The Mayflower crossing - what were forecasts like in the 17th Century?

Waves in the Atlantic Credit: Lisa Brown

People have been forecasting the weather in some shape or form for centuries but weather forecasting in its current state has only been around for a few decades. The idea of forecasting the weather came about officially in 1854 when Admiral Robert FitzRoy began the idea of a Meteorological Office. The first published forecast was in The Times on 1 August 1861.

Robert Fitzroy, famous for captaining the HMS Beagle during Charles Darwin's famous voyage and founding the Met Office. Credit: Credit: photographic copy of a portrait lithograph made by Herman John Schmidt

Imagine then, crossing the Atlantic at the start of autumn back in 1620 on a sailing ship with no real clue about what was in store. Plymouth historian, Chris Robinson, has the following reflection:

…for the first couple of weeks it was fine. The sun shone and they could see the stars at night but then the weather really deteriorated. The main mast cracked, the sails had to be taken down, they were bobbing around in the middle of the Atlantic like a cork. It was a while before they could start to sail on and it took them nine or ten weeks. The last few weeks would have been fairly miserable.

Chris Robinson, Plymouth historian

Any form of weather forecasting would have been based on lore; reading the cloud formations, watching the sky change, animal behaviour and experience of the seasons. However, they would have been at the mercy of the open ocean for more than 3000 miles and over two months. That length of forecast wouldn't be possible today!

The Mayflower forms an iconic link between Plymouth and the United States. Credit: ITV News Westcountry

Weather forecasting is now a fundamental part of our daily lives, helping us decide what to do for the week ahead, and often beyond. That's thanks to over 200 billion observations from land, air and sea every day, plus class leading computers that can do 14,000 trillion calculations a second. Of course, thankfully, a human brain still helps to distill all that into something useful for you to read or watch so you can have your own adventures!