In Sweden and most probably in the rest of the world the weather prospects are a favourite subject of conversation. The weather forecasts on radio and television routinely attract huge numbers of listeners and viewers.
We are seldom completely satisfied with the prevailing weather conditions. It’s either too cold or too hot. In some parts of the world droughts cause havoc for agriculture while in other areas torrential rains destroy not only crops but also cause landslides which can cover entire villages. It’s fairly obvious that we are witnessing a dramatic climate change.
When I grew up in the south-west of Sweden in the 1950s and 60s our winters had long periods of frost and there was ample snowfall. Today our winters are mild with an abundance of rain and strong winds. We do get the occasional day of cold weather and snow but it never lasts for very long.
We all dream of a white Christmas but nowadays have to be satisfied with Bing Crosby’s famous hit song.
In December 2009, a UN-sponsored conference, Denmark, with all nations on planet Earth taking part. Many of the nations in the Pacific area are threatened by the melting of the polar ice caps which will result in higher levels of the world’s oceans.
In 2008, the World Meteorological Organization in cooperation with the Universal Postal Union published a most interesting book called From Weather Gods to Modern Meteorology – A Philatelic Journey. The book is based on Finnish collector Raino Heino’s gold medal collection. Mr Heino is not only an enthusiastic thematic philatelist but also a meteorologist by profession.
Thematic stamp collections frequently tell a story extremely well having been formed by people with a lot of expertise. I recently spoke to a collector who has assembled an impressive and well-researched collection devoted to the life of Swedish King Gustaf II Adolf. He told me that he has two metres of shelves filled with books about the king and his many achievements.
The first chapter of the book is entitled From Heaven to Science. Early civilisations believed that it was the gods who took care of the weather. They fully realized that the sun was the driving force behind all kinds of weather phenomena. Thus it is not at all surprising that many postage stamps feature the sun in one way or the other. In 1957 Denmark released a 60ore stamp depicting the Sun God’s Chariot from the Bronze Age about 1000 before Christ.
The early Greeks and Persians were among the first to explain the weather in terms of physical science. They were followed by many other prominent scientists who all added to our knowledge of meteorology.
In the 19th century quite a number of countries founded national meteorological services. The Swedish weather service was started in 1873 and ranks among the oldest ones in the world. In 1973, its centenary was featured on one of two se-tenant stamps.
The second chapter in the book is devoted to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) which was effectively started in 1873. Many countries issued commemorative stamps on the occasion of its centenary in 1973.
The WMO is based in Switzerland and since 1956 the Swiss Postal Service has released special service stamps for the exclusive use of the organization.
Many countries have depicted meteorological observatories on their stamps. Shown here is an attractive 1958 souvenir sheet from the Soviet Union showing weather observations in the Arctic which had been begun in 1937.
Chapter three discusses temperature measurements. Italian Galileo Galilei developed the first thermometer in the late 1500s. However, it was Swedish scientist Anders Celsius who developed a new thermometer scale in 1736. It was based on boiling (100°) and freezing (0°). Celsius helped set up the first Swedish weather observatory and promoted the first systematic weather observations in Finland. Celsius is depicted on Sweden’s 1982 EUROPA issue. Today all countries except the United States use the Celsius scale.
Often people try to predict the weather by observing the sky and the clouds. Many countries have released stamps depicting all kinds of cloud formations. Thunder and lightning are also popular stamp subjects.
Chapter four is devoted to different ways of forecasting the weather. In a number of countries (notably the USA in 1895 and Mexico in 1903- 1904) the next day’s weather was included in the backstamps on incoming mail in some areas.
Hazards and disasters are discussed in chapter five. Hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones are dreaded natural occurrences in many parts of the world sometimes causing incredible damage of property and loss of life.
One of the worst floods in modem times in Europe took place in the Netherlands in January 1953. The victims were assisted by people in other countries. The illustrated semi-postal was released by Iceland in 1953 with the proceeds of the surcharge going to Dutch flood victims.
Chapter six is entitled Taking Care of Our Climate. Climate change, the greenhouse effect and the ozone hole are discussed in this part of the book. Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius showed that the burning of coal and other fossil fuels intensified the natural greenhouse effect and atmospheric warming. Arrhenius is depicted here on a 1959 Swedish stamp (which strangely enough has perforations on all four sides in the book; as it is a coil stamp it has two straight edges).
This book is a valuable contribution to our understanding of how the meteorological services operate and it also gives useful information about climate change and the many important challenges for the future. More information can be found at www.wmo.int
[Published by kind permission of the Editor of Stamp News Australasia.]