Tristan Gooley’s new book is an exploration of how deeply weather is imbricated with the landscape, as both cause and effect, and how it is gloriously, obstinately parochial. You may watch a regional forecast, but what you experience are intensely local and febrile microclimates. The Secret World of Weather frames itself early on as an aid to forecasting, by decoding the signs in mackerel skies and dust devils. But it’s really much more than that. It’s about the ecology of weather, how the movement of air and the heat of the sun negotiate with the forms of hill and tree and building to generate the most wondrous variety of phenomena. Metereodiversity, you might call it.
The book is full of fascinating trivia. In theory, it should be possible to make a forecast by watching a baseball game. According to Gooley, home runs are more likely just before bad weather because balls — and all other projectiles — travel further in humid air. He also suggests that wind is sexist. Men and women react differently to a cold breeze: men face the wind, but women turn away because their breasts are more sensitive to low temperatures. However, we all have the same reaction when the breeze reaches Force Six (25-31 mph, large branches in motion).
If though, the digressions of someone who has “mixed feelings about dew” cause you to raise a sceptical eye or even stifle uncharitable laughter, well, stick with the book anyway. Even for incorrigible townies like me — in fact especially for us — Gooley marshals a riveting compendium of weather-reading skills that were once commonplace among the anguished folk of Thomas Hardy novels or (Gooley’s favourite, he mentions them in three chapters) “the indigenous Wola people of Papua New Guinea”, but are now largely lost in a world of instant weather forecasts updated hourly on our smartphones.