10 Famous Meteorologists

Jim Cantore in severe weather at night reporting for The Weather Channel.

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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."

John Dalton

Black and white image of John Dalton, British physicist and chemist.

Charles Turner after James Lonsdale/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

John Dalton was a British weather pioneer. Born September 6, 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 gather a large amount of data. Much of what Dalton did with his meteorological instruments helped to turn the forecasting of weather into 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 he had in weather moved into an interest in the gases that make up the atmosphere. In 1803, Dalton’s Law was created. 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.

William Morris Davis

Black and white photograph of William Morris Davis.

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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 who followed his work with much more information than otherwise available.

While Davis was a meteorologist, he studied many other aspects of nature. Therefore, he addressed meteorological issues from a nature-based 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 in modern times 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 support 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. He passed away in California at the age of 83.

Gabriel Fahrenheit

Memorial plaque dedicated to D.G. Fahrenheit.

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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 primarily used. This has changed in modern times, as the Fahrenheit scale was used throughout Europe many years ago.

Gabriel Fahrenheit was born in May 1686 and passed away in September 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 who 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, however, 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.

Alfred Wegener

Alfred Wegener working at his desk, black and white photograph.

Loewe, Fritz; Georgi, Johannes; Sorge, Ernst; Wegener, Alfred Lothar/Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Public Domain

Famous meteorologist and interdisciplinary scientist Alfred Wegener was born in Berlin, Germany in November 1880 and passed away in Greenland in November 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, he became fascinated by meteorology, a relatively new field at that time.

Wegener was a record-holding balloonist and married Else Köppen. She was 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 1930 on a Greenland expedition. Wegener’s body was not found until May 1931.

Christoph Hendrik Diederik Buys Ballot

Christophorus Henricus Diedericus Buys-Ballot black and white portrait.

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C.H.D. Buys Ballot was born in October 1817 and died in February 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 did to further the field of meteorology.

One of Buys Ballot's main accomplishments was determining the direction of air flowing within a large weather system. 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 evident today. In 1873, Buys Ballot became the chairman of the International Meteorological Committee, later 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 the 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.

William Ferrel

William Ferrel black and white photograph.

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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, therefore, 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.

Wladimir Peter Köppen

Map of Iran with Koppen climate classification.

Peel, M. C., Finlayson, B. L., and McMahon, T. A. (University of Melbourne)/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

Wladimir Köppen (1846-1940) was born in Russia but descended from Germans. 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, the system was finally published in 1936.

Despite the time 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 Milankovitch Theory.

Anders Celsius

Anders Celsius portrait in full color.

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Anders Celsius was born in November 1701 and passed away in April 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, the scale marked 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. Ultimately, he wanted 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 concern with 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 the scale would always remain valid.

Celsius was ill from tuberculosis later in life. He died in 1744. It can be treated much more effectively in the modern era, but in Celsius’ time, there were no quality treatments for the disease. He was buried in the Old Uppsala Church. The Celsius crater on the moon is named for him.

Dr. Steve Lyons

Tropical storm aerial photograph.

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The Weather Channel’s Dr. Steve Lyons is one of the most famous meteorologists in modern times. Lyons was known as The Weather Channel’s severe weather expert for 12 years. He was also their tropical expert and an on-air fixture when a tropical storm or hurricane was brewing. He provided an in-depth analysis of the storms and severe weather that many of the other on-air personalities did not. Lyons earned his Ph.D. in meteorology in 1981. Before working with The Weather Channel, 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 taught 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. 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 his spare time, Dr. Lyons works to create models for forecasting. These models provide a great deal of the forecasting that is seen on The Weather Channel.

Jim Cantore

Jim Cantore in hurricane weather in a

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StormTracker Jim Cantore is a modern-day meteorologist. His is one of the most highly-recognized faces in weather. 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 forecasts that Cantore does not take his job lightly. He has 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.

He is best known for being on-camera and involved with the weather from an up-close-and-personal standpoint, but he has made many other contributions to the field of meteorology. 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 football games. He has a long list of extensive reporting credits as well, including working with the X-Games, PGA tournaments, and space shuttle Discovery launches.

He has also hosted documentaries for The Weather Channel and has does some studio reporting. The Weather Channel was his first job right out of college.