Learn about Life in the 1920s

Cold Summer of 1927 - as Predicted 2 Years Earlier

THIS SUMMER HAS REWARDED its prophets, Dr. E. E. Free believes. In an article contributed to The Herald Tribune (New York), he bids us note that nearly three years ago two unofficial meteorologists, Mr. Herbert Janvrin Browne, of Washington, and Mr. H. H. Clayton, of Massachusetts, began predicting that 1927 would resemble that famous year of 1816, still remembered in New England as "the year without a summer." It was not implied that hot weather would be altogether lacking; that is not even recorded of 1816.

The forecast was of a summer prevailingly cold, wet, and stormy, with occasional interludes of warmth. Weather prophets being largely without honor nowadays in everybody's country, the predictions of Mr. Browne and Mr. Clayton elicited mainly mirth. Now, says Dr. Free, comes their turn to laugh. He goes on: "That is exactly the kind of summer we have had. The announcement of the New York office of the Weather Bureau calling this the coldest August for fifty-four years was not needed to convince vacationists that they have been - chilly." Dr. Free's article was printed on August 30. Since then, summer has apparently set in. But he cannily makes allowance for this possibility by the assertion that any warmth still to be received will not much alter the summer's record of cold. He says:

"It is fortunate for Mr. Browne and Mr. Clayton that this is 1927 instead of 1427; otherwise they might be burnt for witch-craft, because their predictions have come all too true.

"As it is, the result of their success is likely to be more complimentary. Attention will be attracted, for one thing, to the methods of long-range forecasting which they use.

"These methods are adaptations of the old idea of weather cycles; periods after which the chief phenomena of the weather repeat themselves. As early as three centuries ago Francis Bacon records that such cyclic repetitions of the weather at intervals of thirty-five years had been noted in Holland. This is the famous ' Bruckner cycle,' so named after the distinguished Austrian meterologist, Dr. Eduard Bruckner, who rediscovered it in 1890.

"According to this cycle such weather elements as temperature and rainfall swing up and down in an average period of about thirty-six years. On the average, each alternate eighteen-year period will be cool and wet, the interspersed periods being relatively warm and dry.

"There is now small doubt that some such period as this exists, but there is an unfortunate joker. The thirty-six years is merely an average. Sometimes the time between two maxima of the cycle turns out to be fifty or sixty years; sometimes it is as short as twenty years. Because of this variability the Bruckner cycle, altho well known to meteorologists for thirty years, has never been applied to weather forecastings.

"A cycle that is more regular is the eleven-year sun-spot cycle. This year, as every newspaper reader must now know, we are in one of the recurring maximum years, with many spots on the sun and with the average sunlight slightly more intense than usual.

"There can be no doubt that this sun-spot cycle has important relations to earthly weather. The same eleven-year periodicity has been found in records of temperature and rainfall and in the levels of Swedish lakes. An eleven-year cycle of alternate slow and rapid growth was detected by Prof. A. E. Douglass in the annual rings of pine-trees in Arizona, and by Dr. Ellsworth Huntington in the similar growth rings of the big trees of California.

"The application of this cycle to weather forecasting involves two difficulties. The first is that the cycle seems to be only one of many that affect the sun—some perhaps of shorter period, others undoubtedly longer. Mr. Browne emphasizes the probable appearance of the astronomic cycle in which the configurations of the earth, the sun, and the moon in space repeat themselves. Three of these astronomic cycles almost coincide, Mr. Browne points out, with five sun-spot cycles, thus producing unusual disturbances of some kind at periods of about fifty-five years. It is no coincidence, Mr. Browne would tell you, that just fifty-four years ago the New York weather records show an August as cold as this one. The fatal year 1816 lay just two of these fifty-five-year periods in the past.

"The second difficulty in applying the sun-spot cycle to weather forecasting lies in the complexity of its earthly effects. Years of many sun-spots tend in general to be cooler and more stormy than other years, but there are many exceptions. Mr. Browne believes that some of these exceptions are due to delays or 'lags' caused by the movements of masses of warm or cool water in ocean currents. Dr. C. E. P. Brooks, a distinguished English meteorologist, also resorts to movements of oceanic water to explain climatic changes, but makes no application of these to forecasting.

"The United States Weather Bureau, with the conservatism proper to an official agency, prefers to make no long-range forecasts at all, maintaining that knowledge of the weather cycles which undoubtedly exist is still too imperfect to make such predictions anything but misleading guesses."

Source: The Literary Digest for October 1, 1927