Pioneer of weather forecasting

7th May, 2015

The name Vice Admiral Robert FitzRoy is probably not one that too many of you will be familiar with; however last week marked the 150th anniversary of his death. Why is he significant you are probably wondering - well he played a major role in developing the accurate methods of weather forecasting that improve the way we operate as a company today.

In many ways, Robert FitzRoy was a man ahead of his time. He was a pioneer of meteorology, the world's first full-time weather forecaster and a founding father of what we know today as the Met Office. Thanks to his work, accurate weather forecasting became a reality and his legacy continues to be at the forefront of scientific discovery to this day.

His Early Life

FitzRoy's early life was spent in the navy; having joined in 1818 aged just 12. He would go on to make his name as the commander aboard several ships, most notably HMS Beagle - the voyages of which were made famous by Charles Darwin. The two first met in 1831, with FitzRoy inviting Darwin aboard the Beagle as company for the long journey. Darwin would go on to become synonymous with the voyages of Beagle, though FitzRoy would play a crucial role as the ship's captain.

Having returned to England in 1836, FitzRoy would go on to spend much of the 1840s in politics. During this time he would introduce a bill aimed at dramatically improving the safety of people at sea through new qualifications for ships master and mates.

Establishing the Met Office

By 1954 an experimental government department had been created under the Board of Trade, with the aim of researching the possibility of forecasting the weather. Initially it was thought this could help to protect the safety of ships and their crew whilst at sea. This department is known today as the Met Office.

FitzRoy was chosen to head up the new department, with the job of establishing meteorology as a science. Spurred on by such tragedies as the sinking of the Royal Charter in 1859, he would develop many of the fundamental techniques used in modern weather forecasting. These included:

  • Storm Warning Service: Using fire-lit canvassed covered frames, it became possible to alert ships to the dangers of approaching storms.
  • Synoptic Charts: For the first time weather observations recorded at the same time were drawn on a map to aid in the forecasting of weather.

In later life FitzRoy increasingly struggled with depression and the pressures of work and criticism took a severe toll on his health. On April 30th 1865 he would take his own life. During his life he exhausted his entire fortune, the equivalent to around £400,000 in today's money, on public service.

At Ice Watch we owe much to the pioneering techniques of Robert FitzRoy and his work in creating the Met Office. As a company we are heavily dependent on the data we receive from both the Met Office and WeatherQuest. Thanks to accurate forecasting data we are able to offer our clients a gritting and snow clearance service that is both efficient and reliable - only gritting when is absolutely necessary, yet always being there when required.

For more information about our 24/7 forecasting service and the role the Met Office data plays in protecting our clients, please click here.

Weather report for Saxmundham

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