Even in the modern age weather prediction is a chancey game. Despite the power of satellites, weather radar, and host of other modern instruments the weatherman still doesn’t always get it right.
But in early ages it was even worse. Naturally they lacked such modern electronic tools that we have so they desperately sought out any device or gadget that would help them predict storms or other weather. This wasn’t a matter of the danger being getting a little wet, this was life and death in many cases. As much as weather can still kill these days, it was much worse when a sail-powered ship might head into a fierce storm that could cause damage or loss of life.
Devices such as early barometers and static detection might help, but what people wanted was something that could predict the weather.
For a while, some thought they had found one. The only problem was: they were wrong.
Enter the Storm Glass. These were sealed glass tubes or other shapes. Inside was a mixture of water and other chemicals (usually camphor being the most common). It isn’t known who invented or developed the Storm Glass, but one Admiral Fitaroy was the biggest champion for their use to predict storms in the 19th century. The British Crown went so far as to supply them to the various British Isles.
There were even charts or lists produced to show what the various types of crystals indicated the weather would be. An example from Admiral Fitzroy
- If the liquid in the glass is clear, the weather will be bright and clear.
- If the liquid is cloudy, the weather will be cloudy as well, perhaps with precipitation.
- If there are small dots in the liquid, humid or foggy weather can be expected.
- A cloudy glass with small stars indicates thunderstorms.
- If the liquid contains small stars on sunny winter days, then snow is coming.
- If there are large flakes throughout the liquid, it will be overcast in temperate seasons or snowy in the winter.
- If there are crystals at the bottom, this indicates frost.
- If there are threads near the top, it will be windy.
It was all nonsense, of course. Although the various formations of crystals could seem to be a reaction to the weather, the fact was the only thing the crystal formation could indicate was a change in temperature. This was confirmed in 2008 by a paper in the Journal of Crystal Growth.
Once people realized that the Storm Glasses were of little use in weather prediction they were ignored or removed. A few holdouts produced artisan versions but the idea was mostly abandoned. However, when the ‘MAKE’ movement started producing instructions for making home-made versions people started to clamor for a more aesthetically pleasing version they could display at home or on a desk. This has resulted in the versions you see today. Although tube versions still exist, there are also teardrop shaped units, as well as glass swans, ovals, or whatever else the glassamkers think will look good.
So a failed weather predicting device becomes home art. Hey, it happens!
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