5th February, John Jefferies, The Weather, and National Weatherperson’s Day

I posted last week a couple of “This Day in History” blogs, highlighting the large number of world events that have occurred on 30th January, and about the great storm of 1953 on 31st January. I thought that the 5th February was worth a comment, and hopefully you will see why.

There have been some interesting events on this day in history, like the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg opening in 1852, or that in 1900, the UK and the USA signed a treaty for the Panama Canal. Bakelite became the world’s first synthetic plastic on this day in 1909, and in 1913 the first naval air mission was performed in a hydroplane.

In 1919, a group consisting of Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and DW Griffiths founded a film studio. What did this group of united artists call their company? United Artists.

In 1924, the pips, a favourite for Radio 4 listeners, were broadcast from the Royal Greenwich Observatory.

In 1958, the US lost the Tybee bomb. This was a hydrogen bomb that was lost after a collision between a Boeing B47 and an F-86 Sabre. The hydrogen bomb has never been recovered. Should you come across a 4m long mark 15 hydrogen bomb that weighs about 3400kg, somewhere near Savannah, Georgia, then check the serial number. If it’s 47782, then it’s the Tybee bomb.
The Apollo 14 astronauts landed on the moon on this day 1971, having an altogether more successful mission than their predecessors on Apollo 13.

25 years ago saw the first Red Nose Day. For those not familiar with the concept, this is the key fundraising opportunity for the charity Comic Relief, and features a telethon which has both comedians doing their bit for charity, and those who are not comedians becoming so for the evening.  We have had a host of famous musicians recording songs for the occasion, from popular acts like Boyzone,  McFly, and The Saturdays, to specials like The Stonk by a host of artists.  Sketches have even included the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, and have shown us Rowan Atkinson playing The Doctor in Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death, as well as French and Saunders in Harry Potter and the Secret Chamberpot of Azerbaijan.  In the years since 1988, Red Nose Day has become a huge event in the UK, and in doing so has raised millions for charities in the UK and Africa, often managing to achieve results with small grants that make a huge difference to the recipients.  

There have been a few famous births on this day too. In 1788, Robert Peel, Prime Minister of the UK was born, exactly four years after the birth of Nancy Hanks Lincoln, the mother of Abraham Lincoln. Frank Muir was born on the 5th February 1920, and in 1948, Sven Goran Erirksson was born. Duff McKagan, of Guns ‘n’ Roses and Velvet Revolver arrived on the planet on this day in 1964, the same day as Laura Linney.

However, one of the more interesting events of this day is related to a birth on this day in 1744. John Jefferies – but not this John Jefferies – was born in Boston, and found fame as a physician and scientist. He was a balloonist – a relatively new area of scientific research – and crossed the English channel in a balloon in 1785. He is well remembered as an early weather observer. He began taking daily weather measurements in 1774 in Boston, and in 1784 combined his experiences and took weather observations from a balloon over London.

In honour of John Jefferies, the 5th February is celebrated in the US as National Weatherperson’s Day. It is easy to forget these days just how important meteorology is in the modern world. The weather can impact so much of our daily lives, from being stuck in snow to being flooded, and having accurate forecasts can greatly reduce the impact of the extremes of the weather. We want our aircraft to avoid storms when they can, and we want to know when we are better staying at home than getting stranded in bad weather somewhere. Farmers can use weather forecasts to help with crops, either through predicting warm, dry periods, or identifying when frosts may occur. Our utility companies can determine the likely need for heating – or air conditioning – and can plan accordingly. Our supermarkets can stock the appropriate goods – including perishables – dependant on the expected weather. Although, my local supermarket seems to struggle with this. (Read the story here)

One of the benefits of modern weather forecasting is predicting the onset of extreme weather conditions, and tracking the likely movements of weather events. There are still storms with horrendous impacts, like Hurricane Katrina, but the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the US and the Caribbean in 2012 could have been so much worse had an evacuation not been possible due to the prediction of the weather’s arrival. The loss of life could have been so much worse ha d it not been for the work of weather forecasters. The death toll for Sandy was 253 across 7 countries, which is one tenth of the death toll of the storm that hit western Europe on the 31st January 1953.

So, when the thought of a weather forecaster next makes you think of the famous Michael Fish and the storm of 1987, or the John Kettley is a Weatherman song, then just think of John Jefferies, and his successors, and the lives that they have saved over the last two and a half centuries.

Happy National Weatherperson’s Day one and all.