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A Girl and Her Dog Consider the Storm

Jennifer McStotts reviews The Encyclopedia of Weather and Climate Change: A Complete Visual Guide, by Juliane L. Fry, Hans-F Graf, Richard Grotjahn, Marilyn Raphael, Clive Saunders, and Richard Whitaker

The Encylopedia of Weather and Climate Change: A Complete Visual GuideI sat down in my favorite chair to look over The Encyclopedia of Weather and Climate Change: A Complete Visual Guide; it was Tucson, and it was August. Within ten minutes, the booming thunder of a monsoon rattled my front windows. As my dog Luke curled up between my legs and my chair, I decided to take advantage of the resource I had in front of me to understand what was going on in the sky outside, and I read aloud to him, as I often must, to comfort him during the worst of the storm’s onset.

The encyclopedia is just what it purports to be—a broad and thorough compendium on our climate, co-authored by six experts: Dr. Juliane L. Fry, Dr. Hans-F Graf, Dr. Richard Grotjahn, Dr. Marilyn N. Raphael, Dr. Clive Saunders, and Richard Whitaker. The bulk of the 500 pages of text is divided into six sections: Engine, Action, Extremes, Watching, Climate, and Change.

As I’m sure many of us do when handed such a hefty book, I immediately checked out the table of contents, glossary, and index. The first is limited to the top two tiers of headings, which are intuitive, keeping it simple and easy to use; each of the major sections begins with a more detailed table of contents for that part. The glossary is nothing to sneeze at with five pages, four densely packed columns each, and there wasn’t a single term I couldn’t find either there or in the even more dense fifteen-page index. In short, I could tell right away the book would be easy to use as a reference for the novice and for the advanced student alike, and I found myself just as convinced by the time I put the book down.

The section titled “Engine” provides an overview of both the atmosphere and weather on a global scale. It covers phenomena caused by extra-atmospheric events—like sunspots and aurora—as well as those that occur the world over. I spent long minutes on the diagrams of atmospheric pressure and the beautiful photographs of the primary effect of varied air pressure—winds. The palm fronds outside danced shadows across my windows before a dark bank of clouds rolled in, as I read that monsoons—as a planetary phenomenon—are more about the wind than the rain that sometimes comes with them hand in hand. I admired photographs of Indian celebrations, Jakartan floods, and dust-storm-obscured African elephants; I showed Luke the last picture, explaining that he’s not the only one who doesn’t like this time of year, but it’s important to farmers all over for the needed rains. (He seemed unpersuaded.)

“Action” is a more specific section, moving into the complex details of atmospheric functions and phenomena. “Extremes,” in turn, goes further; for what “Action” covers on cloud formation, rain, and snow, for instance, “Extremes” cranks up to hurricanes, blizzards, and droughts. And that’s not all: while “Action” covers humidity and precipitation as processes, “Extremes” describes floods and chronicles record-breaking weather. It was here I explored lightning and thunder. Luke gets upset very early in a storm, often before I hear it coming. The “Extremes” section had a lovely series of photographs and diagrams explaining how sound waves from lightning work, confirming what I’d always assumed—while a thunderclap is a combination of short and long sound waves from lightning nearby, the rumbling that my dog hears consists of the low, longer sound waves outside of my audible range. As the storm nears, the shorter sound waves originate closer and remain strong enough for me to hear, too. (That doesn’t change how he cowers, but hearing me explain it from the book seemed to bring him some comfort.)

The section on “Watching” chronicles ancient and modern weather lore and the evolution of observation and forecasting techniques. If anything, I wish there was more on the historic technologies, but what is provided is more than sufficient for an encyclopedia’s level of coverage. What follows in the “Climate” section is hard to describe without sounding effusive. The photographs caught my eye first, vividly showing both a broad range of the variety of landscapes in each climate zone—arid climes, for instance—then specific regions like my own North American desert Southwest in lovely detail. That said, the statistics in the “Fact File” columns and explanations in the text itself were equally impressive, allowing a reader to compare cities around the world at a glance, to understand the climatic similarities that join us, and then in more narrowly focused sections, to see the common trends in temperature and humidity that define a region.

The Encyclopedia of Weather and Climate Change page spread sample
Sample page spread from The Encyclopedia of Weather and Climate Change: Icebergs.
Click image for full view in PDF format.

When I first saw The Encyclopedia of Weather and Climate Change, I zoomed in on the climate change aspect, intrigued by what would be covered. The “Change” section did not disappoint, taking up more than one-fifth (120-something pages) of the book and covering the history (and prehistory) of climate change, its natural patterns, its rapid post-industrial acceleration, the threats it presents to life, and an exploration of possible ways to “reverse the trend.” The section also includes ten “hot spot” profiles of the effects climate change is having on sensitive ecosystems.

The Encyclopedia is, as the subtitle says, a complete visual guide. From pure photography to diagrams overlaid on actual landscapes, from satellite photos to computer-rendered models, the visual quality of the book is superb. The language of the text is clear and well-written, but advanced; it is not for children but for young adults and the rest of us. For example, the description of dust storms reads:

Strong winds are capable of lifting topsoil and scattering it over wide areas, but occasionally certain conditions combine to produce huge walls of moving dust that transport thousands of tons of soil, sand, and debris. Dust storms are most common in deserts but can occur in other places including landscapes where glaciation has ground rocks into fine, dry sand.

That said, the diagrams are often large and vivid enough that they could still be useful in explaining weather concepts to children too young to understand the text (and to my dog). This encyclopedia is a very necessary addition to any science-minded library from middle school on up. Moreover, given the universal importance of climate change, it might be better to say The Encyclopedia of Weather and Climate Change is a necessary addition to any library, including your elected officials’.


Jennifer McStotts worked as a lawyer in Georgia and as a college professor in South Carolina before she figured out that writing clandestinely is not the most effective way to go about being a writer. She now lives in Tucson, Arizona, and has work forthcoming from Brock Review and Re)verb. More about Jennifer can be found at www.JenniferMcStotts.com.
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The Encyclopedia of Weather and Climate Change: A Complete Visual Guide

By Juliane L. Fry, Hans-F Graf, Richard Grotjahn, Marilyn Raphael, Clive Saunders, and Richard Whitaker

   University of California
   512 pages
   ISBN 978-0520261013


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