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Natural philosophers and scientists have long studied the conditions of our atmosphere using instruments, charts, and maps. The Whipple collection includes excellent examples of instruments that measure air pressure (barometers), temperature (thermometers), evaporation rates (atmometers), wind (anemometers), and humidity (hygrometers). The Museum also holds a collection of charts and maps representing weather patterns and meteorological phenomena.

This section contains articles on the history of meteorology and the instruments used to study the atmosphere. Though many of the instruments used to study weather and atmosphere were invented in the seventeenth century or earlier, it was during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that significant developments in weather research occurred. Use the links below or in the menu to the left to select an article.

Read more at: What is Meteorology?
A battery of five Leyden jars, used to store static electricity so that its effects could be harnessed and studied.

What is Meteorology?

What meteorologists study has changed considerably since philosophers first began to observe and measure the atmosphere with instruments. Models were one way to help philosophers visualise weather related events, such as lightning striking the earth.

Read more at: Barometers
 An eighteenth-century Dutch weather-glass.


Barometers were used to calculate the height of a mountain summit above sea level, but air pressure also indicated possible changes in weather. During the eighteenth century, studying the weather was a fashionable pursuit for the gentry, and barometers were increasingly hung in domestic spaces.

Read more at: Early Thermometers and Temperature Scales
Wooden framed thermometer by W. E. Pain.

Early Thermometers and Temperature Scales

The first thermometers were not marked with a measuring scale, but were used to show relative differences in heat or cold. Several different types of thermometer design are discussed in this section.

Read more at: Measuring Air Humidity
Wet-and-dry hygrometer dismantled in red velvet-lined case

Measuring Air Humidity

The saturation of water vapour in the atmosphere affects how the temperature of air is felt. Early hygrometers studied conditions that transformed atmospheric water-vapour into condensation or dew.

Read more at: Weather Forecasting
A pocket forecaster dial.

Weather Forecasting

Predicting weather has always been problematic. During the nineteenth century, published weather guides helped the public anticipate weather conditions.

Read more at: Cloud Studies
Cloud camera.

Cloud Studies

Looking at clouds is an easy way of studying weather conditions in the upper atmosphere. Clouds became a focus of meteorological research during the nineteenth century.

Read more at: Mapping Weather and Modern Meteorology
A chart of the Indian Ocean showing the temperature of the water, the currents of the air and ocean, directions of the wind, as well as districts of hurricanes, regions of typhoons, and trade routes.

Mapping Weather and Modern Meteorology

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw a more systematic approach to collecting accounts of weather conditions, which included charting weather on maps. With the development of the aviation and space industries, collecting data from the three layers of our atmosphere - mesosphere, troposphere, and stratosphere - became increasingly important.