Tuesday, 13 January 2009: 2:30 PM
Will meteorologists lose their jobs? NWP and Automation Fears in the Fifties
Room 223 (Phoenix Convention Center)
Numerical weather prediction (NWP) held promise for a variety of meteorological communities in the late forties and early fifties. Theorists, such as Carl-Gustav Rossby and Jule Charney, viewed it as a way to speed up theoretical development. Military and US Weather Bureau meteorologists, including Francis Reichelderfer, Harry Wexler, Dan Rex, and Phil Thompson, were also looking at ways to provide objective analyses and prognoses to their far flung forecasting teams. But a nagging concern in this era of increasing automation was that computer-generated weather products—including forecasts being spit out of “electronic brains”—would lead to a significant reduction in the number of job openings for meteorologists, or might provide the cash-strapped Weather Bureau with a way of saving money by eliminating positions. Given what we know now about the man-machine mix necessary to create tailored weather forecasts, this may appear to have been an unrealistic worry. At the time it was very real—a matter of sufficient concern that it was addressed by the Weather Bureau's Joseph Smagorinsky on a radio interview show. In addition to the lack of confidence in computer-generated weather charts, it was also the underlying reason behind resistance to using these products on the forecast floor.