Cleveland Abbe

Cleveland Abbe

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Cleveland Abbe was an American meteorologist and advocate of time zones. While director of the Cincinnati Observatory in Cincinnati, Ohio
Ohio is a Midwestern state in the United States. The 34th largest state by area in the U.S.,it is the 7th‑most populous with over 11.5 million residents, containing several major American cities and seven metropolitan areas with populations of 500,000 or more.The state's capital is Columbus...

, he developed a system of telegraphic weather reports, daily weather maps, and weather forecasts. Congress in 1870 established the U.S. Weather Bureau
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration , pronounced , like "noah", is a scientific agency within the United States Department of Commerce focused on the conditions of the oceans and the atmosphere...

 and inaugurated the use of daily weather forecasts. In recognition of his work, Abbe, who was often known as Old Probability for the reliability of his forecasts, was appointed the first head of the new service.

Early life

Cleveland Abbe was born in New York City, and grew up in the prosperous merchant family of George Waldo and Charlotte Colgate Abbe. One of his younger brothers, Robert
Robert Abbe
Robert Abbe was an American surgeon and pioneer radiologist in New York City. He was born in New York City and educated at the College of the City of New York and Columbia University ....

, became a prominent surgeon and radiologist. In school, Cleveland excelled in mathematics and chemistry, and graduated in 1857 from the Free Academy
City College of New York
The City College of the City University of New York is a senior college of the City University of New York , in New York City. It is also the oldest of the City University's twenty-three institutions of higher learning...

 in 1857. He then taught engineering for two years at the University of Michigan
University of Michigan
The University of Michigan is a public research university located in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the United States. It is the state's oldest university and the flagship campus of the University of Michigan...

 while at the same time studying astronomy under Franz Brunnow at the University. When the Civil War broke out, he tried to join the Union Army; however, he failed the vision test and spent the War years in Cambridge, Massachusetts, working as an assistant to Benjamin Gould
Benjamin Apthorp Gould
Benjamin Apthorp Gould was a pioneering American astronomer. He is notable for creating the Astronomical Journal, discovering the Gould Belt, and for founding of the Argentine National Observatory and the Argentine National Weather Service.-Biography:He was born in Boston, Massachusetts, son of...

 (astronomer and head of Longitude Department of the United States Coast Survey). He then studied abroad in Russia and later returned to the U.S. eager to study astronomy
Astronomy is a natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth...

. In 1868 he was hired by the Cincinnati Astronomical Society, but the organization lacked funding and he lost his job less than a year later. He then made the decision that would change his career path. Remembering that meteorological conditions directly affect the work of astronomers, he began working in the field of meteorology. He won approval to report on and predict the weather, working on the premise that forecasts could and should be generated at minimal expense and in such a way as to perhaps even produce income.

Meteorological career

In order to compile his information, Abbe required a time-keeping system that was consistent between the stations. To accomplish this he divided the United States into four standard time zones. In 1883, he convinced North American railroad companies to adopt his time zone system. In 1884, Britain, which had already adopted its own standard time system for England, Scotland, and Wales, helped gather international consent for global time

One of the first things that he addressed was the forecasting dimension of meteorology. He recognized that predicting the weather required a widespread, yet coordinated, team. And so, with short term funding granted from the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce
Chamber of commerce
A chamber of commerce is a form of business network, e.g., a local organization of businesses whose goal is to further the interests of businesses. Business owners in towns and cities form these local societies to advocate on behalf of the business community...

, he enlisted twenty volunteer weather observers to help report conditions. Western Union
Western Union
The Western Union Company is a financial services and communications company based in the United States. Its North American headquarters is in Englewood, Colorado. Up until 2006, Western Union was the best-known U.S...

 agreed to permit the observers to communicate without charge, and Abbe and his team began work. He selected data-collecting instruments that would be critical to the success of weather predicting, and trained Army observer sergeants in their use. Field data was transmitted using code designed to minimize word count, and at the designated times, information flooded the transmission stations. Clerks would then decode and record the messages, and manually enter data onto weather maps, which were then used to predict the weather.

On February 19, 1871, Abbe personally gave the first official weather report. He continued to forecast alone for the next six months, while simultaneously training others. He was joined in mid-1871 by two army lieutenants and a civilian professor in giving reports, and the team was then able to rotate the heavy workload.
Abbe demanded precise language in the forecasts, and made sure every forecast covered four key meteorological elements: weather (clouds and precipitation), temperature, wind direction, and barometric pressure. By the end of the first year of reporting, over sixty copies of weather charts went to Congress, the press, and various scientific institutions. By 1872, Abbe regularly sent over five hundred sets of daily maps and bulletins overseas in exchange for European meteorological data. Abbe also insisted on verifying predictions. During the first year of operation in 1871, Abbe and his staff verified 69% of their predications; the annual report apologized for the other 31%, citing the pressure of time as the cause.

Abbe required that the weather service stay at the forefront of technology. Over time, the instrument division at the headquarters tested and calibrated thousands of devices, and even began to design and build their own instruments. By the end of the century, self-registering equipment came into use and the United States lead the meteorological world with 114 Class I (automatic recording) observation stations. Anticipating an increase in international cooperation, Abbe began to seek quality instruments calibrated to international standards. He enlisted Wolcott Gibbs
Oliver Wolcott Gibbs
For the writer, see Wolcott Gibbs.Oliver Wolcott Gibbs was an American chemist. He is known for performing the first electrogravimetric analyses, namely the reductions of copper and nickel ions to their respective metals.- Biography:Oliver Wolcott Gibbs was born in New York City in 1822 to...

 of Harvard
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 and Arthur Wright
Arthur Williams Wright
Arthur Williams Wright was an American physicist, born at Lebanon, Conn. He graduated at Yale in 1859 and became an instructor in the Sheffield Scientific School in 1867–1868...

 of Yale
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

 to design improved equipment. For comparison purposes, Abbe ordered a barometer from Heinrich Wild
Heinrich von Wild
Heinrich von Wild or Heinrich Wild I was a Swiss meteorologist and physicist. He was born December 17, 1833, at Uster, , and was educated at Zurich, Königsberg, and Heidelberg. In 1858 he was appointed professor of physics and director of the observatory at Bern...

 (director of the Nicholas Central Observatory in Russia), as well as an anemometer and several types of hygrometers from Germany. Abbe then invented an anemobarometer to test the effect of chimney and window drafts on barometers in enclosed spaces.

Abbe was elected Associate Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. The Academy’s elected members are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs.James Bowdoin, John Adams, and...

 in 1884. In 1912 the Royal Meteorological Society
Royal Meteorological Society
The Royal Meteorological Society traces its origins back to 3 April 1850 when the British Meteorological Society was formed as a society the objects of which should be the advancement and extension of meteorological science by determining the laws of climate and of meteorological phenomena in general...

 presented him with the Symons Memorial Gold Medal, citing his contribution “to instrumental, statistical, dynamical, and thermo dynamical meteorology and forecasting.” In 1916 he was awarded the Public Welfare Medal
Public Welfare Medal
The Public Welfare Medal is awarded by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences "in recognition of distinguished contributions in the application of science to the public welfare." It is the most prestigious honor conferred by the Academy...

 from the National Academy of Sciences
United States National Academy of Sciences
The National Academy of Sciences is a corporation in the United States whose members serve pro bono as "advisers to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine." As a national academy, new members of the organization are elected annually by current members, based on their distinguished and...

. Abbe died the same year after a lifetime of outstanding scientific achievement. He was buried in Rock Creek Cemetery
Rock Creek Cemetery
Rock Creek Cemetery — also Rock Creek Church Yard and Cemetery — is an cemetery with a natural rolling landscape located at Rock Creek Church Road, NW, and Webster Street, NW, off Hawaii Avenue, NE in Washington, D.C.'s Michigan Park neighborhood, near Washington's Petworth neighborhood...

 in Washington, DC.

Monthly Weather Review

Cleveland Abbe founded the scientific journal Monthly Weather Review
Monthly Weather Review
The Monthly Weather Review is a scientific journal published by the American Meteorological Society.Topics covered by the journal include research related to analysis and prediction of observed and modeled circulations of the atmosphere, including technique development, data assimilation, model...

 in 1872. The Monthly Weather Review began as a government publication under the United States Army Signal Corps
United States Army Signal Corps
The United States Army Signal Corps develops, tests, provides, and manages communications and information systems support for the command and control of combined arms forces. It was established in 1860, the brainchild of United States Army Major Albert J. Myer, and has had an important role from...

. In 1891, the Signal Office's meteorological responsibilities were transferred to the Weather Bureau under the United States Department of Agriculture
United States Department of Agriculture
The United States Department of Agriculture is the United States federal executive department responsible for developing and executing U.S. federal government policy on farming, agriculture, and food...

. The Weather Bureau published the Review until 1970 when the Bureau became part of the newly formed National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration , pronounced , like "noah", is a scientific agency within the United States Department of Commerce focused on the conditions of the oceans and the atmosphere...

. NOAA published the Review until the end of 1973. Since 1974, this well respected scientific journal has been published by the American Meteorological Society
American Meteorological Society
The American Meteorological Society promotes the development and dissemination of information and education on the atmospheric and related oceanic and hydrologic sciences and the advancement of their professional applications. Founded in 1919, the American Meteorological Society has a membership...


Selected writings

Abbe was also a genealogist, writing the history of his paternal family in the book The Abbe-Abbey Genealogy which was co-authored with Josephine Nichols. His other publications include:
  • Annual Summary and Review of Progress in Meteorology (1873–88)
  • Treatise on Meteorological Apparatus and Methods (1887)
  • Preliminary Studies for Storm and Weather Predictions (1889)
  • The Mechanics of the Earth's Atmosphere (1891)
  • Physical Basis of Long Range Forecastings (1902)
  • Relations between Climates and Crops (1905)
  • Townsend Genealogy: A Record of the Descendants of John Townsend, 1743-1821, and of His Wife, Jemima Travis, 1746-1832 (1909)
  • Mechanics of the Earth's Atmosphere (third coll. 1911)

Further reading

  • Reingold, Nathan. "Abbe, Cleveland." in Dictionary of Scientific Biography
    Dictionary of Scientific Biography
    The Dictionary of Scientific Biography is a scholarly reference work that was published from 1970 through 1980. It is supplemented by the New Dictionary of Scientific Biography and an electronic version that includes both publications....

    (1970). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. Vol. 1: p. 6.

External links