Hooke caught up in meteorology

The birthday boy in Weather Eye today is Robert Hooke, fondly remembered by generations of school-goers for the law of elasticity…

The birthday boy in Weather Eye today is Robert Hooke, fondly remembered by generations of school-goers for the law of elasticity that bears his name - Hooke's Law. He was born 362 years ago on July 18th, 1635, on the Isle of Wight. As a young man, he served as an assistant at Oxford to the Irish physicist Robert Boyle, and then went on to become a distinguished scientist in his own right. And he was also interested in meteorology.

In 1663, Hooke produced what might be called the first Observer's Handbook, a pamphlet entitled "The Observables for Making a History of the Weather". He began straight-forwardly enough, deeming it necessary, for example, to note "the Strength and Quarter of the Winds", and also the "Degrees of Heat and Cold in the Air, observed by a sealed Thermometer, graduated according to Degrees of Expansion which bear a known proportion to the whole bulk of the Liquor".

"The degrees of Dryness and Moisture," he reckoned, could be "conveniently observed by a Hygroscope made with a single beard of a wild Oat, set upright and headed with an Index". And also required were "the degrees of Pressure in the air, which may be several ways observed but best of all with an instrument with quicksilver, contrived so that it may sensibly exhibit the minute variation of the action". He goes on to specify an examination of "the constitution and face of the Sky or Heavens" - all familiar stuff to today's weatherpeople.

But then Hooke widens the scope of the observational routine considerably. The good weather observer, he says, should note: "what effects are produced upon other bodies: as what Aches and Distempers are in the bodies of men; what diseases are most rife, as Colds, Fevers, Agues, etc. What putrefactions or other changes are produced, as the sweating of Marble, the blasting of Trees and Corn, the plenty or scarcity of insects, and anything notable of that kind".


Also to be entered in the weather log are: "What Thunders and Lightnings happen, and what effects they may produce, as souring of Beer or Ale, turning Milk, etc. And also greater or lesser Tides than ordinary, Comets or unusual Apparitions, new Stars, Ignes fatui, shining Exhalations, or the like".

All this is rather more than we expect from our present weather observers. But Hooke ends with a final piece of advice on observations with which no meteorologist would quarrel: "They should all, or most of them, be diligently observed and registered by some one that is always conversant in or near the same place."