The Ancient Art of Weather Predictions

By: The Scribe on Monday, July 15, 2013

weathervaneAnd just like today’s meteorologists, people in the past didn’t always get things right either.

Attempting to predict the weather is a task that’s been around for millennia. As far back as 650 BC, the Babylonians used astrology and cloud patterns to try and figure out what to wear that week, and a few hundred years later, Aristotle wrote about weather patterns and predictions in his 340 BC work Meteorologica.

While the obvious answer to “how’d they do it?” is certainly “looked up,” a more unconventional (to us) method was to observe animals and insects. Folk belief stated that roosters and frogs made noise in the evenings to predict rain the next day, and that whole business about a groundhog seeing its shadow and “predicting” another six weeks of winter? That’s a holdover from this old way of weather forecasting.

We do have evidence that around 300 BC, both Indian astronomers and the Chinese were developing their own methods of weather forecasting. Some of these methods relied on observed patterns of events, also known as pattern recognition. Over time, the accumulated data of pattern observation would develop into weather lore, which became the standard by which weather was predicted in a society.

During the Arab Agricultural Revolution, an Iraqi alchemist and agriculturalist named Ibn Wahshiyya translated a book called Nabatean Agriculture from Babylonian Aramaic, which was a treatise on the subject that included information on ancient Babylonian weather and agriculture. For example, it discussed how the observation of planetary astral alterations could assist in forecasting atmospheric changes; how observation of lunar phases could predict rain; how wind direction and movement could help forecast the weather.

It was a significant work on weather and agriculture for 904 AD, and it greatly contributed to scientific development in the Muslim world at this time—and it really wasn’t until 1835 and the invention of the electric telegraph that the modern age of weather forecasting as we know it truly began!


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