The weather is a British obsession, a preoccupation that emboldens us to talk to strangers. Andrew Blum’s The Weather Machine is a fast-paced tour of the history of weather forecasting, taking us from early attempts to capture a picture of current weather conditions to the sophisticated global weather machine of the 21st century that tells us with increasing accuracy whether we need to carry an umbrella or evacuate an entire city on any particular day.
The inspiration for this ambitious book came in 2012, in the eight days before Superstorm Sandy hit North America. Blum describes sitting at home in New York with his infant son, idly browsing Twitter. A low-pressure system in the Caribbean hadn’t yet formed but the world’s greatest weather brains were getting in a frenzy. Computer-modelling suggested that all the conditions were in place for a massive storm to form. ‘The sky outside was clear,’ he says, ‘and would be for a week. But the sky on the screen was filled with a storm that didn’t yet exist.’ It was this seeming ability to see into the future that captivated Blum and sent him on a quest to discover how the weather machine became so good at simulating our planet’s atmospheric conditions ahead of time.
The book is packed with revelatory facts. Blum begins by describing the role played by the telegraph during the 19th century in providing a picture of weather systems as they moved. The USA had 2,100 miles of telegraph lines by the mid-1800s, but, as Blum explains, they worked