November 26: John Park Finley (1943)

John Park Finley was an American meteorologist and Army Signal Service officer who was the first person to study tornadoes intensively. Born in 1854 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the son of a successful farmer, Finley was uncommonly educated for his time. He completed a course in classical studies at the State Normal College, obtained a bachelor of science degree and later a master of science at Michigan State Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Michigan State University), where he studied the effect of weather and climate on agriculture. He spent another year studying law at the University of Michigan. Even after enlisting in the Signal Corps in 1877 and completing its meteorological instruction, Finley enrolled as a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland with the intention of further preparing for his research into tornadoes and cyclones. While living in Washington, Finley’s daughters were baptized at Epiphany, Flora in 1882 and Mary Louise in 1884.

During the 19th Century, while others were debating about the theory and morphology of tornadoes, Finley set out to prove that tornadoes, like other weather phenomena, could be forecast. He developed forecast rules and made experimental forecasts. His forecasting and analysis activities made him the center of controversy during most of his professional life and led to open debate, but he set precedents in meteorological forecasting that are still valid today. His career as a meteorologist started while he was a private in the U.S. Army. His interest continued even when he had achieved the rank of captain and was civil governor of Zamboanga in the Philippines. After his retirement as a colonel, he again became active as a private meteorologist, first establishing a business that provided insurance underwriters with meteorological data for assessing risks, and then opening a school of theoretical and applied meteorology and climatology.

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