The Discovery of Weather

Stephen Saxby, the tumultuous birth of weather forecasting, and Saxby's Gale of 1869

by Jerry Lockett

How we learned to forecast weather--and the extraordinary story of the prediction that came true for one of the century's worst storms on the East Coast

In the mid-nineteenth century, the new science of weather forecasting was fraught with controversy on both sides of the Atlantic. In the United States, a bitter dispute about the nature of storms had raged for decades, and forecasting was hampered by turf wars then halted by the Civil War. Forecasters in England struggled with the scientific establishment for recognition and vied with astrologers and other charlatans for public acceptance.

One of the voices in this struggle was Stephen Saxby, a British naval instructor who thought he had found a sure-fire way of forecasting storms. He championed a popular but somewhat eccentric theory that weather disturbances are linked to stages in the moon's orbit of the earth.

Saxby got lucky. One of his well-known long-range predictions--for a serious storm on October 4, 1869--was right on the button. On that very day, a deadly hurricane caused massive floods along the eastern seaboard of the United States then barrelled ashore at the Canadian border. The timing of the storm could hardly have been worse. Coinciding with an extremely high tide, the resulting storm surge breached centuries-old dykes at the head of the Bay of Fundy.

In The Discovery of Weather, author Jerry Lockett traces the early days of weather forecasting, the background to Saxby's prediction, and the drama of the storm itself.

About the Author

Jerry Lockett
JERRY LOCKETT is a Halifax-based writer and editor. His first book, Captain James Cook in Atlantic Canada, won the Dartmouth Book Awards prize for non-fiction in 2011. He is a two-time Atlantic Journalism Awards finalist, and his work has appeared in publications in Canada, the United States, and Britain, including New Scientist, BBC Wildlife Magazine, Geographical Magazine, Equinox, Cruising World, Blue Water Sailing and many others. He has felt the wrath of two hurricanes--Hugo in 1989 and Juan in 2003--and thinks thats enough for anyone.


"...excellent...The first half of the book traces the evolution of weather forecasting ....The second half ...describes the Saxby Gale of about it yourself; it's scary and may well happen again."
Elizabeth Cran, Charlottetown Guardian
"[Lockett treats storm chasers and extreme-weather enthusiasts to tales of one of eastern Canadas most intense hurricanes, Saxbys Gale. Here, Lockett shines in his retelling of how the storm strengthened as it moved north toward Canada and how, on Oct. 4, 1869, the combination of a perigean spring tide in the Bay of Fundy and a Category 2 hurricane produced an incredible, nearly two metre storm surge."
Michelle LePage, Canadian Geographic


American Meteorological Society's Louis J. Battan Author's Award
Atmospheric Science Librarians International Choice Award: Honorable Mention
Evelyn Richardson Non-Fiction Award

Subjects (BISAC)


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