Weather milestones throughout human history

It is often said that a look to the past can help predict the future. In meteorology, there are significant events that changed the future relationship between humans and weather extremes.

Andrew Revkin is a strategic advisor for science and environmental journalism at the National Geographic Society. In his new book Weather: An Illustrated History, he highlights 100 of the moments significant shifts in the weather of all time.

"Scientists can probe past patterns in climate, like what was the worst storm ever in modern time, how does that relate to the last thousand years or so," Revkin said.

This is often done through the science of paleotempestology. Until B.C. 300, the weather was thought to be produced by gods.

"Aristotle and some Chinese scholars started writing about the hydrological cycle," Revkin said. "They didn't call it that, but they described beautifully what we think of as clouds are water that evaporated and produced these physical manifestations in the sky and rain as a result."

Ancient art and artifacts of Egypt, Greece, and China reveal that the basic umbrella was invented more than 4,000 years ago.

Samuel Fox invented the steel-ribbed umbrella, initially designed to provide shade from the sun, at the end of the 18th century. Once known as an oddity that was just in the hands of the wealthy, the umbrella is now a global consumer product.

It was at the start of the 17th century when the invention of temperature emerged in Italy.

"It was Galileo who first expressed the idea that we could measure temperature. He invented the degrees. He invented temperature," Revkin said. "No one really thought we could get beyond saying it's really hot. We could actually say it's 80 degrees. And that moved forward into Fahrenheit and Celsius and other forms of modern temperature."

The Galileo Project invented the thermoscope, which gradually evolved into the modern thermometer.

Historically, New York has been at the center of some of the biggest weather discoveries.

"The first place to have air conditioning, beyond factories where people were working, was the Stock Exchange. And then it was movie theaters," Revkin said. "And for older viewers who recall the '40s, when you would go to a Saturday matinee, that all grew out of the fact that the movie theater was air-conditioned."

Downbursts were first recognized as a new weather phenomenon in 1975 after the deadly crash of an Eastern Airlines jet taking off from JFK Airport.

"There was a scramble to figure out what happened," Revkin said. "It was a stormy day and there was a thunderstorm nearby but no none could put all of the elements together."

Ted Fujita, the creator of the Fujita tornado scale, was called into the investigation. He identified concentrated downdrafts of air that could dangerously affect aircraft as they took off or landed.

Massachusetts Bay Colony Gov. John Winthrop is believed to have the first recorded sighting of a tornado. Fascinated with the weather, Winthrop kept a journal and an entry on July 5, 1643, described a violent wind that darkened the air with dust for half an hour. Historians agree that the traveling destructive wind was indeed a tornado.

It took 200 years for the first photograph of a tornado to appear. In April of 1884, a ropelike tornado was photographed in Garnett, Kansas.

However, tornado warnings were forbidden, for fear of false panic, until the emergence of radars in the 1950s.

"The thing that changed everything was the satellite era," Revkin said. "When finally we had a global picture of these storms."

On April 1, 1960, the era of satellite meteorology began. NASA successfully launched Tiros-1, the first satellite capable of remote sensing of the earth, enabling scientists to view the planet from a new perspective.