IF IT RAINS LOOK FOR THE RAINBOW!
By Norris Chambers
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.
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
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?