Let’s talk about weather

Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future
By Lauren Redniss
261 pp. Random House. $35.

Call me crazy, but I think the weather is absolutely fascinating. This is obscured by the fact that the weather is, rather famously, the favorite go-to topic for those who don’t know what else to talk about. But such small talk, which really consists of variations on a single phrase, Some weather we’re having, isn’t it?, is never actually about the weather but about getting a mundane response to a very mundane comment.

It’s almost a joke. You say something about the weather, and the person you’re talking to gives you that eyebrows-raised, knowing glance that says, Do you really have nothing better to talk about?

Imagine if, instead, those awkward elevator conversations were actually about the weather?

“What is your opinion on geoengineering?”

“You mean whether I advocate carbon dioxide removal or the management of solar radiation?”


“Do you think it’s ethical for governments to control the weather, as the US did in Vietnam?”

Talking about the weather really does present endless conversational possibilities, but weather talk gets a bad rap. Unless you’re a meteorologist, you bring up the weather only if you don’t know what to talk about or are dancing around the obvious.

“Just as I was thinking I had better try to fill in with something about the weather, she spoke.” – P.G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters

Lauren Redniss does a fantastic job here of making the weather accessible to all. She’s done her research too, and her coffee table sized book on the subject is divided into 12 chapters, ranging from “Chaos” to “Forecasting.” It’s illustrated, too, which is nice, even if the illustrations range somewhat in terms of quality.

This, though, is the kind of book I live for. The sort of book that provides answers and anecdotes to all your weather-related ponderings, even if not quite in the depth one might ultimately desire.

But it sure makes for excellent conversation, whether in the elevator, at the dinner table, or anywhere in between.

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