What's a good book or resource for understanding weather?
January 4, 2016 11:50 AM   Subscribe

This is one of those writer questions. I'd like to develop a good working knowledge of weather and weather patterns that would enable me to... 1) Quickly come up with a plausible climate for a given latitude and geography. 2) Get a good on the ground sense of weather. (The more sensory details, the better). I basically want to be the old person who looks at a cloud and knows it's going to rain, and I want to know the variations in clouds, wind, how the air smells, etc. Like most authors, I want to sound like I know what I'm talking about. I've read through some basic weather and climate textbooks. They do give a general systemic description, but I'd like more narrative detail, if possible.
posted by Alex Haist to Science & Nature (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: For a more narrative book on weather, and some neat history to tie into, you might like Defining the Wind. Not quite what you're looking for, but both more than touch on weather and its impact on the environment, and in a more narrative style, you may also like The Childrens Blizzard or Under a Flaming Sky. Actually, they sort of make a decent trilogy of books about how weather and history can come together by chance and circumstance to deeply affect each other.
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 12:01 PM on January 4, 2016

Metafilter's own zompist wrote a book that includes a section about how to do this if you're creating a fictional planet.

If you're interested in fine gradations of describing weather conditions at sea you could mine the Beaufort Wind Scale for your writing purposes.

Books about "country wisdom" or similar topics might have dubious accuracy at parts but would also serve as a resource. This one, for example, has a section on weather and weather prediction.
posted by Wretch729 at 12:08 PM on January 4, 2016

Best answer: Eric Sloane's Weather Book might work for you.
posted by bdc34 at 12:47 PM on January 4, 2016

Best answer: Pilot training includes some basic weather theory to help guide safe decision making. The FAA publishes the Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, which includes a decent section on weather.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:22 PM on January 4, 2016

Best answer: Cliff Mass's blog or book, specific to Pacific Northwest weather but very knowledgeable about weather science in general.
posted by matildaben at 1:29 PM on January 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Paul Douglas was a weather guru as I was growing up in the Twin Cities. His books and blog are really reader friendly in terms of providing a depth of understanding about weather but also climate. This one is one that a weather geek friend recommended.
posted by goggie at 1:51 PM on January 4, 2016

I was reading a book written in the 70s about deep sea shipping and salvage in the 40s, and it mentioned how the weather forecast services still didn't really extend over much of the sea. Before WW2 it seems that for many ships, life, limb, and cargo depended on weather judgement calls limited to the seafarer's ability to read the weather from only what they could sense - wind, clouds, ship's barometers, etc.
The book probably isn't much good to you - it was descriptive (it talked about things like judging the black bar at the top of storm as an indicator of how close an approaching hurricane was, or how x bars of mercury dropping overnight was alarming, and they didn't need the barometer to feel that kind of drop... etc) but was not very explanatory. I mention it because I suspect that pre-ww2 shipping might be a useful search avenue, since weather-watching was a skill that almost everyone involved had a stake in having.
posted by anonymisc at 3:26 PM on January 4, 2016

Best answer: Another resource for understanding the weather in a location is the "Scientific Forecaster Discussion" on Weather Underground. Select your city (or one you'd like to know about the weather for), and on that city's page, just below the 10-day forecast will be a link for "Scientific Forecaster Discussion" which when you click it, will lead you to something like this.

Read that on a daily basis. Look up things you don't understand. Before long, you'll know more. The quality of the discussion varies somewhat, but I enjoy the voice of the person writing many of the discussions for the Minneapolis-St. Paul area (the MPX office of the National Weather Service).
posted by DaveP at 2:24 AM on January 5, 2016

I basically want to be the old person who looks at a cloud and knows it's going to rain, and I want to know the variations in clouds, wind, how the air smells, etc.

Old people generally know those sorts of things because they've been living in one place for many years and they've noticed patterns. And that sort of deep local knowledge is exactly that: very local. It's hard to become an expert in all types of climates and weather simultaneously, because the weather patterns are so different everywhere. There isn't one set of universal signs for: this is going to be a big rainstorm. Places don't smell the same, so the air doesn't smell the same. It smells different after it rains in Moab than it does in Seattle.

So if you want to develop a visceral sense of the weather, I think the best thing you can do is start paying attention to the local weather everywhere you are. Check the weather forecast, check websites like Weather Underground and then pay attention to what the weather looks like where you are. If the news says it's going to snow tomorrow, pay attention to the clouds and the wind and how it smells. You'll find out the next day if those signs meant snow or not, and so you can file that information away for next time they say it's going to snow, and compare the results again. Talk to people who have lived in your town for a long time about the weather; they will sometimes drop things into conversations that are completely obvious and commonplace to them but are interesting and revelatory to you. Spend time outdoors doing outdoor things like hiking or walking or jogging or snow-shoeing; weather becomes a bit more intimate and dramatic when you don't have the option to just run inside.

Doing all of that won't give you the ability to explain all weather and climates perfectly, but it will give you some more tools to describe some types of weather much more clearly and viscerally.
posted by colfax at 2:30 AM on January 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Own & listen to a NOAA weather radio daily. I originally got it for those 'go hide in a basement' or 'check your stock of bottled water and canned goods' kinds of notifications, but found myself picking up all kinds of interesting tidbits when I started turning it on every morning to get the weather report. I think it's the summaries (after the hazardous weather outlook and before the general weather report) that really throw in the interesting details about stalled low pressure systems and fronts moving in from certain areas and the like.
posted by carrioncomfort at 7:09 AM on January 5, 2016

Best answer: There's The Cloudspotter's Guide. A bit too much narrative for me but was a huge hit in the UK a few years back.
posted by freya_lamb at 2:21 PM on January 5, 2016

Response by poster: So I have gone through all the answers, and now several of the books are on library order, and the blogs are on a check 'em out list. The "best answer" feature started thwarting me, since until I've gone through the resources, these are all theoretically useful answers (and they all provide different angles on understanding weather). This is just to say, thank you! I feel ready to go forth and become more educated in the matter of weather.
posted by Alex Haist at 1:44 PM on January 18, 2016

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