About Luke Howard
Namer of Clouds and
Father of Meteorology
28 November 1772 - 21 March 1864
Luke Howard, the Namer of Clouds, is commemorated with the only English Heritage Blue Plaque in Tottenham.
Luke Howard is also known as the Father of meteorology for his detailed observations over many years of the weather and cloud formations in Tottenham.
Luke Howard was sent to boarding school in Burford, Oxfordshire and used to say that ‘he learnt too much of Latin grammar and too little of anything else.‘ But even then he had an observing eye and began to notice the appearances of the sky and forms of clouds. He was fascinated by the violent volcanic eruptions at Laki in Iceland which resulted in sunsets blazing through clouds, and overcast skies which led to unusually cold winters in Britain from 1783-1785.
He would have been aware of the summer hailstorm in 1788 which destroyed crops throughout the countryside resulting in serious food shortages which brought the population into the streets when the price of bread rose sharply the following spring.
As a young man Luke Howard was one of a circle who in March, 1796, formed themselves into an Association called the Askesian Society, for the discussion of scientific questions. Among the Members were William Allen, William Phillips, Alexander Tilloch, and H. Pepys. The Society was merged into the Geological Society in 1806. It was in a short essay read in December 1802 to the Society, and published as On the Modification of Clouds in 1803, that Luke Howard, proposed his classification and nomenclature of the clouds; the system he outlined is still in use today.
And it is from their home on Tottenham Green that Luke Howard, with the support of Mariabella, made daily recordings of the weather. Using the data obtained from the instruments in their garden in 1818 – 1820 he published The Climate of London in two volumes updating it with a revised edition in 1833. His daily barometric pressure readings are among the earliest consistent scientific observations recorded.
He possessed a registering clock by which the variations of the barometer were recorded on the outer portion of the dial, which
made one revolution in the twelve months. These diagrams were afterwards published, at great expense, under the name of Barometrographia. In Barometrographia, he noted down the atmospheric pressure readings from 1815 to 1834 at his homes in Tottenham, London, and Ackworth, Yorkshire, alongside accounts of the weather.
In 1821 Luke Howard was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society for his contributions to meteorology and he joined the Royal Meteorology Society in 1850.
Howard’s contributions to meteorology over half a century were profound. He had not limited himself to clouds but had looked at radiation, urban heat islands and wind flow.
Fifty years before, at a lecture in Tottenham, he had even suggested that the rotation of the earth might deflect winds off course. He had explained to an audience that as the air travels north or south the earth is forever ‘slipping away under it’.
Peter Moore, The Weather Experiment,
Chatto and Windus, 2015
Credit: Beautiful Science/British Library Barometrographia: Twenty Years’ Variation of the Barometer in the Climate of Britain… by Luke Howard; London, 1847.
Source: The Eliot papers 1895, Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, Vol. XX, 1894