Meteorology: the priest of storms

Meteorology: the priest of storms

Heritage & Traditions

CubaPLUS

The Belen College of the Company of Jesus, founded in the city of Havana in 1854, created and maintained for several decades in its monumental building on Acosta street between Compostela and Picota, a unique meteorology observatory whose contribution to the development of this Science on and off the island was extraordinary.

Inaugurated in 1857, the Observatory of the Royal College of Bethlehem was nourished by the vast experience that the religious order had achieved by maintaining several meteorological institutions in operation, one of them in the Vatican, two in the United Kingdom, and another in Belgium.

In its beginning, the Havana Observatory served as a teaching institution, closely linked to the explanation and objectives of subjects such as physics and mathematics. There the pupils who received their classes practiced by keeping records of temperature, those of the rain that fell, atmospheric pressure, or the direction and intensity of the winds.

This information, rigorously compiled with the help of the teachers, was recorded in tables and graphs, which were the starting point of the scientific legacy of Father Benito Viñes Martorell, a priest interested in the state and forecasts of the weather, climate and the atmospheric environment. Sent to Cuba by the Society of Jesus in 1870, Father Viñes —was of Catalonian origin and had been born in Pobeda, Tarragona on September 19, 1837— arrived in Havana with knowledge acquired in Spain and France.

His task was to direct the Meteorological Observatory that his order had founded in a region of the world prone to changes in the weather and in an area frequently hit by storms. The laws of Viñes were for a long time the vademecum of navigators and experts in the studies of the weather and the atmospheric environment.

In 1873 he managed, for his institution, the acquisition of a mechanical instrument of novel technology of which very few existed in the world, the Secchi Meteorograph, capable of simultaneously and continuously record the variables of temperature, atmospheric pressure, speed and direction of the wind and rainfall. This modern instrument operated by the priest, by then recognized as one of the most brilliant meteorologists of his time, equated the Havana Observatory with other similar ones of the highest level and scientific competence on a planetary scale.

It was Father Viñes who wrote on September 11, 1875, the first tropical cyclone warning that was published in the Havana press, as well as who had the scoop on the trajectory forecast for a cyclonic organism.