This is an impressively researched book and contains a good number of dramatic historical accounts. Blum transports you back to the 1881 International Exposition of Electricity held in Paris. There, inside the Palais de l’Industrie on the Champs-Elysées, the world’s first electric tram trundled through the exhibition hall and a ‘telemeteograph’ printed out the current weather in Brussels at ten-minute intervals. In a soundproof booth, Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone allowed visitors to hear a live performance from the opera house some distance away. Architecture features in Blum’s book too. He visits the Mesa lab, home of American weather science, and describes how the architect I M Pei, in one of his first major commissions, was instructed to create a building that had ‘soul’.
Andrew Blum’s excellent book, The Weather Machine, describes the technological and geopolitical developments that have brought Ruskin’s dream to reality, creating a global meteorological machine that uses scientific models of the atmosphere to convert observations into ever more accurate speculations — or forecasts — of future weather... Blum describes vividly the weather war as Germany fought to overcome its geographical disadvantage: the movement of weather systems across the North Atlantic from west to east.
He knows, however, that this is a minority view. “The weather machine is a wonder we treat as a banality,” he writes: “a tool that we haven’t yet learned to trust.” This book is his attempt to convey the technical brilliance and political significance of an achievement that hides in plain sight.
As Blum acknowledges, in weather forecasting as in so many other fields “multinational technology corporations are poised to create a new structure of data ownership and exchange”. In other words the meteorological business is on the brink of being privatised and commercialised. Having created something that benefits everyone regardless of nationality, location or financial circumstances, humanity is, it seems, meekly handing it over to Google, Amazon, Facebook and IBM to exploit. It’s a story that’s getting depressingly familiar.