Weather’s Eponymous Heroes

Mark Boardman is the creator of the StormHour portal for weather and landscape photography. StormHour runs a weekly weather photography competition in association with The Royal Meteorological Society and hosts over 80 ‘Featured Meteorologist’ interviews. Follow them on Twitter or Instagram.

An eponym is a word in the English language that is also the name of the person who is associated with their concept; ordinarily that person will have discovered or developed said concept. I thought I’d run through a few of my favourites and hopefully you can add your own in the comments.

So let’s start with Francis Beaufort:

Francis Beaufort was a Royal Navy officer and Irish hydrographer who devised his wind scale (Beaufort wind force scale to give it its full name) in 1805. The Beaufort scale ranges from 0 (calm) to 12 (hurricane force) and in its original carnation described the effects of the wind on a Royal Navy Frigate’s sails from “just sufficient to give steerage” to “that which no canvas sails could withstand”.

Sir Francis died on 17 December 1857, at the age of 83 and his home at 51 Manchester Street, Westminster, London is marked by an historic Blue Plaque should you ever be in the area.

Next up, the age old question: Celsius or Fahrenheit?

In the UK we are fans of Celsius, in the US it’s Fahrenheit.

Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (German-Dutch-Polish nationality) spent a large part of his life in the early 18th Century designing weather instrumentation but is most famous for developing the Fahrenheit temperature scale. He calibrated his scale on 3 points – the temperature of a mixture of water, salt and ice (0 °F); The freezing point of water (32°F); and the assumed temperature of the human body (96°F)

Upside down?

The Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius set a scale that had zero as the boiling point of water and 100 degrees as the freezing point, introducing this scale in 1742. The scale was designed to avoid negative temperatures in the winter. However, in 1745 the scale was reversed by Carolus Linnaeus and is today still known as the Celsius scale.

For fans of trick questions, -40 °F and -40 °C are the same temperature!

Gaspard-Gustave de Coriolis:

The Coriolis Effect is the tendency of a freely moving object to follow a curved path in relation to the earth’s rotating surface. In the Northern Hemisphere this tendency is to the right, and in the Southern Hemisphere it is to the left. This effect was first explained in 1835 by Gaspard-Gustave de Coriolis and explains the flow of weather systems across the planet and prevents air from flowing in a direct north-south path.

Coriolis was a French mathematician and has his name inscribed on the Eiffel Tower!

Ted Fujita:

The strength of a tornado is measured on the Fujita scale and varies from F0 (wind speed of 40-73 mph with ‘light’ damage) to F5 (wind speed greater than 261mph with ‘incredible’ damage).

Ted Fujita was a Japanese-American storm researcher at the University of Chicago and is also known for discovering the phenomenon of microbursts.

In 1945, Fujita was living in the Japanese city of Kokura which was a primary target for the 2nd nuclear bomb, however, due to cloudy weather and poor visibility, the bomb was instead dropped on Nagasaki.

George Hadley:

The earth’s atmosphere is a complicated and chaotic place and yet within this flux there are established patterns and flows. Powerful convection at the equator causes warm, humid air to rise to the tropopause and then spread out towards the poles before cooling and sinking at about 30 degrees north and south. Some of this air then flows back to the equator. This circulation is known as a Hadley cell, named after George Hadley, the English scientist who first documented them in 1753.

A quick shout out here to American meteorologist William Ferrel who identified similar circulations between 30 and 60 degrees north and south of the equator which were subsequently named ‘Ferrel cells’.

William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin and Hermann von Helmholtz:

A rare and fleeting cloud, Kelvin–Helmholtz clouds dissipate after a minute or two and is the result of wind shear that occurs when one layer of air slides over another layer that is moving at a different speed or in a different direction.
This phenomenon was first described by Baron Kelvin, a Scottish physicist and Hermann von Helmholtz, a German physicist.

Helmholtz has a lunar crater, a Mars crater and an asteroid all named after him. Kelvin died from a chill in 1907.

Milutin Milanković:

Milanković developed an important theory on long-term climate change relating to the earth’s orbit. The Milanković theory links three periodic changes in the earth’s path around the Sun and the progress of the ice ages. This change is brought about by the earth’s axis wobbling like a gyroscope, tracing a complete circle every 23,000 years (approximately!)

After his death in 1958, his theory was generally discredited by the scientific community before new research eventually proved his theory to be accurate in the 1970’s.

Carl-Gustaf Rossby:

Rossby waves describe the long, meandering wave patterns of westerly air flow in the troposphere, including the roaming waves within the jet stream and were first characterised by Swedish born American meteorologist Carl-Gustaf Rossby.

Rossby was the first meteorologist to appear on the cover of a major magazine when he was featured Time in December 1956.

Herbert Saffir and Robert Simpson:

The Saffir-Simpson scale has been used to classify hurricanes since the 1970’s and ranges from Category 1 with minimal damage (wind speed 74-95 mph) to Category 5 with catastrophic damage (wind speed more than 155 mph). Herbert Saffir was an engineer and Robert Simpson a director of the National Hurricane Centre and together they developed the scale that is so familiar to us today.

Saffir died aged 90 in 2007 and Simpson died aged 102 in 2014

Bergeron–Findeisen:

The Bergeron–Findeisen process (sometimes known as Wegener-Bergeron–Findeisen process) is the development of precipitation due to the presence of ice crystals in the cloud. It most often occurs in mid to high latitudes where supercooled water droplets and ice crystals happily coexist.

Tor Bergeron was a Swedish meteorologist born in Surrey and Walter Findeisen was a German scientist. They studied and documented the process in the 1930’s.

Let us know your favorite weather pioneers and heroes in the comments below!


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4 Comments


  1. We can also add the “Forbes TOR:CON”, the tornado condition index developed by @dr-forbes (aka “Storm Master G”).  We simply multiply the value by 10 on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest) to give us the chance of a tornado within 50 miles of a given location.  Cool, huh?  #forbeseponym 🌪🤓

  2. You forgot about Sakuhei Fujiwhara, who developed the Fujiwhara effect of two cyclones orbiting each other. It’s amazing watching this happen during tropical storm season.