Weather reading stations like Armagh have improved our knowledge of the world

Armagh Planetarium and neighbouring Armagh Observatory
Armagh Planetarium and neighbouring Armagh Observatory

Weather forecasts are sometimes now so uncannily good that it as if we are in a science fiction age.

I have watched TV broadcasts which show how rain will sweep across Northern Ireland at particular times the following day and then, sure enough, the next day it begins to rain in Belfast at just the time the forecasters said it would.

Perhaps one day we will be able to enter our location into a device that will read coming weather so precisely that it will tell us it will rain at 1.38pm, cease at 3.11pm, with bouts of sunshine after 4.39 pm.

When this newspaper began publishing, weather forecasts were almost non existent. The inability to know what conditions were coming cost many people their lives.

The earliest surviving editions of the paper, from 1738 and 1739, which I serialised each day on their 275th anniversary in 2013 and 2014, are filled with reports on big Man of War boats charging across oceans.

Often there are stories about such a vessel having “founder’d” in a storm, with major loss of life.

The 1700s were a time of notable advancements in science and technology, hence the emergence of newspapers on a large scale.

As the On This Day column on the opposite page shows, even observing weather was a recent innovation back then let alone forecasting it (meteorological observations were first taken in 1654).

Today on page three (link below) we tell the story of the Armagh Observatory, which was set up in 1794 and which now has a 224-year unbroken record of weather readings. This is thanks in part to Theresa Hardcastle stepping in to take records after her husband died on his way to become observatory director.

Several times this year I used Armagh data when reporting on the exceptional summer weather we had between May and late July.

Similar such records from around the world contribute to our understanding of things such as climate change. We only have a tiny amount of regular data on weather through human history: 300 or so years out of tens of thousands.

Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

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Recognition for the Armagh Observatory, which has been operating since 1794