Forecasting the Weather in the 1920s: Balloons, Barometers, and Broadcasts

March 18, 2022

Today, most people have at least two weather apps on their phones and can access the doppler radar as quickly as the local television meteorologists. But one hundred years ago, most folks predicted the weather by simply poking their heads outside to see what the sky looked like. 

Full-length colorized portrait of an unidentified woman standing at a chalkboard and writing with a piece of chalk in a room at Municipal Airport, now Midway Airport, Chicago, Illinois, 1929. Grids are visible on the chalkboard.

In the 1920s, weather forecasting took a few steps away from educated guesses with the introduction of a few key pieces of technology. For the first time, meteorologists had some tools to use to better predict the weather and they had a way to broadcast their reports to a wide audience … radio. 

How’s the Weather?

Weather-related calculations were done by hand in the 1920s. (

For a long time, the United States was a farming nation. It was very important for farmers to know what the weather would be and how it would impact their crops. For the first half of the U.S.’s existence, however, scientists lacked the tools to predict the weather with any sort of accuracy. They used rain gauges to measure and record rainfall and thermometers to indicate the temperature. This information was kept year after year and scientists used the data to come up with averages that masked as forecasted.