A Philatelic Look at the Weather

A presentation to the Rochester Philatelic Association
for Stamp Collecting Month, October 14, 2004

By Tom Fortunato
(updated 01/2024)



Neither snow, nor rain, nor...

Have you ever thought of the many ways the weather has been depicted on or influenced philatelic material of all kinds? The US Postal Service this year decided to issue a sheetlet of 15 stamps showing different types of clouds in honor of Stamp Collecting Month.

This brief presentation will show you some familiar and unfamiliar items which hopefully will lead you to a better appreciation for "weather and philately."

The Plan for this Presentation


Meteorological Variables and Instruments

  • Wind Direction - windsocks, weathervanes
  • Wind Speed - anemometers (measure speed in knots, wind plotting)
  • Air Pressure - barometers, barographs (isobars)
  • Temperature - thermometers, thermocouples
  • Humidity - hygrometers, psychrometers
  • Precipitation - tipping bucket rain gauge, weighing rain guage
  • Cloud cover - radar
  • Solar radiation - actinometer
  • Combined functions - radiosonde, ships, planes and satellites

    Scientists and Inventors

    Weather Organizations

  • U.S. - War Department Signal Corps, Dept. of Agriculture Weather Service
  • Canada - Meteorological Service of Canada
  • India
  • Multi-National - World Meteorological Organization


  • Cloud classifications

    Weather Disaster Philatelic Tributes

  • Floods
  • Hurricanes and Cyclones
  • Volcanic eruptions

    No matter where you are on Earth, you can count on
    the weather being both your friend and foe. Isn't the
    weather the first thing on your mind in the morning?


    2001 Great Britain weather issue with related cancels

    kind of
    do you


    Wie ist

    Meteorological Variables and Instruments

    Scientists employ a variety of instruments to measure current conditions and predict what's on the way. This section depicts many of them!

    1969 Argentinian Antactic base cover

    Wind Direction



    Weathervanes are decorative items made of cast iron, copper, and other materials. Also known as weathercocks, the central figure spins on a vertical rod, pointing in the direction of the wind. The first may date back to 48 BC, found on top the Tower of the Winds in Athens showing the god Triton.

    [More information: http://www.abirdshome.com/weathervanehistory.html]



    middle image from a 1988 Finnish souvenir sheet margin

    Windsock- a truncated cloth cone mounted on a mast; used to show the direction of the wind. Commonplace at airports especially during both World Wars, these windcatchers were quick visual aids before the days of electronics.

    Wind Speed

    3 cup anenometer - 4 cup anenometer in cancel - anenometer as part of instrument package

    An anemometer measures wind speed. They come in a variety of types. Most recognizable are the "rotational vane" kind with three or four cups, invented in 1850. It works on the principle that the rotational speed of the cup turbine is proportional to the wind speed.

    cachet from 1970 Hungarian FDC issue

    Propeller anemometers turn into the wind
    through the use of their vanes. Buoys employ
    this to measure winds on the ocean.

    Wind Plotting


    Swedish cancels- knot speed symbols from lowest to highest

    Like isobars, wind results can be plotted to get a macro view of gusts. "Wind barb" symbols represent various knot speeds. The barbs point in the direction the wind is coming from. 1 knot = 1.15 miles per hour

    [More information: https://www.marinewaypoints.com/marine/wind.shtml]

    Air Pressure

    barometer - barometer and barograph - barograph cachet from 1964 Brazil issue

    Barometers, from the Greek word meaning measure of weight or pressure, were first invented in 1648. Increases or decreases in atmospheric pressure predict weather changes are ahead in the next 24-48 hours. A barograph uses paper to record pressure changes.



    Isobars are features drawn on maps which connect areas of equal pressure. The closer the lines, the more intense the winds, especially during storms and hurricanes.


    oral thermometer - minimum, maximum, dry, wet bulb thermometers in shelter - surface temperature plot

    Everyone is familiar with thermometers, from medicine, to food, to refrigerators. Most are the liquid in glass type. They typically use mercury or red colored alcohol which expands and contracts through the bore within a sealed glass tube. Temperatures, like wind speed and air pressure, can be plotted.

    [More information: https://www.thoughtco.com/the-history-of-the-thermometer-1992525]


    hygrometer seen at the left

    Leonardo DaVinci developed the first basic hygrometer in 15th century, measuring relative humidity in the air. Modern hygrometers measure resistance changes of a semiconducive material to determine humidity levels. Dry and wet bulb thermometers can also be used in tandem to calculate humidity.

    [More information: hhttps://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-the-hygrometer-1991669]

    Rain Gauges

    recording rain gauge - modern pluviometer

    Koreans claim to have made the first rain gauge in 1441. It was a small bucket put atop a stone slab. Water would fall into it and be measured regularly with a graduated stick. The process is much more automated today, but the principle is the same. Devices are technically called pluviometers.

    [More information: https://www.thoughtco.com/tools-used-to-measure-weather-4019511]

    Cloud cover


    Radar sends out a beam of radio waves, then measures the intensity of what is reflected back. The reflection can be affected by rain, hail, snow, and other factors. Doppler radar is more complex, and can also determine wind speed and direction by measuring changes in the frequency of the reflected beam.

    Solar radiation


    Radiation from the sun scatters around the atmosphere and is reflected from the Earth. Just how intense is it? An actinometer can tell.

    [More information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actinometer]

    Combined Functions

    radiosonde with horizontal sequencer - radiosonde with 6-cup vertical sequencer - ascending package

    A radiosonde is an instrument package lifted by a balloon to heights of 30 km measuring temperature, humidity and pressure. Reports are transmitted back to Earth by radio. Its name comes from a combination of the words "radio" (for the transmitter) and "sonde" ("messenger" from old English). They were first used by the U.S. Weather Bureau in 1936.

    1966 French Southern and Antarctic Territory color trial complete sheet

    [More information: https://www.aos.wisc.edu/~hopkins/wx-inst/wxi-raob.htm]

    Ships, planes and satellites

    Preliminary accepted drawing (00 denomination)
    depicting a maritime weather station.
    Released as a 50 franc airmail issue.

    Modern electronics enable weather ships, planes and satellites to collect data which feeds into the most powerful supercomputers and weather modeling software in the world, predicting short-term and long-term forecasts. All these tools are especially invaluable when tracking hurricanes.

    Scientists and Inventors

    Here is a brief look at some of the people whose discoveries or inventions have played an important role in weather and meteorological history.

    Robert Boyle (1627-1691)
    relationship of pressure and volume

    Anders Celsius (1701-1744)
    Celcius temperature scale

    William Thompson Kelvin
    Kelvin temperature scale

    Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)
    study of vacuums and pressure

    Evangelista Torricelli (1608-1647)
    inventor of the mercury barometer

    J D van der Waals (1837-1923)
    temperature equation, water vapor

    Weather Organizations

    There are a myriad of national through international organizations which deal with the weather. Here are just a few.

    War Department

    Early on the role of weather forecasting and reporting was in the hands of the U.S. military. This cover postmarked with a "free" Washington, DC postmark dates to 1852 and is from the Surgeon General's office. It contained a circular and a correction sheet to the Meteorological Register for July, August, and September, 1852.


    The U.S. War Department's Signal Service was the organization coordinating weather activity. This cover bears the free frank of the Chief Signal Officer of the Army, Albert J. Myer, on an official business cover. It was mailed January 14, 1868 from Washington and bears a different "free" postmark.

    On July 1, 1873 Congress abolished franking priviledges of government officials, like the one above. Stamps and postal stationery was ordered prepared by the Postmaster General for each department, including the War Department.


    Volunteer weather reporters were recruited by the Signal Service in 1870 when Congress charged the organization with collecting statistics from around the country. The envelopes here were used to send weekly "Form 29" reports back to headquarters in Washington, DC. At least 5 different type face settings are known.

    1873 3 cent War Department
    type UO10 vermillion indicia
    George H. Raey, printer
    1875 3 cent War Department
    type UO19 red indicia
    Plimpton Manufacturing Company

    Here are two more type face settings, both with their address printings misplaced.


    Wrappers were also used, as in this 1 cent example printed sometime after June 18, 1881, per the inscription.

    By July 5, 1884 department envelopes became obsolete and each organization was allowed to use a design of their own without a denomination indicating that it was official mail.

    U.S. Department of Agriculture Weather Bureau

    On July 1, 1891 the weather program became the responsibility of the newly created Weather Bureau of the Department of Agriculture. Preprinted envelopes were no longer used to send reports. Above is the cropped portion of a large report envelope used on October 29, 1897 from Santa Fe, New Mexico. New Mexico gained statehood in 1912.

    [More information: https://www.noaa.gov/weather]



    The double ring format featured interchangable days and conditions in the outer ring.

  • December 4, 1895 (Wednesday)- Thursday snow, with Saturday warmer.
  • October 5, 1896 (Monday)- Tuesday turning fair.

    The linear format was designed to only gave the following day's weather outlook.

  • In 1895 the U.S. Post Office Department began an experiment using special backstamps on incoming mail for that day's delivery, primarily in rural areas to tell farmers the upcoming forecast. Two cancel styles were used: a round double ring type, and a linear type.

    The linear type cancel was manufactured by the Superior Rubber Type Company of Chicago, which created the cancels for 21 communities around the country. They were in use until 1898.


    This is the reverse of a postcard mailed from Boston's weather bureau on February 18, 1897 with New England's forecast. These cards were mailed free with the penalty message stating in the return address: "By authority of the Post Office Department, June 18, 1881, this Report will be treated in all respects as letter mail." Note "Occasional failures must be expected...".


    postmarked 2.6.27 and backstamped Yokohama 4.6.27

    16 sen total postage used-
    10 sen for the first 20 grams,
    6 sen for the additional 20 grams

    This is a weather report envelope from the Climatological Division - Marine Sec. B. The penalty cover was preprinted to the U.S. Weather Bureau Office, with SAN FRANCISCO, CAL. stamped as the city of destination, later crossed out with Seattle written in. Contrary to the instructions, it was not handed to a U.S. Consulate officer outside of the mails.

    Meteorological Service of Canada

    NO(vember) 26, 1891 Kingston, Ontario 14 bar duplex postmark, state III, with timemark 4 inverted.

    On reverse: NO 27 Toronto receiving cancel, timemark 9
    Nov 27 1891 "Answered Meterological Office." double ring mark in blue

    Canadians used a similar approach for reporting weather conditions with a "Receipt of Special Weather Telegram" postcard.

    [More information: https://www.cmos.ca/site/about/cmos]


    Here is an example of a weather telegram from India, postmarked December 30, 1949. The numbers could represent rainfall or temperature readings.


    World Meteorological Organization (established in 1950)


    With 187 member states, the WMO deals with meteorology and the geophysical sciences. It was formerly the International Meteorological Association, founded in 1873, and now is under the auspicies of the United Nations. They annually sponsor World Meteorological Day on March 23.

    [More information: https://wmo.int/en]

    World Weather Watch

    souvenir card


    is the
    arm of
    and data.
    [More information: https://public.wmo.int/en/bulletin/world-weather-watch-today]



     Accepted drawing and final result,
    1946 French airmail issue.

    Clouds have an almost mythological and etherial quality about them. Are they indeed the place where gods dwell?

    Cloud Classifications


    Fair skies or stormy, just look up and you can see a variety of cloud types.


    Clouds can be seen
    on a variety of
    philatelic items,
    including this cancel.

    1931 Log Cabin, CA registry cancel


    The 2004 U.S. Cloudscape Issue

    The following information is from the official USPS worksheet on the Cloudscape issue. October 4, 2004 first day national release, official city- Milton, MA.

    (Information printed on the on the back of the stamp pane outside of the stamp area.)

    "Clouds develop when moist air cools to its dew point by rising to a higher altitude or by moving over a cooler surface. Water vapor in the air then condenses in liquid or frozen form around minute particles such as pollen or dust. The shapes and altitudes of clouds, as well as the sequences in which they develop, help people forecast the weather.

    "In the early 19th century, Englishman Luke Howard chemist by trade and meteorologist by avocation created a system for classifying clouds using Latin names. He described the three most common shapes as cirrus (curl of hair), stratus (layer), and cumulus (heap); he also defined four compound cloud forms that derive from the three primary shapes, including nimbus (rain). Later scientists added terms such as humilis (small) and incus (anvil) to designate other cloud properties. The International Cloud-Atlas, first published in 1896, is based on this classification system.

    "Nine of the ten basic cloud genera are pictured on this stamp pane and arranged according to altitude. The prefixes "cirro" and "alto" distinguish high- and middle-altitude clouds, respectively. Nimbostratus, a dark, featureless cloud, is marked by falling rain or snow. As the Nimbostratus lacks defined shape, a reproduction of its image through a stamp would appear to be meaningless visually."

    Cirrus radiatus
    Blue Hill Bay, Maine
    1981, probably July; early evening
    David Rosenfeld/Photo
    Researchers, Inc.

    Cirrostratus fibratus
    northeast of Duluth, Minnesota
    June 26, 1988; around 7 p.m.
    1988 Arjen & Jerrine

    Cirrocumulus undulatus
    Coal Creek Canyon, Colorado
    September 16, 1992
    around noon
    Richard A. Keen

    Cumulonimbus mammatus
    near Barnes, Kansas
    June 6, 1971
    8:51 p.m.
    David Hoadley

    Cumulonimbus incus
    west of Amarillo, Texas
    April 22, 1994
    around 4 p.m.
    1994 Arjen & Jerrine

    Altocumulus stratiformis
    near Las Cruces
    New Mexico
    December 1988
    1988 Scott T. Smith

    Altostratus translucidus
    Cape May, New Jersey
    December 26, 1988
    around 3 p.m.
    Richard A. Keen

    Altocumulus undulatus
    Rockville, Maryland
    mid-1990s, maybe May
    about 10 a.m.
    H. Michael Mogil

    Altocumulus castellanus
    40 miles E-SE of Wichita, KS
    July 3, 1992; around 11 a.m.
    1992 Arjen & Jerrine

    Altocumulus lenticularis
    near Nederland, Colorado
    September 1998; sunset
    Carlye Calvin


    Stratocumulus undulatus
    Muddy Bay, Labrador
    October 5, 1977; around sunset
    Richard A. Keen


    Stratus opacus
    Chittenden Reservoir, VT
    October 3, 1987; 2:30 p.m.
    1987 Stanley David

    Cumulis humilis
    near McMinnville, Oregon
    August, year unknown;
    probably midafternoon
    John Day, Oregon
    Nature Photographer

    Cumulus congestus
    north of Douglas, Arizona
    August 28, 2000; late
    afternoon, around 5 p.m.
    2000 Arjen & Jerrine

    Cumulonimbus with tornado
    near Osnabrock,
    North Dakota
    July 25, 1978
    around 6 p.m.
    Edi Ann Otto

    Weather Disaster Philatelic Tributes

    Natural disasters of all kinds have led to the creation of semipostal stamps and other philatelic items to finance relief funds. Here are a few examples.

    1953 Netherlands Flood


    Europe and the Netherlands suffered a great flood on January 31, 1953 from a combined high tide and storm. Levies broke, resulting in 1,835 deaths. Semipostals were issued in several countries with the surcharge going to relief for the survisors.

    [More information: https://www.environmentandsociety.org/arcadia/north-sea-flood-1953]

    1965 Hungary

    The Danube River has overflowed several times. After a devestating flood in 1965, Hungary issued this souvenir sheet showing a rescue scene from a previous flooding in 1838.

    Hurricanes and Cyclones

    Hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones are regional names all referring to the same weather phenomenon. These low pressure fronts with circular convection are seen most frequently in the tropic and sub-tropic regions.



    Overprinting regular stamps is the quickest and most frequent technique postal administrations use to create semipostals. The 1935 British Honduras stamp here is a perfined specimen.


    Dominican Republic 1930


    The Dominican Republic had a terrible 150 mph hurricane ravage the country in 1930. Between 4,000 and 8,000 people died. Above is a first day of use cover dated December 30 using a 1 cent postal tax stamp depicting the capital, Santo Domingo. Its use was mandatory on all letters to help defray cleanup costs. The stamps came in 1, 2, 5, and 10 cent denominations.

    [More information: https://www.hurricanescience.org/history/storms/1930s/DominicanRepublic/]

    Volcanic Eruptions

    While not a weather phenomenon, volcanic eruptions do cause great havock through brief climatic changes. This classic set commemorates the 1961 evacuation of Tristan da Cunha residents to St. Helena after the volcano there erupted. The overprinting had not been approved by the Colonial Office in London. The stamps were withdrawn after being on sale for only seven days with 434 sets being sold.

    General Resources

    WebNet.com - The Meteorological Resource Center

    NOAA - National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration

    I am indebted to Don Hillger and Garry Toth who maintained their "Weather Philately" website where many of the images and technical basics originated.

    Also thanks to Joe Crosby for his assistance in providing some of the Signal Corps covers and all of the 1895 weather backstamp material.

    © Webmaster Tom Fortunato