Percy Saltzman Essay: Weather As A Hobby/h1>

Sunday, January 13, 1952

(CBC Maritimes Network)
SERIES VI, Script 15

Some of my listeners perhaps make a hobby out of the weather; others perhaps know, or know of, someone who has devoted a part of his spare time to keeping detailed records of the steady march of weather happenings. Those who have never become actively interested in weather study may be tempted to wonder what the hobbyist gets out of his pastime. It's rather difficult to answer such wonderings in a few words. And, as one of my listeners, William Radford, of Halifax, has written to ask me to give some tips on how you can go about making a hobby of weather, I thought that it would be worth while devoting a few Sundays to this subject, as perhaps there are others who also would like some advice about it. Then, too, Percy Saltzman, of our Toronto Headquarters staff, has prepared some broadcast material relating to this subject, so I've taken advantage of his notes in preparing my material.

Of course, for those who can't understand what a person can get out of such a hobby, I might say that the obvious answer is that the weather hobbyist simply finds meteorology more interesting than horses, poker games or bingos, and a great deal less costly than any of these may become. This, of course, brings up another point.

Many folks have the idea that a hobby such as this must cost a fortune. Of course it doesn't. One of its chief charms is that you can make it as inexpensive or as costly as your means and inclinations dictate. You may be an amateur who amuses yourself in a leisurely way by sketching clouds, and thereby spend very little on your hobby; yet if you make a few notes on the back of each sketch, descriptive of the weather at the time and of the weather that follows, you're taking a very intelligent interest, which is quite likely to produce some useful results. If you want to spend about three cents a day for a subscription to daily weather maps, and one or two elementary books, you can find further interest in linking your notes and sketches with the weather picture over the western hemisphere.

At the other end of the scale is the more fortunate amateur, with a suitable quarter of an acre of land and several hundred dollars which he's able and willing to devote to his study. Such an individual could set up quite a complete observatory and enter into very active co-operation with the Meteorological Service by reporting his observations regularly.

In between is a wide range of activity. Naturally what anyone amateur might do would be governed by his keenness and his means of equipping himself; also, his activities would be guided by the branch of this very extensive subject which commands his interest. For the mathematical student, for example, working with the largo mass of statistics published in our "Monthly Weather Map" can prove an inexpensive and absorbing pastime. In addition, there's always the possibility that you would come up with some useful, original work and this would be without the expense of taking your own observations.

I know of one weather hobbyist whose interest runs mainly to the comparison of the weather of one year with that of another. For this purpose he selected three weather elements which, taken together, cover the general weather picture pretty completely. These are temperature, sunshine and rainfall. For purposes of comparison he divides each year into 73 short periods of five days and five "seasons" of 73 days. Of course, periods of any length may be sued, but he chose these as being conbenient. At the end of each period he plots out highest and lowest temperatures, sunshine totals and rainfalls amounts. to plot these he uses quared paper and puts all three curves on one sheet. Thus he obtains a very clear picture of the weather conditions for the year. Then, by plotting succeeding years in spaces alongside the same periods of the first year, he gets, in a glance, an easy comparison of one year with another. This, of course, is only one way of arranging the data. Each individual no doubt makes up his own methods, this being one of the most interesting aspects of the hobby.

Perhaps before I go any further I should explains the way in which I'm using the word "amateur" in dealing with weather as a hobby.

In former times an amateur was someone who studied a subject for the love of it; that's the meaning which I'm still giving to this work. Unfortunately, nowadays the word is commonly used in rather a belittling sense; it's used to refer not to someone who loves the subject, but rather to someone who doesn't know enough about the subject to make a financially successful profession out of it. In other words, we got into the habit of saying that so-and-so is "only an amateur".

Now I'll be the first to admit that the position of the amateur in science is becoming increasingly difficult because of the advances in scientific technique. Back in 1591 Galileo was able to upset the philosophy established by Aristotle by the simple experiment of dropping weights of one pound and one hundred pounds simultaneously from the top of the leaning tower of Pisa. Even in the early part of the present century fundamental contributions to physics were made using simple apparatus. Now, however, the day of the bent hairpin and piece of string is gone, and the tools of the scientist include 130 ton magnets and million-volt generators; thus much of experimental physics has been effectively removed from the field of the amateur.

Nevertheless, I think that there's still room for the amateur, and I feel that there's more scope in meteorology than in any other branch of physical science. In the past, amateur weather observers have performed invaluable service, and most of our knowledge of climatic conditions in the 1th and 19th centuries is due to records kept by enthusiastic amateurs.

Just in case you've got the idea by now that I'm a bit of a screwball to think that many people would ever take this much interest in the weather, might I call to your minds the saying which I hear very often indeed, namely, "Everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it." Incidentally, that quotation is usually blamed on Mark Twain, but there's absolutely no record that I know of which shows that the famous American humourist actually coined the saying. I believe that Mark Twain knew very well that it was far from being a true statement.

To begin with, I dare say that there are quite a number of people who don't talk about the weather. Of course, personally, I never meet them ... perhaps, thought, that's my own fault ... after all a professional weatherman eventually gets to the point where he seldom talks about anything else. But getting back to that saying, the second part of it is definitely misleading. In a sense nearly everyone does do something about it. Every time you glance out of the window or stop outdoors you take a quick look at the sky; in so doing you're observing the weather, and nine times out of ten I'll be that you're either consciously or subconsciously making a prediction about its future. Most of us find ourselves doing that very often, even if we only look out the window to see if we should wear a top-coat or rubbers. The fisherman, the farmer and the sailor do this more or less consciously because with them the weather's a matter of profit or loss, and even life or death. The housewife, the sportsman and the vacationer are often equally interested and concerned. The sugar maker in Quebec never forgets that the sap won't run with the wind in the south. The beekeeper in the Maritimes knows full well that the threat of rain will send many thousands of bees hastening home to pile up around the entrance of the hives and then sit around in idleness instead of being out in the fields living up to their reputation of being as "busy as a bee". And the sugar maker and the beekeeper are only two out of dozens and dozens of kinds of businesses where the weather's taken into account and something's done about it.

Then, too, besides the practical side of something about the weather, there's another side which is just as important ... the point which I mentioned at the beginning of today's talk ... that is, simply enjoying the weather, either as a hobby or as a matter of the moment. There are those of us who simply love the weather for its own sake, who get keen delight from the changing skies, form the sounds and smells and colours of the air in which we live. To such people the weather is a book companion ... something no one can regulate or charge admission to, something which lies beyond the tampering power of politicians.

Some of the people who love weather become professionals. They man weather stations, conduct experiments, issue the official forecasts, or live in the ivory tower of higher mathematics. Most of them, however, remain amateurs. That is, they don't get paid for their predictions. Nevertheless, they continue to make them and they'll go to great lengths to explain why there were wrong.

There's probably no professional man who receives more free and unsolicited advice than toes the weatherman. Most folks think twice before arguing with a doctor, an architect or an economist. With meteorology it's quite a different story. Just about everyone is his own weatherman, will argue at the drop of a hat with a professional meteorologist. Of course, those of you who have come into direct contact with the weatherman know that he welcomes such arguments, for he's happy to meet anyone with whom he can talk shop. In fact, if there's anything the forecaster is quick to complain about, it's not that there are too many interested in his work, but too few. Down this way we're lucky because so many of you don take an intelligent interest in our doings. But in many parts of Canada the weatherman and his work are a mystery to large numbers of people, ... and they're not doing anything to get behind the scenes of this fascinating subject. Even down here there isn't any organized group dealing in weather activities.

When we glance across the border into the United States, we see that people interesting int he weather as a hobby are doing something about it. They've formed and active group called the Amateur Weathermen of America. They publish a fine little magazine called "Weatherwise"; they conduct summertime study courses in camps; and in general they have a happy and instructive time with their hobby.

As you might expect, over in England even more people are doing something about the weather. A good number of amateur weathermen belong to the Royal Meteorological Society; this organization publishes a brilliant little magazine called "Weather". Incidentally, a number of Canadian weathermen contribute popular articles to this magazine, and in recent months two articles written by forecasters in our Halifax office have appeared. When you read this publication you can't help but be impressed by the large number of Englishmen who watch the weather's daily march, who keep detailed records, plot their own weather maps, keep abreast of the latest development in the science, and contribute a good deal to basic research. And remember, these are not paid professional men, but merely those who love their hobby.

Yes, weather as a hobby is a fascinating pursuit. It gives a person a life-long interest, hleps him to form a better understanding of our official forecastes, makes him better acquainted with the climate of the place in which he lives, and develops in him a surprising knack of making his own forecasts for his own locality.

For my broadcast next Sunday, I've prepared some hints as to just how you can go about the matter of organizing the hobby for yourself.