(WYTV) – February 5 is designated “National Weatherperson’s Day” in the United States. Though modern weather forecasting has advanced by leaps and bounds over the last several decades, the reason for this designation stems from an event in the 1700s!
I can’t find when the date was first designated as a day to recognize scientists, meteorologists, forecasters and contributors in the field of weather. The reason it is as celebrated on February 5 is in commemoration of America’s unofficial first weatherperson.
February 5 is the birthdate of John Jeffries, a Boston-born physician and scientist. He was born in 1744 and died September 16th, 1819.
According to the National Weather Service, Jeffries began taking daily weather observations in Boston in 1774. Those daily observations are not the primary reason he is remembered though.
He is celebrated for his scientific achievement in the year 1784, when he took the first weather balloon observation of the upper atmosphere.
What did America’s first weatherperson look like? CLICK HERE for his portrait from the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum
Here’s a little background on how it went down:
It is obvious that Jeffries was intrigued by weather, spending the ten years prior to 1784 recording daily observations. However, it is unclear whether he intended to take a balloon ride because of his meteorological curiosity or to experience a balloon ride.
According to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, ballooning was very popular in the 18th century among the French. Though born in Boston, Jeffries also spent time living in England where he met French balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard in 1784. In the fall of that year, Jeffries paid Blanchard to take him up in a balloon.
According to the National Weather Service, Jeffries carried a thermometer, a barometer and a hygrometer to the height of 9000 feet and took observations.
A thermometer measures air temperature, a barometer measures atmospheric air pressure, and a hydrometer measures atmospheric moisture content. That trip marks the first known scientific observations of the upper atmosphere.
According to the Smithsonian, Blanchard and Jeffries made another groundbreaking balloon trip in January 1785, making the first aerial crossing of the English Channel, flying from Dover, England to Calais, France. That trip made him the first American to make a free flight. Though the flight was historic, it is his contributions to studying the atmosphere above that led to commemorating him and all scientists and contributors in the weather field on February 5.
Weather balloon observations have come a long way since 1784
To this day, weather balloon observations continue and play a crucial role in weather forecasting.
Twice a day, everyday, weather balloons are launched from around 900 locations across the entire globe at the same time. A little over 90 of those launches occur in the United States, the closest to the Valley happening twice a day in Pittsburgh.
The data collected is the primary source of observations of the upper atmosphere, providing data on temperature profiles, moisture content, wind speeds and directions, etc.
The data is collected through an instrument called a radiosonde that provides a continuous measure of variables as it rises through the atmosphere.
The data collected is sent back to computers at the Weather Service offices that launch them.
Eventually the balloon will expand under the lower atmospheric pressure above to a point where it pops and the radiosonde will parachute back down to the surface.
In the U.S., the radiosondes contain information on how to return them to the National Weather Service to be reused.
The data collected from these instruments across the globe are one of the core components entered into weather forecast modeling computers.