Weather Matters

If you're looking for the perfect gift for the serious cloudspotter or weather buff in your life, look no further than Bernard Mergen's Weather Matters: An American Cultural History since 1900 (University of Kansas Press, 2008). Mergen is professor emeritus of American studies at George Washington University and also author of Snow in America. The best feature of the lively, thorough, and fascinating Weather Matters is Mergen's ability to make his reader feel a part of the cultural history. Whether you are living in the February 2010 Blizzard Belt or not, I guarantee that your obsession with, interest (or lack of interest) in the weather will be addressed in his engaging text. Meteorologists, artists, poets, photographers, Boy Scouts, theater goers, politicians, military leaders, and pilots, and, alas, the backyard weathermakers are all part of Mergen's sweeping and inclusive narrative.

Here is a passage from a chapter on managing weather:

Today, the dystopian nightmare of everyman his own weathermaker is almost upon us. For a few thousand dollars and access to several hundred gallons of water, anyone can make snow in his bakcyard when it's cold enough. Companies such as Snow at Home and Snow Economics, maker of the Backyard Blizard, sell snowmaking machines and computer software that provides a seven-day snowmaking forecast based on ZIP codes, since it is still impossible to make snow, even with the best machines, unless the temperature is below freezing. Admittedly a contributor to atmospheric warming, not a solution to it, the machines use large amounts of electricity and water. Another purpose of these expensive toys is to gratify big egos; as one backyard snowmaker remarked, "When real snow falls, my daughter thinks I made it." This is a comment chilling enough to bring back real winter.

Which brings me to my next reading, the Weather Report in the New York Times for Monday, February 8:

FOCUS; EASTERN SNOWS REWRITING RECORD BOOKS Last week's blizzard raised the seasonal snowfall into the ranks of one of the snowiest winters in history. In Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Wilmington, Del., the greater than two-foot snowfall vaulted the present winter to second in rank overall.

So, happy reading, happy shoveling. Watch your backs.