Tuesday, February 23, 2016

What: Pauline Halford, Storm Warning: The Origins of the Weather Forecast (Sutton Publishing, 2004)

Why: How something we all use on a daily basis has its origins as a risk-management tool for entrepreneurs.

Sometimes the topics I explore through my voracious reading habits can be somewhat, shall we say, esoteric. Actually, that’s being quite charitable. Some would say that some of the books I’ve read would appear in the dictionary under the word “snoozefest.”

It’s just that you never know where you’re going to pick up an interesting factoid, something that casts a new light on something quite mundane. Take, for instance, the science of meteorology or—better yet—its familiar daily face, the weather forecast.

It’s safe to say that human interest in the unfolding of atmospheric conditions on a day-to-day basis has not been driven by our mere desire for a safe topic for small talk with strangers. No, the beginnings of our attempts to understand, divine, and predict what Mother Nature has in store for us predictably can be traced to commercial origins.

Pauline Halford’s Storm Warning: The Origins of the Weather Forecast tells the story of how meteorology developed from a need to limit the risk to commercial shipping posed by inclement weather. “Forecasting was born of storm warnings,” she writes, and the discipline arose essentially “because of the need of seamen to be forewarned of storms.” Something that started as an essential risk-management tool for commercial concerns soon became important to the military as well, and ultimately has become something of interest to any person who might venture outside on any given day.

Predicting the weather has in itself now become big business, especially in this age of increasing concern about global climate change. Despite the increasing sophistication of the prediction process, the fundamental problem remains the same: “The problem with the weather is that the only thing consistent about it is its unpredictability.” 

Or, as many of my fellow Minnesotans like to say, to purloin Mark Twain's quip about weather in New England, “If you don’t like the weather now, just wait a few minutes.”

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