Cleveland "Old Probs" Abbe: Background information when reading Rain

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio


A Natural and Cultural History

by Cynthia Barnett

Rain by Cynthia Barnett X
Rain by Cynthia Barnett
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2015, 368 pages

    Apr 2016, 368 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
Buy This Book

About this Book

Cleveland "Old Probs" Abbe

This article relates to Rain

Print Review

Cleveland AbbeOne of the many people profiled briefly in Rain: A Natural And Cultural History, is Cleveland Abbe, a pioneer in American meteorology. Born in New York City in 1838, the eldest of seven siblings, Abbe would go on to earn professional degrees in astronomy. But as he advanced his studies, he increasingly came to realize the intersection between the study of celestial objects and the weather: "Astronomers who would improve their meridional measurements must investigate their local atmospheric conditions more thoroughly, and to this end must have numerous surrounding meteorological observations." It was also time, he said, for science to play a role in forecasting, something that was until then under the purview of "local lore and weather proverbs."

Merz and Mahler refracting telescopeIn 1868, Abbe took over as director of the Cincinnati Observatory but "became so frustrated by the lack of public storm and flood warnings that he took on forecasting as a personal mission," Barnett writes. "With funding from the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, Abbe developed a system of telegraphic weather reports, daily weather maps, and predictions he compiled and shared via the Western Union Telegraph Company."

The familiar H for high pressure, and other symbols that are still in use today, were those implemented by Abbe. In 1869 he proposed a daily forecast for the Cincinnati region that would predict the weather, wind patterns etc. for two days out. The system worked mostly through the use of telegraph lines (which was upset by the Civil War for brief stretches), which weather observers used to relay ground conditions. These reports were then used as a system of warning for northern and eastern observers.

Abbe released the first official public forecast on September 22, 1869. Shortly thereafter, Congress passed a resolution and on February 9, 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a new national weather service, under the Signal Corps of the Army, into law. Abbe played a key role in the organization. He soon started a forecast division and started releasing regular three-day forecasts called "probabilities," which earned him the nickname "Old Probs." Since the forecasts depended on a system of weather watchers around the country, whose data needed to be measured uniformly in time across the broad swath of the nation, it became clear that accuracy of records was important. Furthermore the weather watchers depended on the telegraph system which would also stand to benefit from a standardized approach to the measurement of conditions. Abbe began lobbying the American Meteorological Society calling for a consistent way of measuring time across the nation. In response, the organization established the Committee on Standard Time and appointed Abbe as its chair. The committee's release in 1879, Report on Standard Time, formed the basis for time zones, which are largely based on the fact that fifteen degrees of longitude corresponds to one-hour difference in solar time. The system was first adopted by the railways as Standard Railway Time before being folded into the rest of the country. Daylight savings time was introduced in 1918.

National Weather Service logoThe organization he spearheaded until his death in 1916 at the age of 78 came to be known as the National Weather Service. Abbe believed in training and education, and he created a whole cadre of meteorologists who could interpret data and models. Even today, the American Meteorological Society bestows the Cleveland Abbe Award for Distinguished Service to Atmospheric Science. Cleveland Abbe was also one of the founding members of the National Geographic Society.

Cleveland Abbe, courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce
Illustration of the 11 inch "Merz and Mahler" refracting telescope (from "Smith's Illustrated Astronomy" 1848), courtesy of Lakokat
National Weather Service Logo, courtesy of Clindberg

Filed under Medicine, Science and Tech

Article by Poornima Apte

This "beyond the book article" relates to Rain. It originally ran in April 2015 and has been updated for the April 2016 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Hello Beautiful
    Hello Beautiful
    by Ann Napolitano
    Ann Napolitano's much-anticipated Hello Beautiful pulls the reader into a warm, loving familial ...
  • Book Jacket: The West
    The West
    by Naoíse Mac Sweeney
    It's become common for history books and courses to reconsider the emphasis on "Western Civilization...
  • Book Jacket
    A Death in Denmark
    by Amulya Malladi
    Can a mystery novel be informative, intriguing and deeply comforting all at once? Amulya Malladi ...
  • Book Jacket
    Shrines of Gaiety
    by Kate Atkinson
    A few years ago, magazines ran pieces about how the 2020s were likely to be the 1920s all over again...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The First Conspiracy
by Brad Meltzer & Josh Mensch
A remarkable and previously untold piece of American history—the secret plot to kill George Washington

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    by Costanza Casati

    Madeline Miller's Circe meets Cersei Lannister in this propulsive and richly drawn debut.

  • Book Jacket

    Paper Names
    by Susie Luo

    A propulsive and sweeping story of family, identity and the American experience—for fans of Jean Kwok and Mary Beth Keane.

Win This Book
Win Such Kindness

30 Copies to Give Away!

Few writers paint three-dimensional characters with such verve and humanism.
Booklist (starred review)



Solve this clue:

S I F A R Day

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.