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Environment and History

US Weather Bureau Chief Willis Moore and the Reimagination of Uncertainty in Long-Range Forecasting

Jamie L. Pietruska

Environment and History 17 (2011): 79-105. doi: 10.3197/096734011X12922359172970

This article examines competing modes of knowledge production in the context of long-range weather forecasting in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. The US Weather Bureau, a newly constituted civilian organisation in 1891, sought to build its institutional reputation based on authoritative short-term 24-hour forecasts by discrediting the popular and ubiquitous 'weather prophets' who made long-range predictions. Chief Willis L. Moore, at the helm of the Weather Bureau from 1895 to 1913, initially condemned long-range forecasting as superstition and quackery inherently inferior to professional meteorological expertise. But the Weather Bureau, which began issuing its own weekly forecasts in 1908, reimagined long-range forecasting to accept the very indeterminacy it had formerly denounced, thereby rationalising the uncertainty of weather prediction into its weekly forecasts and into its vision of modern scientific meteorology.

KEYWORDS: US Weather Bureau, Willis Moore, weather prophets, weather forecasting, professionalisation, science and the public, knowledge production, uncertainty, prediction


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