Inside the Weather—a Synoptic Battlefield
Climate unquestionably affects the development of different cultures. But rapid changes in weather have also been critical in both mundane and historic moments: the success or failure of a military endeavor, the safe start of a space journey, a random encounter with a person that leads to unexpected consequences for an entire family tree. The science of meteorology developed in tandem with the military’s need to predict the weather—those who had the best forecasts also had an advantage on the battlefield. The military’s strategic maps and languages were transferred to the weather map, depicting warm fronts and cold fronts battling for control of the airspace. Eventually, this evolved into a common scientific language, with symbols for various types of weather and meteorological phenomena.
In 1873, the first European synoptic weather map was drawn by the Swedish weather forecast bureau MCA. Synoptic is Greek and stands for simultaneous or contemporary, which relates to the measurements used as base for drawing the map. The information was obtained at a large number of places in Europe simultaneously.
In the work Inside the Weather—a Synoptic Battlefield the viewer can enter a sculptural installation consisting of a weather map. Here the different weather signs, like hot- and cold fronts, isobars, wind arrows, hail and thunder, have materialized in the form of standing and hanging mobiles made of high reflective stainless steel.
The five historical dates and occurrences that have been transformed into sculptural works are: Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, 9 September BC 9 (thunder and rain); Kamikaze, 14 August, 1281 (typhoon); The Hailstorm that Sparked the French Revolution, 13 July, 1788 (hailstorm); Napoleons Frozen Field Campaign in Russia, 25 November, 1812 (snow and ice) and D-Day, 6 June, 1944 (clear sky).
"Inside the Weather—a Synoptic Battlefield," 2017 Hammered stainless steel, car-paint, various sizes
Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, 9 September BC 9
“A heavy rain on September 9, 9 AD has profoundly diverted the course of history.”
When the Emperor Augustus was in power, Roman Empire invaded Germanic tribes. In the year of 9 AD, an alliance of Germanic tribes led by Arminius ambushed and decisively destroyed three Roman legions and their auxiliaries, led by Publius Quinctilius Varus, in the Teutoburg Forest. Before the battle, storm and thunder lasted for hours in the region and every Roman soldier was as wet as a drowned rat. The rain greatly damaged Roman army’s combat spirit and competency and it helped the Germans to wipe out their enemy. Roman leader Varus committed suicide and the defeat stopped the Roman Empire from further invading Germanic tribes.
Kamikaze, 14 August, 1281
“It is the kamikaze, literally “divine wind”, that have saved Japan from two Mongol fleets under Kublai Khan.”
These fleets attacked Japan in 1274 and again in 1281. Between the first and second invasion, the Japanese prudently built two-meter-high walls to protect themselves from future assaults. Seven years later, the Mongols returned. But the fleets were destroyed by a great typhoon, which the Japanese called “kamikaze” (divine wind). The name given to the storm, kamikaze, was later used during World War II as nationalist propaganda for suicide attacks by Japanese pilots. The metaphor meant that the pilots were to be the “Divine Wind” that would again sweep the enemy from the seas.
The Hailstorm that Sparked the French Revolution, 13 July, 1788
“A terrible hailstorm crashed a country’s agriculture production, and the basic need for food drove people to revolution.”
The French Revolution, broke out on July 14, 1789, profoundly altered the course of modern history, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies. The causes of the French Revolution are complex and are still debated among historians, but among them, the economic problem caused by poor weather condition is often neglected. A hailstorm on July 13, 1788 heavily stroke most farmland in France and left with almost nothing to harvest. Winter in 1788, just before the Revolution, was also extremely cold in the region. Those two factors had led a sharp rise on bread price and later a famine across France and all over Europe. Lack of government action forced people to fight against France’s absolute monarchy.
Napoleons Frozen Field Campaign in Russia, 25 November, 1812
“The ice and snow in Russia has ruled out the possibility for France to win, and the French Emperor tasted the pain of losing for the first time.”
On 24 June 1812 Napoleon’s Grande Armée invaded Russia. But the French army was equipped with summer clothing, and did not have the means to protect themselves from the cold. The most devastating effect of the cold weather upon Napoleon’s forces occurred during their retreat. In his memoir, Napoleon’s close adviser Armand de Caulaincourt recounted scenes of massive loss and death through hypothermia: One constantly found men who, overcome by the cold, had been forced to drop out and had fallen to the ground, too weak or too numb to stand. Ought one to help them along – which practically meant carrying them? They begged one to let them alone. There were bivouacs all along the road – ought one to take them to a campfire?
D-Day, 6 June, 1944
“Clear sky or storm? Meteorologists have influenced the outcome of an operation for the first time.”
The Normandy landings, 6 June 1944 (termed D-Day), is the largest seaborne invasion in history. Allied control of the Atlantic meant German meteorologists had less information than the Allies on incoming weather patterns. As the Luftwaffe meteorological center in Paris was predicting two weeks of stormy weather, German soldiers were not prepared for the invasion. Eisenhower had tentatively selected 5 June as the date for the assault. However, on 4 June, high winds and heavy seas made it impossible to launch landing craft, and low clouds would prevent aircraft from finding their targets. The meteorological team predicted that the weather would improve enough for the invasion to proceed on 6 June. Clear sky on 6th made it possible for Allied Forces to launch attract and successfully landed.
Visit in the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute. Photos: Studio Bigert & Bergström
RESEARCH ON HISTORIC WEATHER