The amazing discovery of cold fronts 100 years ago

Posted: Updated:
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.

Click/tap here to download the free azfamily mobile app.

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


Popular Stories
  • Arizona's Family Weather BlogMore>>

  • Don't miss the Perseid meteor shower this weekend

    Don't miss the Perseid meteor shower this weekend

    Tuesday, August 7 2018 1:05 PM EDT2018-08-07 17:05:19 GMT
    (Source: NASA)(Source: NASA)
    Don't miss the Perseid meteor shower this weekend. (Source: NASA)Don't miss the Perseid meteor shower this weekend. (Source: NASA)

    This weekend, once the sun sets, head outside and check out the Perseid meteor shower.   

    More >

    This weekend, once the sun sets, head outside and check out the Perseid meteor shower.   

    More >
  • Before you had live radar in the palm of your hand, there were weather kiosks

    Before you had live radar in the palm of your hand, there were weather kiosks

    Tuesday, August 7 2018 1:05 PM EDT2018-08-07 17:05:09 GMT
    (Sources: National Archives and Library of Congress)(Sources: National Archives and Library of Congress)
    (Sources: National Archives and Library of Congress)(Sources: National Archives and Library of Congress)

    The high-tech way of disseminating weather information in the late 1890s and early 1900s, we introduce the weather kiosk.

    More >

    The high-tech way of disseminating weather information in the late 1890s and early 1900s, we introduce the weather kiosk.

    More >
  • Wet winter on the way?

    Wet winter on the way?

    Wednesday, August 1 2018 7:31 PM EDT2018-08-01 23:31:42 GMT
    (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)(Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
    (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)(Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

    It's the middle of summer and our minds are on the monsoon and this brutal Arizona heat. But if we allow ourselves to daydream about winter a little bit, there might be something to get excited about.

    More >

    It's the middle of summer and our minds are on the monsoon and this brutal Arizona heat. But if we allow ourselves to daydream about winter a little bit, there might be something to get excited about.

    More >
  • Featured VideoMore>>

  • Art Institute of Phoenix to close down in December

    Art Institute of Phoenix to close down in December

    Tuesday, August 21 2018 1:29 AM EDT2018-08-21 05:29:40 GMT
    Students received an email letting them know that at the end of the year, the Art Institute of Phoenix will be closing its doors for good. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)Students received an email letting them know that at the end of the year, the Art Institute of Phoenix will be closing its doors for good. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
    Students received an email letting them know that at the end of the year, the Art Institute of Phoenix will be closing its doors for good. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)Students received an email letting them know that at the end of the year, the Art Institute of Phoenix will be closing its doors for good. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

    With unfinished degrees and a lot of questions, students at one Valley college are left scrambling wondering what to do next. For more than a month, students have heard rumors of their school closing. Then on Friday, it was made official.

    More >

    With unfinished degrees and a lot of questions, students at one Valley college are left scrambling wondering what to do next. For more than a month, students have heard rumors of their school closing. Then on Friday, it was made official.

    More >
  • UPDATE: Police identify man, woman killed in small plane crash

    UPDATE: Police identify man, woman killed in small plane crash

    Tuesday, August 21 2018 1:10 AM EDT2018-08-21 05:10:28 GMT
    The pilot has been identified as 54-year-old, Theodore Rich and the passenger has been identified as 49-year-old Elaine Carpenter. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5/Facebook)The pilot has been identified as 54-year-old, Theodore Rich and the passenger has been identified as 49-year-old Elaine Carpenter. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5/Facebook)

    The two victims in Monday morning's small plane crash have been identified.

    More >

    The two victims in Monday morning's small plane crash have been identified.

    More >
  • Kickstarter campaign launcher for 'Maverick Mural' of Sen. John McCain

    Kickstarter campaign launcher for 'Maverick Mural' of Sen. John McCain

    Tuesday, August 21 2018 12:35 AM EDT2018-08-21 04:35:51 GMT
    A local artist, an architect and a developer want to create a mural in honor of Sen. John McCain in Old Town Scottsdale. (Source: Chen+Suchart Studio)A local artist, an architect and a developer want to create a mural in honor of Sen. John McCain in Old Town Scottsdale. (Source: Chen+Suchart Studio)

    A local artist, architect and developer have started a Kickstarter campaign to create a 'Maverick Mural' in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, commemorating Sen. John McCain. 

    More >

    A local artist, architect and developer have started a Kickstarter campaign to create a 'Maverick Mural' in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, commemorating Sen. John McCain. 

    More >