CIRCLING THE SQUARE
Mark Twain would be only half right today: a good many people are now doing something about the weather. The humorist could see the change at time has made by visiting the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory. There, on the highest point (625 ft.) between Massachusetts and Florida, withing ten miles of the ocean, Professor Charles F. Brooks and his staff worry about weather all the year round.
One member of the University's meteorological faculty, Wallace E. Howell, is famous for his rain-making experiments of this past year. To members of the Blue Hill staff, however, such activity is extra-curricular; they are mainly concerned with the unspectacular work of recording weather conditions, doing research, and making predictions for the University and the U.S. Weather Bureau.
Abbott L. Rotch built the institution in 1885, giving it to the University on his death in 1912. Its records can tell what the humidities in the area have been in any five-minute period since 1875, while another less detailed hand-written file goes back to 1892 for the New Bedford section. It was Blue Hill that recorded the highest wind velocity ever measured--271 m.p.h.--in April, 1934.
Although daily mundane tasks make up most of work, the staff does get interesting assignments. During Commencement week, for example, College officials annually begin wondering about weather. And, Brooks reports, it is touch and go. One year, seeing an ominously heavy storm building up over Jamaica Plain, he examined the prevailing wind direction and advised Class Committeemen to move the senior spread indoors. When the wind changed, bringing the rain to Blue Hill instead of Cambridge, Brooks expected complaints. He got compliments instead; another storm that he could not see had moved in from the north and soaked the Yard, making his prediction "correct."
His closest escape came, Brooks states, at the Littauer corner stone laying. At 13 minutes of four that afternoon, with rain falling heavily, officials called to ask when the storm would halt. "In about half an hour," the professor replied after studying his instruments. The officials immediately notified waiting guests that ceremonies would start at 4:17. They began promptly. The rain stopped on the dot.
Less crucial predictions go out over the Observatory's radio each day, plus all the administrative messages to Mount Washington, another University weather station.
With their radio contact the two staffs can correlate all findings and make accurate predictions for the entire White Mountain area. Blue Hill's height makes it sometimes more reliable--at least it can see farther--than the lower nearby U.S. station.
Its height also makes the station harder for staffers to reach. In winter snowshoes and skis are usually necessary for the steep, uphill trail. State and Metropolitan District policemen, who have their radio stations next door also have this problem. During the winter of 1947-8 no one could drive up for three weeks.
With its government contracts and the increasing need for accurate weather findings, Blue Hill has plenty of work. But for most people it will probably remain a place that forecasts, that advises whether or not a wedding party needs a canopy. This, Brooks points out, is a relatively frequent query.