Friday, May 10, 2013

Answer: What was the defining publication?

"The Line Storm," by John Steuart Curry, 1897-1946.  (Image from NOAA)  

I should have known that many SearchResearch readers would know about derechos.  I’m impressed that there are so many searchers living in Maryland and places affected by the storm.

Short answers:  This particular big storm was a derecho, first published in 1878, Iowa Weather Bulletin Volume 1 Number 1, Dr. Gustavus Hinrichs, Iowa City, Iowa 1878. 

When I did the search, I started with:

[2012 Maryland wind storm]

The first hit was a Wikipedia article on the June 2012 wind storm in Maryland.

I quickly learned this kind of wind storm is called a 'derecho' which is a fast-moving linear storm system with extremely high winds.  Unlike a tornado or hurricane, it doesn’t rotate, but flows rapidly eastward causing damage as it goes.

I looked up  “derecho” in Wikipedia and found a nice summary article there about derechos in general.  To double check my work, it was simple to search for

[ derecho Maryland ]

and find dozens of news reports from the time.  -- image
CAPTION:  Warnings from the NWS on June 29–30. Red are tornado warnings, yellow are severe thunderstorm warnings, green are flash flood warnings, and purple are special marine warnings.

In the Wikipedia article I found that derechos are seen as long linear clouds, “shelf clouds,” that show the advancing front. 

Shelf cloud image from Wikimedia

Derecho comes from the Spanish word in adjective or adverb forms for "straight" (adv, adj. "direct"), in contrast with a tornado which is a "twisted" wind.

Wikipedia tells us that the term was first used in the American Meteorological Journal in 1888 by Gustavus Detlef Hinrichs when describing the phenomenon of a derecho that crossed Iowa in July, 1877.

Several people went to Google Books, and did a search for 

["The American Meteorology Journal" ]

and limiting their search to 1888.  It’s simple to find the book, search inside the book for the term “derecho” and find it on page 307.  This is a great approach, and often works for archival research papers like this.  

In that article he mentions an earlier publication, in the “Special Bulletin, No. 1, a quarto sheet, printed in two colors, map red, storm details in black—by use of the electric pen.” 

Curious about this, I looked up the Wikipedia article about Gustavus Hinrichs and discovered that he was actually a chemist, best known for his discoveries about periodic laws in the relationships between elements.  This work was important in leading up to the Periodic Table of Elements (although he didn’t do the work of Mendelev—Hinrichs’ periodic table was in the shape of a spiral). 

But he had a longstanding interest in weather, and was also the founder of the first state weather and crop service while a professor at University of Iowa. 

Hinrichs' house in Iowa City (image from NOAA

Hinrichs’ first weather station was at his home in Iowa City at the corner of Capitol and Market streets.  Flags on top of his house were barometer readings, and thought of as weather predictions by the locals. 

The Wikipedia article led me to an article at NOAA (the government weather service).  And the NOAA article also has a link to a PDF of his report from 1878…  What's odd about that report is that it looks like it's a handwritten document.  So then how was it distributed?  This was well before photocopiers, and while it's possible he wrote it out as an engraving, it would have been really hard to do so.  

So how was it made?  

Later in NOAA site it mentions that the original publication done by electric pen, an Edison invention.  

The “electric pen” was a device like tattoo needle, moving up and down rapidly to punch a series of tiny in common writing paper. (See: ) This sheet of paper produced a stencil which could then be used to up to 5000 copies from a single original sheet.  (That explains why the PDF looks like it was handwritten.  This puzzled me until I read about the electric pen device.)

Fun side note:  Did anyone else notice the “Symbols and definitions” section at the beginning of the paper?  I was surprised to see “Hydro-meteors” (rain, snow, sleet…) and “Electro-Meteors” (northern lights, lightning, thunder…) and “Optical Meteors” (shooting star, meteor, fireball, Zodiacal light…) as three separate categories.  Does anyone know why these were broken out in this way? 

From the original electric pen doc. (PDF from NOAA, see above.)

Search Lessons:  This challenge was successfully solved by lots of searchers—well done!  The key here was to pull together information from a number of different sources (looking up the wind storm date to learn it’s a “derecho,” then looking up derecho to find the publication, then reading that to find it to find out there was an earlier publication).  This is a great skill to develop, especially in younger searchers, who tend to stop short of double-checking their findings. 

Search on!  


  1. Query [study of meteorology]
    Meteorology is the study of the changes in temperature, air pressure, moisture, and wind direction in the troposphere.    
    Definition of meteor[ from Wiki] (plural meteors)(archaic) Any atmospheric phenomenon. (Thus the derivation of meteorology.) These were sometimes classified as aerial or airymeteors (winds), aqueous or watery meteors (hydrometeors: clouds, rain, snow, hail, dew, frost), luminous meteors (rainbows and aurora), and igneous or fiery meteors (lightning and shooting stars).
    Hydro, electro and optical were the accepted classifications described.

  2. Hi Dan,

    I have a couple of questions for you.

    The first is about the number of people who completed the advanced power searching course that ended last february, do you have a clue?

    The second is about a filter in search tools that appears when my keywords look like a name, or at least that's my guess. The feature would make sense if I searched for a video, because it's about duration, but if you are searching for people sounds a little ironic and well... funny. What is it for, if I may ask?


    1. Hi Marcella -- The Adv. Power Searching class had ~36K people attend, which I thought was pretty good! It was a fairly advanced class, so I was pleased we had that many.

      I'm not sure what filter you're talking about. Can you give me an example?

  3. Thanks Dan, did all 36K complete the course or just participate?

    Here's a screenshot for you: