Excerpt: 'Weather Matters: An American Cultural History Since 1900,' by Bernard Mergen

My argument is that we live simultaneously in at least four weather systems, the one we feel with our senses, another that we learn about in science classes and National Weather Service reports, a third from the media that interprets the first two for our consumption, and a fourth in which our minds work to synthesize our experience and the knowledge acquired from art and literature. We express all these in meaningless banter and eloquent art. The paradox of weather is that it is both quotidian and unique.

As someone once said about sex, weather is what we think about all the time when we're not thinking about something else. Maybe it's also what we talk about when we are thinking of something else. "How's the weather?" often solicits more than meteorological commentary. A word on the wind is sufficient to establish a relationship between speakers, a mood, a tone, an atmosphere within the atmosphere. Weather can be a metaphor and a met language. "Hot enough for you?" may be an indirect inquiry into sensitive questions of health, well-being, success, or failure. We deem weather a safe topic, unlike religion and politics, but weather is religion and politics. Weather raises the most fundamental questions about the origin and purpose of life, the ability of humans to predict and control nature, and the place of science in public policy. To talk about the weather in the twenty-first century requires us to at least consider the possibility of anthropogenic climate change. Weather is a commodity, its products--water for people and agriculture, solar and wind energy, snow for winter sports and sun for summer-- marketed and managed.

By some estimates, trillions of dollars are made and lost annually by weather-dependent businesses. Insurance losses from hurricanes, tornadoes, winter storms, and other weather-related disasters are increasing dramatically. Media attention to weather is extensive, compelling, and sometimes misleading. In short, we cannot escape weather even if we want to. This book began as a challenge from Nancy Scott Jackson, at the time and acquisitions editor at the University Press of Kansas. Why, she asked, are Americans obsessed with weather? I hope this book answers Nancy's question. The preponderance of evidence leads to the conclusion that some Americans are obsessed by weather, but fewer than are obsessed by genealogy, NASCAR, or sex. As a nation we are more possessed by weather than obsessed. We possess weather from within, in our lungs, blood, and mind.

You don't need to have an opinion about it, but if you already love weather, then this book will provide you with some new perspectives on what you already know and give you something to talk about with other weather weenies. If you are indifferent to weather and the people who talk about it, this book offers plenty of evidence for why you are.

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