By Norris Chambers

             The weather is pretty well presented these days – the TV and radio, the computer and the newspapers consider it a prime subject and attempt to keep us well informed. The weather people know where it is and which way it is going, but if they tell you it will hit you they might miss their prediction. It might turn or split or even disintegrate before it gets to you. Of course the modern weather predicting is much better than it was in the old days.

            When I was growing up, before the radio, we only had the newspaper to tell you what to expect from the weather and we usually didn’t get it for a day or two after it was printed. The Farmer’s Almanac predicted the weather a year in advance, but the predictions were apparently based on averages and most of the time they were not very accurate. The big wall calendars had a prediction printed under each day’s date. The message was: “rain, snow, hot, cold, humid, cloudy, etc.” The prediction was wrong most of the time.

            One thing was pretty certain. When my dad looked out west or northwest and saw a low, black bank of clouds and announced that “We are going to have some weather!” he was correct almost every time.

            There were several weather predicting gadgets you could buy. There was a nice clock that predicted rain by causing a lady with an umbrella to appear in a little door to indicate rain. Another little predictor looked like a thermometer and the column of fluid moved up and down past words that indicated rain, cloudy, hot, etc. They were practically useless.

            Clifton and I entered the weather predicting group by building our own weather determining devices. The set of encyclopedias at school had several build-it-yourself plans for humidity indicating devices. All of the so-called predicting devices worked on the principle of displaying the atmospheric, or barometric, pressure. If the pressure was low we were more likely to have rain. Some methods relied on a sudden change in temperature.

            Our first weather predicting project required a large, round bottle filled with alcohol and enough camphor to saturate the alcohol. This was pretty easy to find since the drug stores in the little towns mixed many of their own prescriptions instead of taking them out of bottles as the modern pharmacists do. The drug store pharmacy was much like a small chemistry shop. After explaining to our closest druggist that we were building a weather predictor he let us have a block of camphor and enough pure alcohol to fill the bottle. He required a solemn vow that the alcohol was strictly for weather predicting and not for tasting or drinking.

            On a dry day the camphor was to be dissolved in the alcohol until it was completely saturated and no more camphor could be dissolved in it. The top of the bottle was to be left unsealed and covered with a piece of screen wire or cloth to keep bugs out. When the weather was fair and the pressure was high the alcohol was clear. When the barometric pressure was low the camphor began to show and the alcohol became cloudy. A cloudy bottle meant bad weather and a clear bottle meant fair weather. It worked sometimes but was by no means foolproof! Also, the alcohol kept evaporating and had to be replenished periodically.

            Our second device was a little more complicated. The purpose was the same as the camphor indicator but the result was to be accomplished in a different manner. This project required a one quart can and an assortment of small rods or wires. A quart can was easy to locate since many vegetables were canned in this size and just about everyone in the country had a can sealer and a pressure cooker.  The idea was to seal the can and connect an indicator to measure the rise and fall of the lid as the atmospheric pressure changed. We sealed a can and punched a small hole in the center of the lid. The next step was to place it in an oven and get it hot enough to drive most of the air out of the can. While it was still hot and in the oven we soldered a short length of copper wire to the small hole in the center of the lid sealing the can and providing a shaft to move an indicator up and down. The wire was connected to the short end of a long lever mounted on the side of the can. A small movement of the lid caused the end of the lever to move up and down. The machine worked well, indicating the atmospheric pressure, but like the other machine did very little to predict the weather.

            After the apparent failure of these two attempts to become weather prognosticators we decided to just take the weather as it comes and concentrate on something else.

             But we did have fun trying.  Do you think the modern weather men have fun?