Sunday, 17 April 2016

Review: The Weather Experiment: The Pioneers who Sought to see the Future

The Weather Experiment: The Pioneers who Sought to see the Future The Weather Experiment: The Pioneers who Sought to see the Future by Peter Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When English people are not sure what to talk about, they discuss the weather. They probably did that 300 odd years ago too, but rather than seeing that the weather was part of a global system, it was assumed that all weather was Gods will, and a storm was evidence of his displeasure. In this book Moore brings to us the men who went against the convention and dogma of the day, with the hope of unlocking the secrets of the skies and understanding what made our weather.

The pioneers of science first sought to quantify and bring order to the atmosphere. There is Luke Howard the man who described and named the different cloud formations, Francis Beaufort who devised a scale so that wind strength could be quantified. James Glaisher started in astronomy but his fascination in the weather meant that he was the ideal man to take measurements in the first trips in hot air balloons to understand the upper atmosphere. Key to it all was Admiral Robert FitzRoy, sailor, explorer, scientist and the founder of what we now know as he Met Office. There were others too; James Epsy who thought he could control the weather, and the American scientists who explained the reason why a hurricane twists. There were others who contributed, in other technologies, such as Samuel Morse who gave us the telegraph, and allowed rapid transmission of the data collected by individuals across the country to the office in Whitehall.

These men were driven by saving lives for the navy and coastal communities. They taught people how to understand the instruments that they were using to take measurements. He describes the fight that they had against the vested interests of the day, as well as they complete disbelief that these men could predict the weather and in particular storms. The first few times that FitzRoy got a storm prediction wrong he was lambasted in the papers, but the men who used these warnings knew that these were vital to their trades.

Moore brings these men together in a narrative that is fascinating and compelling in equal measure. He brings alive the drive and obsession that these men had in understanding how the weather happened, and more importantly what happens on a summer day, compared to another day. The legacy that they have given us is a much better understanding of the atmosphere, weather trends and cycles. It has also given us the Met Office. One of our national sports is slating them when they get something wrong, especially on long term predictions or missing the odd hurricane, but for the day to day forecasts they are normally pretty good. Overall a pretty good book, but I would have preferred a more UK focus as he did head across the Atlantic and Channel fairly often, but still well worth reading.

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1 comment:

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