This book is the first real cultural history of weather in the United States, providing a comprehensive look at our obsession with the weather. The author maintains that weather has such a strong hold on the American imagination because it has been elevated to "quasi-religious" status -- it illuminates the paradoxes of order and disorder in daily life and it brings together disparate forces, such as scientific law, chance and free will.
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The wind is blowing steadily at 70 miles per hour, the temperature is about 10ºF below zero, it's 2:30 in the afternoon, January 16, 2003, on top of Mount Washington, New Hampshire. I take a few steps away from the shelter of the observatory, and the wind shoves me forward like an automatic revolving door, only much harder. There's no stepping back. I do a couple of glissades but go where the wind blows. Swinging around, I stumble back under the trellises that protect observers from windblown pieces of ice from the observatory tower. All the antennae are covered with rime flags whose delicate filaments stretch out toward the wind. They look like white iron filings on a magnet. I'm standing at 6,200 feet in the middle of a cloud. It is the beginning of my two-day EduTrip offered by the Mount Washington Observatory.
The meteorological division of the U.S. Signal Service and its successor, the U.S.Weather Bureau, made observations here from 1870 to 1892. The observatory was rebuilt with private funds and has operated as a nonprofit research and educational institution since 1932. The observatory cultivates its mystique as the place with "the worst weather on earth." Its great claim to fame is the 231-mile-per-hour wind recorded at 1:21 p.m. on April 12, 1934, which remains a world's Record for a surface station. Wind, cold, and, for a few hours a day, the view of the Presidential Range and the White Mountains are what the observatory is selling. In summer, tourists are allowed to drive up the narrow seven-mile road, but in winter EduTrippers ride up in a big Bombardier snowcat.
Bryan Yeaton, an energetic young man in a bright red parka, greets us in the parking lot at the base of the mountain. Yeaton does education programs for the Mount Washington Observatory and produced The Weather Notebook, a nationally syndicated radio show about weather that aired from1997 to 2005. He introduces the other participants and staff. My fellow worst-weather seekers are a retired couple recently settled in New Hampshire for its outdoor activities and two guys in their forties from Massachusetts. One was a commercial fisherman, the other is a computer programmer; their trip is a Christmas present from their wives. Ken Rancourt is a research meteorologist for the observatory who doubles as the Bombardier driver. His assistant, Wayne, looks like the actor Mark Wahlberg and mentions this resemblance when he is introduced. When he speaks, he reveals several missing teeth. The next day, as I am inching down the icy moun- tain on rented crampons, he speeds past me on a Flexible Flyer, providing an explanation for his dental condition.