the best they could through visual observations of the following:

     •   Cloud patterns

     •   Locations of stars and planets

     •   Phases of the moon

     •   Movement of winds

Have you ever heard the old saying, "Red sky at night, sailor's delight. Red sky in morning, sailors take warning"? Compare this to what Jesus said in Matthew 16:2-3b:

He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowering.

There are many false sayings, but you might be surprised at how many, such as the one above, are fairly accurate. Some that actually have some meteorological truth to them include:

     •   "No weather is ill, if the wind be still."

     •   "Seagull, seagull, sit on the sand. It's never good weather when you're on land."

     •   "When halo rings the moon or sun, rain's approaching on the run."

     •   "When windows won't open, and the salt clogs the shaker, the weather will favor the umbrella maker."

See if you can do a little research and find out why the four sayings above have some truth to them!

Here are some sayings and folklore that have not proven to be true:

     •   "March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb."

     •   "Cats and dogs eat grass before a rain."

     •   "If the groundhog sees his shadow on February 2, thirty days of winter remain."

The Invention of Weather Station Instruments

A weather station is not a single instrument, but a collection of different pieces of equipment that each measure different aspects of meteorological conditions. Here are some of the attributes measured by a weather station:

Temperature - Temperature is measured using a device called a thermometer. The word thermometer comes from the Greek roots "thermo" (heat) and "metron" (measure). A thermometer measures heat. The first crude thermometers were invented in the 11th century and worked based on heat causing expansion and contraction of the water level in a tube. As the temperature increased, the water expanded and moved higher up the tube. As the temperature decreased, the water contracted and moved farther down.

Pressure - Pressure, or more correctly, atmospheric pressure, is measured using a device called a barometer. The word barometer comes from the Greek roots "baros" (weight) and "metron" (measure). A barometer measures the pressure (weight) associated with the atmosphere. Different types of weather cause the atmospheric pressure to change. Whereas a thermometer works by expansion and contraction of liquid due to a temperature change, a barometer works by monitoring the height of liquid in a tube caused by pressure pushing on the liquid.

Humidity - Humidity is measured using a device called a hygrometer. The word hygrometer comes from the Greek roots "hygros" (wet) and "metron" (measure). A hygrometer measures the amount of water in the air.

Wind - Wind is measured using a couple of different devices. Wind speed is measured using an instrument called an anemometer. The word anemometer comes from the Greek roots "anemos" (wind, or breath) and "metron" (measure). As the wind blows, cups on an anemometer cause it to turn like a windmill. The speed of rotation is measured using electronics built inside. Wind direction is measured using a device called a weather vane. The vane on the weather vane causes it to point in a direction. The direction is measured by electronics monitoring the vane shaft.

The old adage "The sum is greater than its parts" is applicable to weather instruments.  Each piece of equipment mentioned above measures some attribute of weather, but when combined, they allow meteorologists to calculate and extract some other useful measurements, including

     •   Dew Point: the point where vapor forms dew, rain, or snow

     •   Frost Point: the point where vapor forms frost

     •   Wind Chill: the apparent temperature one feels on the skin

Weather Instruments Now

You have probably seen on the news, or perhaps even witnessed firsthand, severe weather in the form of hurricanes, blizzards, or tornadoes. These types of weather can be very dangerous. Weather instruments today combine many different technologies to try to predict dangerous weather in order to provide people with early warnings so they can take cover or evacuate.

Weather Satellites - Weather satellites, orbiting the earth, use specialized imaging systems to look at conditions in the earth's atmosphere. Using sensors that create images in the visible range, these satellites provide maps that show cloud cover, cloud movement, and weather fronts. Using infrared sensors, they provide maps that uncover hidden weather features like land and ocean temperatures, the "eyes" of hurricanes, and ocean current patterns.

Doppler Radar - Doppler radar systems were first developed just after the Second World War. Radar operators noticed that weather conditions, such as rain, sleet, and snow, caused "noise" to appear in the radar signal. After the war, when the radar operators returned to civilian careers, some continued their work to help with weather measurements.

Doppler radar is based on the Doppler effect, which is a "shift" in the frequency of a wave when the source is in motion. With Doppler radar, a microwave pulse is transmitted. Motion from wind and weather causes the microwave pulse to echo back at a different frequency. By using computers to analyze the echo, we can calculate the type, intensity, speed, and direction of the weather. This is used heavily in storm tracking.

Explaining the Doppler effect with words can be a little tricky. Here is a link to a video where you can hear the Doppler effect when a firetruck passes by. As the truck passes the camera, you can hear the "shift" in the frequency of the sound.

Why are weather stations inventions that changed the world? As technology advances, we get better and better at predicting what the weather will be. One of the most significant benefits is the detection and early warning of impending severe storms. We can't stop the weather, but if we know what we're in store for, we can be ready for it—come rain or shine!

Do You Want to be a Meteorologist?

If you are really interested in the study of weather, you can become a student member of the American Meteorological Society. The cost is $15 per year and includes a subscription to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS). BAMS is a fairly technical publication better suited for college students and professionals. For an additional $45 per year, you can receive a subscription to Weatherwise, which is a magazine oriented toward elementary, middle, and high school students. The society's Web site is www.ametsoc.org.

Mississippi State University offers distance learning programs in Broadcast and Operational Meteorology. If you think meteorology is a career you would like to explore as a profession, check out their distance learning Web site at www.distance.msstate.edu/ geosciences/OMP/index.html. 


Ray and Gale Lawson have been homeschooling their three children since 1995. Ray holds a BS in Electrical Engineering from the Virginia Military Institute and works for Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, LLC. Gale holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of South Carolina and is a full-time mom and teacher. They are members of Breezy Hill Baptist Church in Graniteville, SC. Questions, comments, and suggestions are always welcomed and can be e-mailed to them at http://vmi1981@bellsouth.net (Ray) or galenkids@bellsouth.net (Gale). 

Originally published in Home School Enrichment Magazine. Now, get a FREE subscription to HSE Digital by visiting www.HSEmagazine.com/digital Every issue is packed with homeschool encouragement, help, and information. Get immediate access to the current issue when you start your FREE subscription today!