The urgency to defeat fascism in World War II resulted in an explosion of technological innovations. A good number of the resulting inventions have had direct application to weather forecasting, including radar and the rise of the computer.
It isn’t well known that the first efforts to harness this emerging computing power to the problem of weather prediction, launched in the United States and Great Britain, were driven primarily by a desire to control the weather.
A particularly strange vision of the future appeared in a lecture by British meteorologist Dr. Ernest Gold to the Royal Meteorological Society in April 1947. Gold’s lecture dragged recently developed nuclear capability, also a byproduct of the war, into the discussion.
Gold suggested, “It might eventually be possible to put at the forecaster’s disposal the means to make his forecast come right — to adjust the atmosphere by means of an appropriate release of atomic energy in the right place to counteract any tendency on its part to stray.”
He was effectively suggesting that by controlled nuclear explosion, the weather could be modified to allow the forecast to verify as correct. This suggestion sounds ridiculous to the present-day meteorologist, and likely to the general public as well. It does point out, however, that the revolution of numerical weather prediction, arguably one of the greatest technological advances of the second half of the 20th century, was christened in an intellectual environment characterized by an embarrassing lack of humility.