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Title: The Invention of Clouds: How an Amateur Meteorologist Forged the Language of the Skies
Author(s): Richard Hamblyn
Number of Referenced Stories: 2

Publication Year: 2001
ISBN: 9780312420017
Dewey Decimal Class: 500
Dewey Decimal Division: 551
Author Website:

B's Buzz

On a cold evening at six o’clock in a still colder basement of an old building in Plough Court, London, England an unknown amateur meteorologist rose to speak.  He untied a stack of handwritten papers and set a roll of watercolor drawings on a nearby chair.  This was December, 1802 and this 30-year-old Quaker and chemist named Luke Howard was to address a room of people drawn to science and philosophy.  He never imagined that this dreary evening his talk about classification including a handful of new definitions would mark a beginning in the modernization of meteorology and bring him notoriety, if not fame.

This was an hour that began a lifelong journey.  An unknown amateur whose day job was in a chemical factory off Lombard Street was giving language to nature’s most inexpressible and seemingly uncontrolled forms.  This was not man’s first attempt, but his was the first to stick and then spread across the winds of time.  Our skies began to be defined for the first time in a practical and consistent way.   As his lecture concluded, Luke Howard had defined Earth’s clouds in a universal way.

Howard’s system gave order to visible and observable facts, while also accounting for changes within these familial cloud patterns.  Clouds had a few basic forms which he named cirrus, cumulus and stratus along with four other combinations yet each form had many individual shapes due to natural physical processes that change how moisture behaves in the atmosphere.  His causative definitions also laid the groundwork for weather forecasting and the multitude of ways that now routine public service has influenced each of our daily plans and over time saved the lives of many.

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