The amazing discovery of cold fronts 100 years ago

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Scientists in Norway and Sweden formulated the theory that weather activity is concentrated in relatively narrow zones or "fronts." (Source: 3TV/American Meteorological Society) Scientists in Norway and Sweden formulated the theory that weather activity is concentrated in relatively narrow zones or "fronts." (Source: 3TV/American Meteorological Society)
These researchers got it right more than 100 years ago, a system of fronts we still use to this day. (Source: 3TV) These researchers got it right more than 100 years ago, a system of fronts we still use to this day. (Source: 3TV)
(3TV/CBS 5) -

One hundred years ago, the science of meteorology was still in its infancy. About the only thing that was taking hold were observations. Observation stations were popping up all over the place.

Even by 1896, there was an observation station in Phoenix. Fort Defiance in Apache County has the territory’s first weather station in 1851.

Early stations were run by the U.S. Army Signal Service. In 1891, the National Weather Bureau was formed.

So there were observations but no tangible way to forecast the weather, no theory if you will. Enter a group of Norwegian meteorologists, led by Vilhel Bjerknes and his son Jacob. Besides setting up a widespread network of weather stations in Norway, they were working on the first weather models, a mathematical approach to forecasting.

[MOBILE/APP USERS: Click/tap here to see photo of Vilhel Bjerknes]

Together, with a Swedish meteorologist named Tor Bergeron, they formulated the theory that weather activity is concentrated in relatively narrow zones. These zones were the boundary between relatively warm and cold air masses. They called the zones “fronts,” an analogy to the battlefields of World War I, which was currently raging.

[MOBILE/APP USERS: Click/tap here to see photo of drawings of old weather fronts]

Bjerknes, et al, published in 1921 the classic meteorological paper: On the Dynamics of the Circular Vortex with Applications to the Atmosphere and to Atmospheric Vortex and Wave Motion. It is an extensive account of the structure and evolution of cyclones (low-pressure systems). And the work is remarkably unaltered to this day. These researchers got it right more than 100 years ago, a system of fronts we still use to this day.

[MOBILE/APP USERS: Click/tap here to see photo of cold front in the U.S.]

And you know what’s even cooler about these meteorologists? They formulated their theory without ever seeing a single satellite photo of how clouds look from space. That didn’t start happening until the 1960s and you know what? Amazingly, the satellite information fit the Bjerknes' theory exactly. I’d say that’s a job well done.

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Copyright 2018 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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