Keywords: Forecasting; Meteorology; Typhoon; Uncertainty; Colonial Hong Kong.
This paper explores the conceptualisation of «uncertainty» in late nineteenth- century meteorological thought. By investigating the story of meteorological forecasting in nineteenth and early twentieth century Hong Kong, it considers the changing ways in which forecasting was judged historically. In the early nineteenth century forecasting the weather was considered impossible. By the end of the century, it was confidently expected that the much improved understanding of weather patterns would lead to the ability to better predict them. During the intervening period «uncertainty» competed with «certainty» and «prediction» was mistaken for «predictability». The shift in perception was driven by various factors, including changing public perceptions of what science could achieve and pressure to accurately predict typhoons. Such concerns helped shape the course of meteorology globally from a series of subjective theories into an objective pragmatic science based on observational analysis. This article seeks to highlight the practices, places and experiences that contributed knowledge to the burgeoning field overseas whilst also connecting with others in this volume by considering the circumstances that contributed to changing perceptions of forecasting. In particular, it also explores how the qualification of weather phenomenon - in this case the typhoon - as «unpredictable» or «uncertain» opened the door to innovation and discovery.