I spent part of this afternoon preparing the house and yard for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, due to pass right through here Sunday afternoon.
What's funny is that today is a lovely day. The sun is bright, the sky is blue, and the only clouds are harmless-looking little puffy white sheep in the sky. It seems ridiculous to worry about a storm today.
And at any time before the middle of the 20th Century, it would have been ridiculous. There simply was no way to tell if a hurricane was lurking off the horizon, or which way it was headed. The development of radar and the use of weather planes helped with short-term warnings, but it really wasn't until 1960 that hurricanes could be spotted and tracked as they developed.
That year, 1960, marked the launch of TIROS-1, the first weather observation satellite. That changed everything. Orbiting satellites can find suspicious-looking tropical depressions long before they reach hurricane strength. And over the past half century, meteorologists have learned by watching storms. We know more about how they move and behave.
If weather satellites were the only accomplishment of our ventures into space, they would more than justify all the expense of every rocket launched since 1957. Now excuse me, I've got more preparing to do.