This year marks the 150th anniversary of the meteorological service and March 23 marked the Day of the Workers of the Hydrometeorological Service of Russia. It was established by Decree of the President of the Russian Federation in 2008 and coincides with World Meteorological Day. However, the history of domestic meteorology goes back more than 300 years.
We are sitting in the office of one of the most popular people in St. Petersburg – the city’s chief forecaster, Alexander Kolesov. Newscasts rarely do without his participation and when something goes wrong over time, everyone remembers Alexander Mikhailovich. His office is located in the historic building of the former Main Geophysical Laboratory, opposite one of the buildings of the Mining Institute, on the banks of the Neva. It is now the Northwest Department of Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring.
Russia’s hydrometeorological service officially began in 1834, when Emperor Nicholas I signed a decree establishing the Regular Magnetic Meteorological Observatory. This is a milestone that united all the meteorological observations made in the country into a single type of observation. The measuring instruments were integrated and the weather information started to come out at a specific time.
“Before that, there was a terrible inconsistency: someone had devices at ground level, someone had them in a barn, this led to completely different results. It is believed that the hydrometeorological service was born that year. Of course, observations of the weather were made in the past, but there were no quantitative characteristics, only qualitative, the reference books simply described the weather according to the principle “frozen”, “wind”. “Our first scientists insisted that it was necessary not only to report in the newspapers that it was hot or snowy outside, but also to try to predict the weather,” notes Alexander Kolesov.
Scientists have been working on this for a long time. Academician Adolf Kupfer was appointed the first head of the Hydrometeorological Service. At his initiative, in 1849, the Main Physical Observatory (GFO, now the Main Geophysical Observatory) was established, which was entrusted with the production of physical observations and tests in an extensive form and generally for the study of Russia from a physical point of view. He was the one who came up with the idea of setting up a network of meteorological stations in Russia.
The real impetus to the development of the service was given by the famous Balaklava storm of 1854, when the storm destroyed entire fleets of some European countries. After sinking their fleet in Balaclava, the French collected weather data, tried to put it on the map and realized that this storm came from the Mediterranean Sea, passed through Odessa in the Crimea and destroyed the fleet. And then it became clear that the tragedy could have been averted.
The second important milestone in the history of the service was the creation of the telegraph. If the previous messengers provided weather information from the Russian provinces for weeks, then with the creation of the telegraph, reports began to arrive immediately.
“Then the first meteorological map was presented. At the same time, reports came from several stations, and the era of business maps began. It was already possible to understand what was happening in the atmosphere. I had to analyze on the go, there was a very long process of creating the map itself, applying icons, signatures. “Gradually, came the understanding of what to look out for, what should be indicated in the reports,” says Alexander Kolesov.
But hydrometeorology really began to serve people in 1872, when the meteorological service was actually created.
“What everyone expected happened: the experts were able to simultaneously describe the weather, issue reports and bring them to the consumer in modern language. There was a struggle over who would do it. Kupfer is a geophysicist, his fellow scientists supported him, but enormous pressures came from the fleet, they really needed predictions. Both agriculture and railways needed forecasts. For more than 30 years the Observatory was attached to the Mining Department. The main meteorological station of the city was located next to the Mining Institute. “We were and remain close to them. After the construction of a new building for the HFO, the main meteorological station moved here,” says Alexander Kolesov.
At zero GMT
The process of formulating the principles for the preparation of weather forecasts has been going on for many years. It was not until 1874 that the first warning of increased winds was issued in the Baltic Sea ports of Kronstadt. They then began sending reports to Landoga, the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. But there were no numbers. Reports went on to say: “Possible weather in Russia on December 11: light frosts in the northern zone. It is moderately warm in the east and southeast, it is possible to rain all over Russia, except in the extreme southeast.
“Such a prediction has nothing to do with it. Only in 1916, on the initiative of the director of the GPO Krylov, the Weather Bureau introduced numerical features to predict the air temperature for the next day. Predicting the motion of cyclones and gas mass is half the job of our specialist. The second half is a frontal analysis, the study of the movement of the foreheads, the clouds, the wind, the rainfall. “The use of frontal analysis was proposed to the world by Norwegian meteorologists in the late 1920s. Since then, meteorology and forecasting have become much the same as they are today,” Kolesov said.
Gradually, they began to calculate the likelihood of dangerous and adverse weather events, experts began to understand what and how it affects weather changes.
“The forecaster made a prediction only for tomorrow. He can look at the map, see the front and then his task is to predict what will happen next, how the gravitational formations will move, what time will come. Long-term meteorologists analyzed, for example, a cyclone over England and tried to understand what the brief conditions would be like on the second or third day. The first meteorologists in the early 1900s realized that there were patterns, circular patterns, that after several cyclones an anticyclone would be established. “This is still being used in long-term forecasts,” said the St. Petersburg chief meteorologist.
From the beginning of the predictions until today, man himself makes a weather forecast only for tomorrow, everything else is the absorption by the computer of all the knowledge that humanity has gathered so far.
“The first attempts to create mathematical calculations for the construction of future weather maps were in the 1930s, in the 1960s the measuring machine began on a computer, then with the introduction of computers they began to define tasks specifically for a computer, more specifically , one computer. supercomputer. These are huge amounts of power. A program starts on the supercomputer, calculates and gives the result. We have to broadcast the forecast in Moscow by 12 noon, because at 12 o’clock all the central media start broadcasting the weather for the next day. It is necessary to understand all the available information, make a decision and make a prediction. “So a lot depends on the computers,” he said.
The Hydrometeorological Service is living in Greenwich Mean Time to be united with the world. In the West it is midnight, in the European part of Russia it is 3 in the morning. All meteorological parameters (temperature, visibility, cloudiness, wind speed and wind direction) are currently taken, all of which are entered into the computer. At the same time, all over the world, and in the 5-6 thousand stations, meteorologists, observers observe and transmit telegrams, an initial gravitational field is created and the computer begins to calculate the future weather using this field. As man set the formulas, so he will calculate. As a result, the differences in the forecasts of the world’s leading hydrometeorological services are very large.
According to Alexander Kolesov, Peter the Great put the city in a place where almost all cyclones pass.
“It simply came to our notice then. The fact that all the cyclones go north, Peter did not know, there was no meteorology. And everyone was surprised when, during the construction of the city, it was covered by the first flood. As early as 1715, by decree of Peter the Great, a footstool was placed near the Fortress of Peter and Paul in Neva and the first measurements of the water level in Russia began. Flood warning service created. “A cannon was fired, a flag was hung, people with drums were taking to the streets,” said the meteorologist.
There are also individual cases. “It was very cold this winter and we were 10 degrees from the bat. There was a northeast wind, a cold mass of air at 20 degrees and a warm mass carried by the wind from Landoga. And it turned out that in Roschino, where there is no hot air, it was minus 22, and in St. Petersburg minus 10 degrees, although they expected the cold to reach the city center. And this unpredictable variability in our North can not be transferred to the modern consumer. “Yes, we try, but nature is like that,” admits Alexander Kolesov.