10 Famous Meteorologists

Jim Cantore Reports On Hurricane Irene For The Weather Channel
Jim Cantore Reports On Hurricane Irene For The Weather Channel. Getty Images

Famous meteorologists include forecasters from the past, individuals from today, and people from all over the world. Some were forecasting weather before anyone even used the term ‘meteorologists'. 

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John Dalton

John Dalton - British physicist and chemist.
John Dalton - British physicist and chemist. Charles Turner, 1834

John Dalton was a British weather pioneer. Born on the 6th of September in 1766, he was most famous for his scientific opinion that all matter is actually made up of small particles. Today, we know those particles are atoms. But, he was also fascinated by the weather each day. In 1787, he used homemade instruments to start recording weather observations.

Although the instruments he used were primitive, Dalton was able to create a large amount of data. Much of what Dalton did with his meteorological instruments helped to make the forecasting of weather into an actual science. When weather forecasters of today talk about the earliest existing weather records in the UK, they are generally referring to Dalton’s records.

Through the instruments he created, John Dalton could study humidity, temperature, atmospheric pressure, and wind. He maintained these records for 57 years, until his death. Throughout those years, over 200,000 meteorological values were recorded. The interest that he had in weather moved into an interest in the gases that made up the atmosphere. In 1803 Dalton’s Law was created, and it dealt with his work in the area of partial pressures.

The greatest achievement for Dalton was his formulation of the atomic theory. He was preoccupied with the atmospheric gases, however, and the atomic theory formulation came about almost inadvertently. Originally, Dalton was trying to explain why gases stay mixed, instead of settling out in layers in the atmosphere. Atomic weights were basically an afterthought in a paper he presented, and he was encouraged to study them further.

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William Morris Davis

Noted meteorologist William Morris Davis was born in 1850 and died in 1934. He was a geographer and a geologist with a deep passion for nature. He was often called the ‘father of American geography.’ Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to a Quaker family, he grew up and attended Harvard University. In 1869 he received his Master of Engineering degree.

Davis studied meteorological phenomena along with geological and geographical issues. This made his work much more valuable in that he could tie in one object of study to others. By doing this, he was able to show the correlation between the meteorological happenings that took place and the geological and geographical issues that were affected by them. This provided those that followed his work with much more information than otherwise available.

While Davis was a meteorologist, he studied many other aspects of nature as well, and therefore addressed meteorological issues from the standpoint of an overall nature perspective. He became an instructor at Harvard teaching geology. In 1884, he created his cycle of erosion which showed the way rivers create landforms. In his day, the cycle was critical, but today it is seen as too simplistic.

When he created this cycle of erosion, Davis showed the different sections of rivers and how they are formed, along with the landforms that come with each one. Also important to the issue of erosion is precipitation, because this contributes to runoff, rivers, and other bodies of water.

Davis, who was married three times during his life, was also very involved with the National Geographic Society and wrote many articles for its magazine. He also helped found the Association of American Geographers in 1904. Staying busy with science took up most of his life, and he passed away in California at the age of 83.

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Gabriel Fahrenheit

Most people know this man’s name from an early age, because learning to tell temperature requires learning about him. Even young children know that temperature in the United States (and in parts of the UK) is expressed in the Fahrenheit scale. In other countries in Europe, however, the Celsius scale is used. This has changed, because the Fahrenheit scale was used throughout Europe many years ago.

Gabriel Fahrenheit was born in May of 1686 and passed away in September of 1736. He was a German engineer and physicist, and most of his life was spent working within the Dutch Republic. While Fahrenheit was born in Poland, his family originated in Rostock and Hildesheim. Gabriel was the eldest of the five Fahrenheit children that survived into adulthood.

Fahrenheit’s parents passed away at an early age, and Gabriel had to learn to make money and survive. He went through business training and became a merchant in Amsterdam. He had a lot of interest in the natural sciences so he started studying and experimenting in his spare time. He also traveled around a great deal, and finally settled in The Hague. There, he worked as a glassblower, making altimeters, thermometers, and barometers.

In addition to giving lectures in Amsterdam on the subject of Chemistry, Fahrenheit continued to work on developing meteorological instruments. He is credited for creating very precise thermometers. The first ones used alcohol. Later, he used mercury due to superior results.

In order for Fahrenheit’s thermometers to be used, though, there had to be a scale associated with them. He came up with one based on

  • the coldest temperature he could get in a laboratory setting
  • the point at which water froze
  • and the temperature of the human body

. Once he started using a mercury thermometer he adjusted his scale upward to include the boiling point of water.

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Alfred Wegener

Famous meteorologist and interdisciplinary scientist Alfred Wegener was born in Berlin, Germany in November of 1880 and passed away in Greenland in November of 1930. He was most famous for his theory of Continental Drift. Early in his life, he studied astronomy and received his Ph.D. in this field from the University of Berlin in 1904. Eventually, however, he became fascinated by meteorology, which was a relatively new field at that time.

Wegener was a record-holding balloonist and married the daughter of another famous meteorologist, Wladimir Peter Köppen. Because he was so interested in balloons, he created the first balloons that were used to track weather and air masses. He lectured on meteorology quite often, and eventually these lectures were compiled into a book. Called The Thermodynamics of the Atmosphere, it became a standard textbook for meteorological students.

In order to better study the circulation of polar air, Wegener was part of several expeditions that went to Greenland. At that time, he was trying to prove that the jet stream actually existed. Whether it was real or not was a highly controversial topic at the time. He and a companion went missing in November of 1930 on a Greenland expedition. Wegener’s body was not found until May of 1931.

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Christoph Hendrik Diederik Buys Ballot

C.H.D. Buys Ballot was born in October of 1817 and died in February of 1890. He was known for being both a meteorologist and a chemist. In 1844, he received his Doctorate from the University of Utrecht. He was later employed at the school, teaching in the fields of geology, mineralogy, chemistry, mathematics, and physics until he retired in 1867.

One of his early experiments involved sound waves and the Doppler effect, but he was best known for his contributions to the field of meteorology. He provided many ideas and discoveries, but contributed nothing to meteorological theory. Buys Ballot, however, seemed content with the work that he had done to further the field of meteorology.

The determination of the direction that air flowed within large weather systems is one of the main accomplishments of Buys Ballot. He also founded the Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute and acted as its chief director right up until he died. He was one of the first individuals within the meteorological community to see how important cooperation on an international level would be to the field. He worked diligently regarding this issue, and the fruits of his labor are still around today. In 1873, Buys Ballot became the chairman of the International Meteorological Committee, which today is called the World Meteorological Organization.

Buys-Ballot’s Law deals with air currents. It states that a person standing in the Northern Hemisphere with his or her back to the wind will find the lower atmospheric pressure to the left. Rather than try to explain regularities, Buys Ballot spent most of his time simply making sure that they were established. Once they were shown to be established and he had examined them thoroughly, he moved on to something else instead of trying to develop a theory or reason behind why they were so.

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William Ferrel

American meteorologist William Ferrel was born in 1817 and died in 1891. The Ferrel cell is named after him. This cell is located between the Polar cell and the Hadley cell in the atmosphere. However, some argue that the Ferrel cell does not actually exist because the circulation in the atmosphere is actually much more complex than the zonal maps show. The simplified version that shows the Ferrel cell, therefore, is somewhat inaccurate.

Ferrel worked to develop theories that explained atmospheric circulation at mid-latitudes in great detail. He focused on the properties of warm air and how it acts, through the Coriolis effect, as it rises and rotates.

The meteorological theory that Ferrel worked on was originally created by Hadley, but Hadley had overlooked a specific and important mechanism that Ferrel was aware of. He correlated the motion of the Earth with the motion of the atmosphere in order to show that centrifugal force is created. The atmosphere, then, cannot maintain a state of equilibrium because the motion is either increasing or diminishing. This depends on which way the atmosphere is moving with regard to the Earth’s surface.

Hadley had erroneously concluded that there was a conservation of linear momentum. However, Ferrel showed that this was not the case. Instead, it is the angular momentum that must be taken into account. In order to do this, one must study not just the movement of the air, but the movement of the air relative to the Earth itself. Without looking at the interaction between the two, the whole picture is not seen.

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Wladimir Peter Köppen

Wladimir Köppen (1846-1940) was Russian born, but of German descent. In addition to being a meteorologist, he was also a botanist, geographer, and climatologist. He contributed many things to science, most notably his Köppen Climate Classification System. There have been some modifications made to it, but overall it is still in common usage today.

Köppen was among the last of the well-rounded scholars that were able to make contributions of a significant nature to more than one branch of the sciences. He first worked for the Russian Meteorological Service, but later he moved to Germany. Once there, he became chief of the Division of Marine Meteorology at the German Naval Observatory. From there, he established a weather forecasting service for Northwestern Germany and adjacent seas.

After four years, he left the meteorological office and moved on to fundamental research. Through studying the climate and experimenting with balloons, Köppen learned about the upper layers that were found in the atmosphere and how to gather data. In 1884 he published a climactic zone map that showed the seasonal temperature ranges. This led to his Classification System, which was created in 1900.

The Classification System remained a work in progress. Köppen continued to improve it throughout his lifetime, and he was always adjusting it and making changes as he continued to learn more. The first full version of it was completed in 1918. After more changes were made to it, it was finally published in 1936.

Despite the time that the Classification System took up, Köppen was involved in other activities. He acquainted himself with the field of paleoclimatology as well. He and his son-in-law, Alfred Wegener, later published a paper entitled The Climates of the Geological Past. This paper was very important in providing support to the Milankovich Theory.

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Anders Celsius

Anders Celsius was born in November of 1701 and passed away in April of 1744. Born in Sweden, he worked as a professor at Uppsala University. During that time he also traveled a great deal, visiting observatories in Italy, Germany, and France. Although he was most noted for being an astronomer, he also made an extremely important contribution to the field of meteorology.

In 1733, Celsius published a collection of aurora borealis observations that were made by himself and others. In 1742, he proposed his Celsius Temperature Scale to the Swedish Academy of Sciences. Originally, it had the boiling point of water at 0 degrees and the freezing point at 100 degrees.

In 1745, the Celsius scale was reversed by Carolus Linnaeus. Despite this, however, the scale retains Celsius’ name. He performed many careful and specific experiments with temperature, and was looking to create scientific grounds for a temperature scale on an international level. In order to advocate for this, he showed that the freezing point of water remained the same regardless of atmospheric pressure and latitude.

The other concern that individuals had about his temperature scale was the boiling point of water. It was believed that this would change based on latitude and the pressure in the atmosphere. Because of this, the hypothesis was that an international scale for temperature would not work. Even though it is true that adjustments would have to be made, Celsius found a way to adjust for this so that the scale would always remain valid.

Celsius was sick in the later part of his life. His death in 1744 came from tuberculosis. It is able to be treated much more effectively now, but in Celsius’ time there were no quality treatments for the disease. He was buried in the Old Uppsala Church, and has the Celsius crater on the Moon named for him.

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Dr. Steve Lyons

The Weather Channel’s Dr. Steve Lyons is one of the most famous meteorologists of this day and age. Lyons is known as The Weather Channel’s severe weather expert. He is also their tropical expert, and he is on the air much more often when there is a tropical storm or hurricane brewing. He can provide in-depth analysis of the storms and severe weather that many of the other on-air personalities cannot. He earned his Ph.D. in meteorology in 1981 and has worked with The Weather Channel since 1998. Before he began working there, he worked for The National Hurricane Center.

An expert in both tropical and marine meteorology, Dr. Lyons has been a participant in over 50 conferences on weather, both on a national and an international level. Each spring he speaks at hurricane preparedness conferences from New York to Texas. In addition, he has provided World Meteorological Organization training courses in tropical meteorology, ocean wave forecasting, and marine meteorology.

Not always in the public eye, Dr. Lyons has also worked for private companies, and has traveled the world reporting from many exotic and tropical locales. Today, he travels less and reports mostly from behind the desk at The Weather Channel. He is a fellow in the American Meteorological Society and a published author, having more than 20 articles in scientific journals. In addition he has created over 40 technical reports and articles, both for the Navy and for the National Weather Service.

In the spare time that he has, Dr. Lyons works to create models for forecasting. These models provide a great deal of the forecasting that is seen on The Weather Channel where hurricanes are concerned and can save lives.

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Jim Cantore

StormTracker Jim Cantore is a modern day meteorologist that is enjoying a lot of fame. He is one of the most highly-recognized faces in weather today. While most people seem to like Cantore, they do not want him to come to their neighborhood. When he shows up somewhere, it is usually indicative of deteriorating weather!

Cantore seems to have a deep desire to be right where the storm is going to hit. It is obvious from his forecast, though, that Cantore does not take his job lightly. He has a tremendous respect for the weather, what it can do, and how quickly it can change.

His interest in being so close to the storm comes mainly from his desire to protect others. If he is there, showing how dangerous it is, he hopes that he will be able to show others why they should not be there. Those that see the danger of weather through Cantore’s eyes will hopefully better understand how serious weather conditions can be.

He is best known for being on-camera and involved with the weather from an up-close-and-personal standpoint, but he has had many other contributions to the field of meteorology as well. He used to be almost entirely responsible for ‘The Fall Foliage Report,’ and he also worked on the ‘Fox NFL Sunday’ team, reporting on weather and how it would affect a particular football game on a given day. He has a long list of extensive reporting credits as well, including the X-Games, PGA tournaments, and space shuttle Discovery launches.

He has also hosted specific documentaries for The Weather Channel and has does some studio reporting for that station when he is in Atlanta. The Weather Channel was his first job right out of college, and he has never looked back.