Snow, and the kindness of strangers

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently?”
– Alice in Wonderland

I had originally planned to write this post for Christmas Day but what with my recent stay in hospital things have got a bit off plan!  I’m now home which is great and, whilst this isn’t the end of my swallowing troubles, I am sleeping in my own bed, I have my stuff around me and I’m not getting woken up at 5.30am to be told my blood pressure is low.  Side note, it’s always low, especially at that time of day…

York Minster in the snow

Whilst I was in hospital, it snowed.  The first time it snowed, it came in quite a flurry and a lovely stranger took me for a walk to see the hospital’s Christmas display in the snow.

Another side note, this guy was so lovely.  He was there to see a friend and we’d said hi a couple of times but on this occasion the doctors were with her so he pulled up a seat and started chatting.  Then he said that I must be bored of being on the ward and had I been for a walk. I explained I couldn’t cos I need a wheelchair and can’t propel myself.  So he got me into my chair and off we went!  It was so great to be off the ward and really nice to see the snow.  His friend got discharged shortly after.  Then, a couple of days later, he appeared on the ward again!  He was passing by and was popping in to see if I was still there and if I was ok.  He dropped by again earlier this week and took me for another trip around the hospital and wanted to know if there was anything I needed that he could pick up for me.  It was really nice of him.  He had no reason to do any of that and he wasn’t trying to hit on me or anything of the sort, he was just really kind and thoughtful and being retired he had the time to do that sort of thing.  

Anyway, back to snow!

“Heavy snowflakes fall, flying in all directions but when there is no wind, they descend so slowly that they seem determined not to land on the ground.  When in fact they do touch the ground, they vanish completely”
– Thomas Merton

We think of snow as being the weather of Christmas but in actual fact, Christmas is generally just the beginning of the snow season.  In the UK, we are far more likely to see snow from January to March than in December.  I find this interesting and perhaps instead of seeing Christmas as peak snow time (which I suspect most of us do) we should see Christmas as the start of snow time.  The beginning of something.  I haven’t fully formed this in my head but I like the idea of Christmas marking the start of something.  Almost everything else positions Christmas as the peak, we focus a lot on the run up to the day and then for many people, the day and the period after are sort of an anticlimax or the bit after which is less important.  I’m going to blame hospital funk and not being well for this lack of articulation!

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According to the Met Office, white Christmases were more frequent in the 18th and 19th centuries which was also when Christmas cards and other commercial concepts started to appear.  This possibly explains the heavy use of snow in festive ephemera.

It’s important to note here that for the Met Office, a white Christmas is one where at least a single snowflake is observed to fall at some point in the 24 hours of Christmas Day.  With this definition, more than half of all Christmas Days can be expected to be a white Christmas.  But in terms of achieving that Christmas card scene with widespread snow covering the ground, the chances are much lower with 4 occasions in the last 51 years, the last being 2010.

Apparently, the snowiest winter in Great Britain was in 1947. Between the 22 January and the 17 March snow fell every day somewhere across the UK.

“You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment, where is it to be found?”
– J.B. Priestly

Snow is magical.  Partly I suspect because we, in the UK, don’t see much of it and partly because of the time of year it falls and hence it’s association with Christmas and the excitement that can come with that.

It is a strange type of weather.  It is ephemeral, occupying a thin line between ice and rain.  It coats the earth in a blanket of white but is actually translucent.  There is the fascinating, wonderful nature of snowflakes each having a unique structure.  Snow transforms the landscape, concealing the familiar.  All of this plays magnificently into the hands of poets and writers.

In snow, anything is possible.  Snowmen can come to life and take you flying across the sky.  Lions and witches can inhabit a snowy world reached through the back of a wardrobe.  Snowy nights can set the scene for Victorian-esque ghost stories.

“I thought her as chaste as unsunned snow.”
– Shakespeare

Snow is often used as a metaphor for slumber, purity and renewal.  It can convey a sense of peacefulness and quiet as well as invoking nostalgia. There is a romanticised view of snow, holding hands with loved ones as you dance across ice rinks with snow falling gently around you…

“They were playing old Bob Dylan, more than perfect for narrow Village streets close to Christmas and the snow whirling down in big feathery flakes, the kind of winter where you want to be walking down a city street with your arm around a girl like on the old record cover.”
—Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

However, snow can also be a force of nature, it has the power to disrupt as well as kill – every year in the US, about 100 people die shovelling snow and there’s obviously more deaths from traffic accidents, from the cold etc.  And as snow falls from the clouds, the flakes stop growing and start to wither.

We see the darker side of snow in writing which depicts it as bleak or uses it to echo the icy cold hearts of characters such as Dickens’ Scrooge.  In The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder we hear of how her family almost starved to death during “blinding, smothering, scratching snow”.

Snow, it seems, is a powerful tool in a writer’s toolkit.  Whether you use it to create joy, to create children laughing and playing or use it to create catastrophe, death and destruction, have fun with snow in your writing this month.

 

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Good girls don’t swallow

Well. Whatever your feelings about good girls and swallowing, this girl can’t swallow much. The wait and see and surely she’ll start to eat approach of the doctors didn’t get me far. After two and a half weeks of not eating, they gave me an ng tube.  It’s not the most pleasant of things, it’s uncomfortable and at the start distressing and such. But I am now getting food in me. Which will build strength back up to my normal crap levels. 

The barium swallow test hasn’t happened yet as the machine is broken… The results may inform what happens next. And so will how my care agency feel about doing the ng feed with me.. If they are on board then I might get home at some point although timescales and hospitals aren’t very compatible so I’m not holding my breath or setting a date! 

Updated on 7th Dec, before posting: I had the swallow test which didn’t show anything especially dramatic. I have a sluggish swallow which runs out of steam and the xray guy did point out that was just with two mouthfuls of barium which is not the same as eating food or drinking a normal amount of anything. Some nurses have taken this to mean there is nothing wrong and that I should now be eating…

The next bit of the process is a meeting with social services, my care company and doctors to review my care needs. Given they haven’t managed to speak to my care company yet, I can’t see that meeting being this week. If the care company agree to take on the feeding tube then all my carers need training from the hospital (it’s easy but their policy means I can’t talk them through it). And trying to get that sorted will take another chunk of time…

This is a really frustrating sticking point. If my hands worked, they’d have discharged me by now. I miss my bed and my stuff and not getting woken up at 5.30am to have my blood pressure checked. I mostly feel OK now so I could be doing stuff… As it is because I don’t have all stuff, I can’t get my tablet in the right position to watch comfortably or my magazine in such a place I can read it… And the bed is making my pain worse and so on and so on… 

Grumble.

The science of weather prediction

Weather forecasts are used by many different groups.  You probably check it the day before you’re thinking of going to the beach, or on holiday.  Many people have weather apps on their phones which they check daily.  There are some people, such as farmers, who have a more pertinent need for accurate weather predictions.  And big businesses use weather forecasts.  Certain types of organisations, such as airlines, buy specialist forecasts from the met office to help them to plan their activity.

Today we live in a world which surrounds us with weather forecasts, where being able to predict the future is a big money maker and people are even trying to control the weather.  But before (accurate) weather prediction, extreme weather was disastrous.  A storm in 1703 hit the west coast of England blowing cows and sheep over hedges, ships all over the place chimney stacks in London collapsed.  It’s thought that 10,000 people died in a few hours during that storm.  In the New Forest, 4000 oak trees were lost and over 1,000 seamen died on the Goodwin Sands alone.  This storm was thought to be a punishment from God and the lack of warning system meant significantly more damage was done.

A lot of this area is technical and I’m not going to get into that too much.  I want to look at how weather forecasts came to be and how weather forecasting is used.

Various theories about weather were floating around including the idea that it was cyclical, that it was to do with the moon and the planets or, as was the case for most people, that weather was an act of God.  This meant that to face the weather, you needed God on your side.  So church bells were rung during storms and prayers were made.

As time went by, science began investigating and categorising the natural world; the plants, the animals, the rocks.  But the sky lagged behind, remaining the realm of the gods.  It wasn’t until the 1800s that the study of weather really took hold.

The sky too belongs to the Landscape:- the ocean of air in which we live and move, with its continents and islands of cloud, its tides and currents of constant and variable winds, is a component part of the great globe
– Luke Howard, 1837

Despite the study of weather being fairly recent, tools for the measurement of weather had been around for a while.

  • The first tool to measure air humidity was described by Nicholas Cusa in the mid fifteenth century.
  • Galileo invented an early thermometer in the late 1500s
  • The barometer, to measure atmospheric pressure, was invented by Evangelista Torricellin in 1643.

These tools were refined between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, alongside other discoveries about the atmosphere.  At this time more people, although still very very few, had begun to record weather observations.  These included measurable data such as the wind direction and speed, the heat of the sun and the nature of the clouds.  When the telegraph was invented, it allowed for the sharing of these notes and would of course, later, allow for the distribution of the forecasts themselves.

Slowly, using observations and records, weather maps were drawn out and analysed.  To make the data usable, it was necessary to standardise the language and phenomena being described.  Before this point, you could describe a tumultuous wind or a feathery breeze and unless the person was there, you didn’t know you were talking about the same thing.  It was Francis Beaufort who set about to standardise wind speeds in 1806, although attempts had been made before him.  He also developed weather notation coding which he used himself in his own weather diaries:

Blue skies (b), sultry (s), hazy (h), damp air (dp), foggy (fg), rain (r), squally (sq), thunder (t) and so on
– As quoted in The Weather Experiment by Peter Moore

Cloud classification was first described by Luke Howard in 1802 and was standardised in the International Cloud Atlas in 1896.  All of this standardisation would be essential in terms of making the data usable and comparable.  It meant, that like the other older sciences, meteorology had begun the work of classifying the weather system.

By the 1860s, there was enough known about the weather to start making forecasts.  But weather forecasts were a threat to the church in much the same way as the theory of evolution had been just a few years earlier.  Forecasts suggested that mere mortals could look into the future and suggested that God was not the main driver of the weather.

However, the development of the telegraph and the expansion of the network were a boost to the new weather forecasting.  It allowed messages and forecasts to be conveyed quickly, before they were out of date, and allowed for fast transmission of observations as well.

In the 19th century, weather had important implications for shipping.  Both cargo, crew and passengers could be lost at sea, like in the storm on 1703.  To be able to map and forecast the weather would make considerable differences to traders, the navy and to passengers.

The Met Office was established in 1854 as a service to mariners and began providing forecasts to newspapers in 1861.

https://youtu.be/snqullFCu5Y

In the early 20th century, they focused on how to improve aviation forecasts which were becoming increasingly important, especially during the second world war.  The nature of early planes meant they were vulnerable to wind and rain so weather forecasts were vital both to the success of missions as well as the protection of the soldiers and the planes.

By the 1950s, the Met Office were producing other specialised forecasts, such as those for pigeon races, seasonal forecasts for farmers, and predicting the likelihood of train disruption from ice.  These weather forecasts were broadcast on radio and TV.  Weather phenomena which would affect aviation also continued as a major focus.

Today, we rely heavily on computer systems and mathematical mapping but we still need human involvement to interpret and judge the data.  Weather is a chaotic system and as such is difficult to pin down with any accuracy, however accurate weather forecasts have been used over and over to much success.  For example, the D Day landing was timed for a good forecast and many operations go ahead successfully today because of accurate forecasts.  It’s just we remember the ones that weren’t like the storm of 1987…

The art of weather prediction, part two

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There have been a few studies recently which looked at the use of traditional forecasting in places such as Africa and India and, on the whole, the methods fall into a number of categories:

  • Looking at the sky
  • Animal and plant behaviour
  • Astronomical observations
  • Current weather and recent changes
  • Seasonal patterns
  • Long term cyclical patterns

I had hoped to focus on traditional British forecasting but most of the information I could find was about people who still use traditional methods.  To give a flavour of these approaches, I’m going to give a few examples for each method.

Looking at the sky

This can involve the clouds and as we’ve seen, cloud type, cloud coverage and cloud movement all help to predict the coming weather.  Black clouds mean heavy rain is coming, black clouds preceding strong winds means thunderstorms.

Animal and plant behaviour

You’ll notice these methods involve specific species and this is important as the behaviour of a particular plant in one region could well signal something very different in another.

This area of observation can include migration patterns, the arrival or disappearance of a bird or animal, the different sounds they make and their behaviour.  For example, in a certain part of Uganda, the appearance of bush crickets is one of the signs that the dry season is coming and cuckoo birds starting to call signals the approach of the wet season.

High-flying swallows means stable, fine weather as they are likely to be chasing insects on updrafts of warm air.  On the other hand, bees don’t like rain so if wet weather is on it’s way, they’ll stick around the hive.  Frogs are particularly associated with the rainy season and I touched on the use of frogs to predict wet weather in Australia before.

In terms of plants, we look to when they flower, when they blossom, when they drop their leaves as well as the amount of flowers and fruit etc.  A study in south Africa reported that above average blossoming was a sign of good rains to come and farmers would plant accordingly.  If fruit was being dropped too early and unripe, it was a sign of drought and farmers then knew to plant drought resistant crops.

More locally, dandelions close when it clouds over and scarlet pimpernels close when humidity increases.

Astronomical observations

One of the studies, I think it was a UNESCO one, I really should have made note, was looking at farmers in Peru and Bolivia.  These farmers observed the Pleiades constellation on a certain date and used ancestral knowledge to forecast the timing and quantity of the rain as well as the size of the harvest.  I know that some of you will be reading this thinking that you can’t possibly predict the harvest from a constellation but:

The apparent size and brightness of the Pleiades varies with the amount of thin, high cloud at the top of the troposphere, which in turn reflects the severity of El Niño conditions over the Pacific. Because rainfall in this region is generally sparse in El Niño years, this simple method provides a valuable forecast, one that is as good or better than any long-term prediction based on computer modeling of the ocean and atmosphere.
Orlove et al, 2002

Other astronomical observations include looking at the moon.  Poor rain at the new moon was said to be followed by a dry month and a halo round the moon is a sign of rain.  The shape and the colour of the moon were also used.

Current weather

Looking at the weather now can tell you a lot about what is to come.  In parts of Uganda, winds blowing from the east to the west mean the dry season is near and when they change and blow from west to east, they signal the wet season.  Looking to the mountains can help with short term forecasts – frequent mist or fog on the mountain tops can signal rain.

The occurrence of intense hot or cold spells at certain points in the year are used to indicate the timing and amount of rainfall in the wet season.

Rainbows are another tool used in traditional forecasting.  If they are dominated by red it’s supposed to mean more rain is coming but if they’re dominated by blue it means the rain has passed.

Seasonal change

Being in tune with the seasons helps farmers to understand what weather to expect, but they don’t just turn over a calendar and say it’s spring, they tend to have seasonal markers which they use to inform their practices.  We’ve already looked at some of those which signal the arrival of the wet and dry seasons above.

Long term patterns

This is one area which doesn’t seem to be covered much in the literature but there are weather forecasters who believe that weather comes in cycles, such as the idea there will be a harsh winter every 15 years or so.

Links

The art of weather prediction, part 1

“Our mentioning of the weather – our perfunctory observations on what kind of a day it is, are perhaps not idle.  Perhaps we have a deep and legitimate need to know in our entire being what the day is like, to see it and feel it, to know how the sky is grey, paler in the south, with patches of blue in the southwest… I have a real need to know these things because I am part of the weather and part of the climate and part of the place, and a day in which I have not shared truly in all this is no day at all”
– Thomas Merton

Before the 1860s we didn’t have weather forecasts as we know them.  There wasn’t really a science of weather. Meteorology was a study of meteors, but that used to mean any event that happened in the space between earth and moon.  In 1755, Dr Johnson defined meteors as “any bodies in the air of sky that are of a flux and transitory nature”.  A definition which could well include shooting stars as well as clouds, flashes of lightening or even clouds.

When one MP suggested to the Commons in 1854 that it might be soon possible to know the weather in London twenty-four hours in advance, the house roared with laughter.
– The weather experiment by Peter Moore

The lack of scientific understanding did not, of course, stop people from trying to predict the weather, it just meant they used very different ways to the way we do it today.

Understandings of how weather was created included it being a sign from god, a message, and thus, if one could communication with god, one might be able to make certain educated guesses about the weather.  How you perceive weather, how you think about it’s creation, will certainly affect how you approach attempts to predict it.

Very early attempts at weather forecasting included the Babylonians who used astronomical events to predict seasonal changes and clouds for short term changes.

In around 340 BC, Aristotle said that the sky was filled with two distinct ‘exhalations’.  One was hot and dry and produced shooting stars.  The other was cool and wet and clung to the ground as clouds, dew and rain.  Within this system, he explained winds as hot, dry rivers of air.  Thunder was either the sudden escape of a hot exhalation caught in the condensation of a cloud or the violent collision of wind and cloud.  It would take until the 17th century for his ideas to be dismissed.

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In a lot of traditional weather forecasting, experience, observation and shared knowledge form the basis.  This accumulation of information and patterns produced weather lore; the rhymes and sayings which make predictions.  There are many many of these and they vary regionally and they also vary in how helpful they are.  Here are a few from Yorkshire and England:

  • if there’s ice in November that’ll bear a duck, there’ll be nothing after but sludge and muck
  • clear moon, frost soon
  • when the mist comes from the hill, then good weather it doth spill. when the mist comes from the sea, then good weather it will be
  • if woolly fleeces spread the heavenly way, be sure no rain disturbs the summers day
  • if the cock goes crowing to bed, he’ll certainly rise with a watery head
  • the sharper the blast, the sooner it’s past
  • rainbow in the morning gives you far warning
  • ring around the moon, rain or snow soon
  • when the sun sets black, a westerly wind will not lack
  • swifts flying low, rain is on the wa
  • cows sitting down mean rain is coming

https://youtu.be/56Hf1R_3I-A

You can find out more about weather lore accuracy from the met office.

Weather lore often uses the appearance of the sky, which makes a lot of sense given that’s where weather happens!  But even basic predictions such as a clear sky leading to a frosty morning can be helpful to us today, reminding us to cover our plants or our cars.  Thickening cloud cover can indicate rain, halos round the moon (caused by cirrostratus clouds) can indicate rain.  Thunderstorms can mark the approach of a cold front and morning fog means a fairly good day because the approaching wind would have blown it away if it was blowing in new weather.

Other weather lore turns to humidity levels to make predictions, such as the Native American weather stick. Seaweed and pine cones were also used to predict rain because the humidity changes their appearances.

When windows won’t open, and the salt clogs the shaker,
The weather will favour the umbrella maker!

In part two I’m going to look more at traditional weather forecasting approaches which are still used today, particularly by remote, rural and/or indigenous peoples.

The language of weather

The weather, my nation’s favourite topic.  Where would British small talk be without it?!

But weather, of course, provides more than a polite interchange between strangers waiting for buses.  A world without weather would be very strange indeed.  A world without weather would mean a world without plants so it wouldn’t be a world with humans in.

Scientific definitions

Before we get onto the more well used weather language, I want to take a look at the scientific language.  A lot of words are used in weather forecasts which we just sort of get used to and don’t really think about.  Some of these are everyday words which have specific meanings to meteorologists and some are words we don’t tend to find outside weather.

We have the Beaufort wind scale (more about Beaufort later this month) which uses fairly common language to describe and quantify wind levels.  Here we find “calm”, “light breeze”, “near gale”, “violent storm” etc, all used in day to day conversations to mean different things but when used in a weather forecasting or scientific setting, have very precise meanings.  The same is true of timescales in weather forecasts.  Imminent means expected within six hours, soon is six to twelve hours and later is more than twelve hours away.

I’m mentioning this use of language as it might be interesting to incorporate into some creative writing.  You could do some interesting playing around with meanings and mixing the scientific, precise definition with the colloquial one.

Weather metaphors

There are lots of weather metaphors, particularly used when it comes to discussing someone’s mood, eg chill out, he stormed out, face like thunder, got a frosty response…  You can be showered with gifts, have a foggy memory, be hit by a hail of bullets or be the sunshine of someone’s life.

You could find difficult relationships start to thaw as you enter your sunset or twilight years, but you could also find yourself in a bit of a dry spell… Unless you’re lucky enough for someone to take a shine to you and have a whirlwind romance! Of course, relationships might start to drift away as you enter the autumn of your life.  But your seasoned wisdom from weathering the storm may have taught you to make hay when the sun shines.  And there is no longer any need to save for a rainy way, you can chill out, shoot the breeze and have your head in the clouds without consequence!

See what I mean about there being lots of weather metaphors?!  Whilst I have obviously, intentionally, gone over the top in that last paragraph, bits of it could have been read without realising that.

Regional weather

One of the really beautiful things about weather is the regional words.  Often these words spring up because of specific weather phenomena which don’t occur elsewhere, or at least not nationwide.  For example, people living by the coast or making their living at sea will need more words for sea related weather than someone in a desert.  The former group need to know about different kinds of storms, different sorts of rain as they will affect their live and livelihoods whereas the second group of people have much less use for those distinctions as they won’t experience them.

A yowe-tremmle—literally a “ewe-tremble”—is an old Scottish dialect word for a week of unusually cold or rainy weather beginning in the final few days in June that is literally cold enough to make the season’s freshly-sheared sheep “tremmle,” or shiver.
Mental Floss

Robert MacFarlane’s book Landmarks is great for looking at regional words.  He looks beyond weather and compiles glossaries of words and phrases that relate to nature and tells us where they come from.  Another person to turn to for regional or specialised words is Suzy Dent.  Both have twitter accounts which shares a wide range of lost or little known words and their meanings.

Ammil is a Devon term for the thin film of ice that lacquers all leaves, twigs and grass blades when a freeze follows a partial thaw, and that in sunlight can cause a whole landscape to glitter. It is thought to derive from the Old English ammel, meaning “enamel”, and is an exquisitely exact word for a fugitive phenomenon I have several times seen, but never before named. Shetlandic has a word, pirr, meaning “a light breath of wind, such as will make a cat’s paw on the water”.

The variant English terms for icicle – aquabob (Kent), clinkerbell and daggler (Hampshire), cancervell (Exmoor), ickle
(Yorkshire), tankle (Durham) and shuckle (Cumbria) – form a tinkling poem of their own. 

Robert MacFarlane

Looking at Yorkshire, where I live but wasn’t born, we have a lot of interesting words which isn’t surprising when you think about the size of Yorkshire.  Because I wasn’t born here and didn’t grow up here, I’ve had to turn to other sources to find local weather words and whilst they are allegedly used in Yorkshire, that doesn’t mean to say they are used in just Yorkshire!

  • Shockle – a lump of ice or icicle
  • Blatter – puddle
  • Blashy – wet weather
  • Maftin’ – hot and clammy weather
  • Nithered – very cold
  • Gliddered – covered with a thin layer of ice
  • Siling – raining heavily
  • Clashy – stormy
  • Dowly – dull, gloomy
  • Parky – chilly
  • Puckly – cloudy
  • Rawk – cold and misty

and my personal favourite

  • Snow bones – the patches of snow seen stretching along ridges, in ruts or in furrows after a partial thaw

There are lots of lovely regional weather words and I’d like to hear yours!

How we talk about weather

“Cold winter wind along the walls of the chapel. Not howling, not moaning, not dismal.  Can there be anything mournful about the wind? It is innocent, and without sorrow.  It has no regrets. Wind is a strong child enjoying his play, amazed at his own strength, gentle, inexhaustible and pure.”
Thomas Merton

How we talk about weather reflects the ideals and values of a society.  Weather is not a neutral topic, just listen to the weather forecast.  Hot, dry weather uses positive language whereas cold, wet weather uses negative language eg threat of rain, invasion of clouds.  Even if the reporter themselves doesn’t actually like the sun and much prefers the rain.

This way of speaking is part of our social vocabulary and that in turn affects how people feel about the weather.  For most people, rain is not a major problem, you grab a coat or umbrella and you’re fine, but to listen to how people talk of rain you’d think it was the end of the world!  We have stories in our mind, built by the language that us used and they sit there mostly unchallenged and shape your emotions and your thoughts.

For more about ecolinguistics, have a look at The Stories We Live By, a free online course.

The what, where and whys of weather

I know this sounds like a silly question, we all know what weather is don’t we? But I want to use this space to separate weather from climate, something which not everyone knows or has thought about. I will also look, very briefly, at how weather comes to be.

What?

Weather is the day to day conditions of a particular place eg it is dry and cloudy in York today.

Climate is the average weather conditions over a long period of time, say 30 years. So the climate in the desert can be dry and hot but that does not mean you won’t get a wet day. This is why climate change deniers are wrong when they cite weather as proving climate isn’t changing.

The most common types of weather on earth are wind, cloud, rain and other precipitation. There are also less common events which have a much greater impact, that is natural disasters such as hurricanes.

Where?

Well, a more detailed definition is that weather is the state of the atmosphere, primarily the lowest level that is the troposphere. Weather fluctuates and is hard to predict because small changes make huge differences.

So weather is the effects of atmospheric activities.

Why and how?

This is where we’re getting a bit more technical and I’m testing my understanding of weather!

To start with, we need to understand the global circulation system. We all know the sun warms the earth and that the sun’s energy is concentrated on the equator and most dispersed at the north and south poles. With me so far? Good.

What you might not know (I’m assuming I have a range of readers here and you aren’t all experts!) is that nature likes things in balance and acts to rebalance them if they aren’t in equilibrium. So nature tries to make the poles warmer and the equator cooler. This, plus the earth’s rotation, creates six (three per hemisphere) circulation cells a closed loop in which air circulates. This is the global circulation system.

As well as moving heat, these create areas of semi-permanent high and low pressure. This is because air rising creates an area of low pressure and air sinking creates high pressure.

Hopefully you’ve got the idea. Warm air moves towards the cold air and as it does so the cold air moves to the warm air and thus we have wind!

Wind and pressure are important as they move and create other weather. That’s why the weather report is always talking about high pressure and low fronts and the like!

In brief, high pressure suppresses weather development so you get weather which is a bit more stable and tends to be calm, clear or sunny. There can also be cloud and fog which are trapped in the weather system and because it’s steady, don’t leave. Low pressure is more volatile and is when clouds are formed and comes with rain and storms. The interaction of high and low pressure also affects our weather.

One example I found helpful was that of the breeze you find on the coast. Land warms more quickly that the sea so we get an area of lower pressure on land than at sea. Where the two meet, on the coastline, the air from the higher pressure area moves into the lower pressure area, that is from sea to land (remember nature likes balance).

I think most of us have had to study the water cycle at some point in our education so I’m not going to look at how clouds and precipitation is formed, although I will return to clouds and snow later this month. And the other main part of weather, heat, is obviously partly down to the sun and cloud cover and factors like cold winds.

Of course there are other factors which influence things such as the earth turning and the sun hitting earth with different intensities depending on the season but I hope this has given a basic idea.