BRAVING THE ELEMENTS: The Stormy History of American Weather by David Laskin

BRAVING THE ELEMENTS: The Stormy History of American Weather

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An anecdotal and enjoyable popularization of the history and science of meteorology and weather forecasting in North America. Laskin (A Common Life, 1994, etc.), an amateur weather buff, tells the ""history of man's experience of the climate"" in America from the arrival of the Paleo-Indians to today's sophisticated computer forecasting analysis. The US, he notes, is ""blessed and cursed with the most and greatest variety of extreme weather in the world,"" and he examines those variances, from New England snowstorms to the tornadoes of the Plains to the intense heat and aridity of the Southwest. His history begins with a look at the Anasazi Indians of Chaco Canyon and Native Americans' predictive and rain-making abilities. He continues on to the Norse sagas, which provide ""the first tantalizing glimpse of American weather through the eyes of Europeans,"" then on to the colonial period, the Lewis and Clark expedition, the incredible winter of 1880--81 on the Great Plains, and finally, the weather and meteorology of today and predictions for the future. Laskin is most interesting as he provides material on Benjamin Franklin, whose kite-flying experiment was ""an epochal event in the history of weather""; Thomas Jefferson, who was fascinated by meteorology and hoped to establish an organized group of observers; Joseph Henry, the first director of the Smithsonian Institution, whose projects in the 1840s would lead to the founding of a national weather network; and Cleveland Abbe, the first chief forecaster for the War Department Signal Service. It would become the Signal Corps in 1880 and would evolve into today's highly sophisticated and, says Laskin, highly accurate National Weather Service. A delight when the author deals with history and personalities, although his dismissive asides, such as calling global warming just another of the doomsayers' ""climatic anxieties,"" could use some shoring up.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1996
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Doubleday