The Discovery of Weather: Stephen Saxby, the Tumultuous Birth of Weather Forecasting, and Saxby’s Gale of 1869 by Jerry Lockett

In the mid-nineteenth century, the new science of weather forecasting was fraught with controversy on both sides of the Atlantic. In the United States, a bitter dispute about the nature of storms had raged for decades, and forecasting was hampered by turf wars then halted by the Civil War. Forecasters in England struggled with the scientific establishment for recognition and vied with astrologers and other charlatans for public acceptance.

One of the voices in this struggle was Stephen Saxby, a British naval instructor who thought he had found a sure-fire way of forecasting storms. He championed a popular but somewhat eccentric theory that weather disturbances are linked to stages in the moon’s orbit of the earth.

Saxby got lucky. One of his well-known long-range predictions–for a serious storm on October 4, 1869–was right on the button. On that very day, a deadly hurricane caused massive floods along the eastern seaboard of the United States then barrelled ashore at the Canadian border. The timing of the storm could hardly have been worse. Coinciding with an extremely high tide, the resulting storm surge breached centuries-old dykes at the head of the Bay of Fundy.

In The Discovery of Weather, author Jerry Lockett traces the early days of weather forecasting, the background to Saxby’s prediction, and the drama of the storm itself.

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