Father Jerome Sixtus Ricard Becomes Padre of the Rains
Sunspot. NASA photo.
Father Jerome Sixtus Ricard helped make weather forecasting a science and an art, and suggested the correlation between sunspots and weather on earth.
By the turn of the twentieth century, Father Jerome Sixtus Ricard, S.J., of the University of Santa Clara in California, had been supplying Pacific coast farmers with daily weather reports for more than 25 years. What is even more remarkable is that his weather reports were 99.07 per cent accurate.
Father Ricard Develops a Passion for Sunspots
The only one of his family ever to settle in America, Jerome Sixtus Ricard spent his early years in France. Born in Plaisians, France, on January 21, 1850, he attended public schools in Plaisians and the Jesuit Colleges at Avignon, France and Turin, Italy. In 1871, he joined the Society of Jesus in Monaco, and later became a member of the Turin Province of the Society of Jesus.
In 1873, Jerome came to America and studied philosophy at Santa Clara College in California for several years. He was ordained in 1886, and completed his Jesuit training at Florissant, Missouri, in 1891. Then he returned to Santa Clara to teach ethics, mathematics, political economy, and history.
About 1890, Father Ricard enrolled in a summer astronomy course at Creighton University and discovered that he had a passion for sunspots. In 1900, he began a systematic study of sunspots with an 8-inch telescope mounted in the Mission Gardens. The American Association for the Advancement of Science elected him a member in 1907. By then he had perfected his controversial theory, the ideal that sunspot activity affects the weather on earth.
Father Ricard Becomes Padre of the Rains
Most of the scientific community discounted Father Ricard’s sunspot theory, but he quietly defended it and resolved to prove it. He left his teaching career and turned to meteorology. His weather forecasts expanded from ten day to monthly and seasonal predictions. His forecasts appeared in local and regional newspapers on the West Coast and other parts of the United States.
A diverse group of farmers, athletic directors, motion picture companies and anyone who needed accurate weather forecasts subscribed to Father Ricard’s monthly magazine, The Sunspot, and they based their activities on his weather forecasts.
Father Richard became famous because he had the knack of applying scientific theory and study to the every day needs of people. They appreciated him so much that they called him “Padre of the Rains.”
The Influence of Sunspots on the Earthly Weather
Father Jerome Sixtus Ricard was appointed director of the observatory of the University of Santa Clara and everyone called him “Padre of the Rains.” At first people had been skeptical of his ability to accurately predict the weather. Many people said that it couldn’t be done.
“It can be done,” insisted the Padre of the Rains, and he did it. Father Ricard was the first man to observe the influence of sunspots on the earth, and he discovered that by following certain calculations he could determine changes in barometric pressure long before they happened. This way, he could forecast the weather much farther ahead of the ordinary weatherman, who predicted his forecast only after the barometer registered a rise or fall in atmospheric pressure. A change in the weather usually follows a change in atmospheric pressure.
Sunspots have been known since the third century A.D., when such great scientists as Galileo, Scheiner, Herschel and Secchi studied them. But it took the “Padre of the Rains” to discover the connection between spots on the sun and climatic conditions on earth.
Celestial Sunspots and Earthly Weather
The Padre discussed his theory in 1924, when he was 75 years old. “For several years, I noticed coincidences between the appearance and position of sunspots and climatic conditions here on the Pacific coast. The undeniable connection was established by continued observation and in 1914, I felt justified in formulating this law: Sunspots affect the earth’s climatic condition only when they are directly opposite the earth, on the suns’ central meridian. Spots on the northern hemisphere of the sun cause storms or areas of low barometer, spots on the southern hemisphere cause areas of high barometer.”
He explained that he compared 4,000 weather maps with 3,000 sunspot observations to arrive at this law. He could tell therefore, when an area of lows would be set up and enter the Pacific Northwest and when an area of highs would enter from the south. But he could not predetermine the path of the low.
Two courses were open to it. It could either go over the mountains and be lost to the area or come down the coast. Father Ricard was looking for a law to predetermine the path of the lows. The lows could be met by a high entering from the south. “Rain always follows in the wake of a low and precedes the advent of the high,” he concluded.
His sunspot theory was just that, a theory. He couldn’t localize storms accurately and he could predict only for the Pacific Coast. The Padre could foretell the arrival of a low and that rain ordinarily followed a low. He could foretell when an area of clearing high would enter from the south, but he couldn’t predict the exact path a storm would follow. There were hundreds of minor details of topography and other local conditions influencing the weather which couldn’t be scientifically catalogued without years of observation and experimentation.
Father Jerome Ricard Perfects Weather Predicting
Father Jerome Sixtus Ricard foretold the weather even when there were no sun spots. He worked in a cloistered old mission garden in Santa Clara, blooming with grapes, figs, and palm and olive trees. In his garden there was a little wooden hut on rollers that he could move aside to expose the telescope he kept there. He focused his telescope on the sun, took the solar image on a sheet of paper, and marked the spots, barely discernible, with a pencil.
“Whenever two planets are on a line that passes through the sun, spots are generated at the two points where that line cuts the sun. These spots may or may not be visible to the telescope.”
Father Ricard Discovers Invisible Sunspots
The Padre of the Rains said that even though no spots were visible, the spectrum revealed their presence. According to him, spots on the northern hemisphere of the sun cause storms or areas of low barometer and spots on the southern hemisphere cause areas of high barometer. Only when the spots are on the central meridian of the sun, that is, directly opposite the earth, do they influence our climatic conditions.
// “Now from the nautical almanac, we learn the positions of the planets. From this, we compute the birthplace of the sun spots and thence the time it will take for them to reach the central meridian of the sun. Knowing this, I can foretell the arrival of highs and lows, fair weather or foul, unless the lows go east instead of south or sudden spots are generated or a predominant high comes up from the south.”
The Padre of the Rains experimented with these theories for twenty years and worked daily to perfect his forecasts. For over twenty years, he wrestled with equipment and facilities that hindered more than helped him. His observatory was a modest group of buildings resembling a cluster of sheds more than a scientific workshop. All the buildings were wooden. One 8 x 10 building housed the eight inch telescope, another 4 x 6 building sheltered his clocks and wind velocity machines. A third 12 x 18 building was his study and library. This held all of his papers and the records of 25 years of weather observation.
Father Ricard Wins Worldwide Respect and a Secretary
Father Ricard felt that with adequate facilities and proper equipment he could expand his long range weather forecasts to include the entire North American continent instead of just the Pacific Coast.
“Theoretically there is no limit to how far ahead I can foretell sunspots, but practically however, I am governed by the publication of the nautical almanac. This gives the position of the planets for three years in advance,” he added.
For twenty years, the Padre of the Rain’s weather forecasting had been hindered by inadequate facilities and people laughing at him and trying to discredit him. But he persevered and eventually won the respect and recognition of his fellow scientists. His theory about sunspots influencing weather caused a ripple of excitement and further experimentation across the United States in the 1920s and even across the ocean in Europe.
Soon the Padre of the Rains required a secretary to handle the huge amount of mail coming to him daily. There were piles of letters from all over the country. Children wrote to him asking if the sun would be out or if it would rain for their picnic planned for next month. Chambers of Commerce wrote the padre giving dates for outdoor activities and asking what days would be best. Ranchers and farmers wrote, wondering if they should harvest their crops or leave them in the fields longer. Universities wired, asking about the weather for the day of the big game. The “Padre of the Rains” received communications from all over the country.
Father Ricard Receives an Endowment and an Observatory
To guarantee that his work could continue under the best conditions, the Knights of Columbus and their families and friends in the United States and Canada joined forces. They raised an endowment fund of $500,000 to aid Father Ricard “in his valuable contribution to the world of science.”The University of Santa Clara, the town of Santa Clara, and the Valley of Santa Clara joined forces to build an observatory comparable to the leading ones in the world of the 1920s. The Padre of the Rains acquired a modern telescope, a research library and an astronomical college to aid him in his weather forecasting!
To aid him in his meteorological work, the Ricard Observatory was constructed between 1924 and 1928, through a fund drive organized by the Knights of Columbus and others who relied on his observations and forecasts. An underground concrete room was built just to the north of the observatory to house two seismographs, accommodating another of Ricard’s scientific interests, seismology, which he began to pursue after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Through his efforts, Santa Clara University became an official Seismological Station and a member of the Jesuit Seismological Association.
Father Jerome Sixtus Ricard died on 1930 at Santa Clara, leaving an impact on the earth as lasting as the sunspots that he studied on the sun.
Frank Glasby, Planets, Sunspots and Earthquakes: Effects on the Sun, the Earth and Its Inhabitants, Writers Club Press, 2002.
Leon Golub, Jay M. Pasachoff, Nearest Star: The Surprising Science of Our Sun, Harvard University Press, 2002.
Judit Brody, The Enigma of Sunspots: A Story of Discovery and Scientific Revolution, Floris Books, 2003.
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