Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Book review: The Weather-Wise Gardener by Calvin Simonds

I saw The Weather-Wise Gardener: A Guide to Understanding, Predicting, and Working With the Weather in a used bookstore and thought it might be a helpful read to better understand the weather. (As an indication of how clueless and oblivious I've been to the weather, I thought it was really neat when Theressa predicted the afternoon's weather by simply looking up into the sky and seeing which way the clouds were blowing!) After reading the book, I definitely know more than I did, but found that I had a lot of trouble comprehending the book. It's extremely unusual for me not to be able to follow the text of a book--I don't think I've experienced that since the dark days of college depression, slogging through textbook pages not because I wanted to but because I "had" to. I don't know whether the problem with this book was because it's such a complex subject, because I wasn't mentally focused (noticing that Keeping it Living was also a slow, more difficult read for me than usual), or because the book doesn't do the best job it could of explaining weather systems. Another complicating factor for me was that the book is written from the perspective of an east-coaster, and in the author's rare mentions of the pacific coast he seems to think that that means California. It was very confusing to me whether the weather patterns described for the rest of the US really apply over here, especially to the Willamette Valley in which Portland lies.

That said, a few thoughts on the book. It begins by describing the cyclical patterns of individual storms. I'd never realized that weather tends to have a four-day cycle and is locally predictable based on the shifting of the winds, which rotate around in a clockwise or counter-clockwise cycle depending on how storms are moving in relation to your location. The book expands on individual storms to explain how storm systems travel across the US and through different regions, what different temperatures and barometric pressures mean, what the influencing ocean currents and marine and continental wind systems are, what all the symbols and descriptions on a weather map mean (at least in 1983), and of course how to put all this together for a crystal-clear understanding of what's going on at the moment and how to make reasonable predictions of what's coming.

The final portion of the book applies the larger understanding of the weather systems to interpreting weather forecasts and making your own predictions for your own garden. A lot of it is pretty straight-forward how-to-react to frost predictions, precipitation, etc. And some of it is how to extrapolate weather predictions from the city for your rural garden 200 miles from the nearest weather station.

Unfortunately, although I grasped the basics and now understand a lot of terminology and concepts I didn't understand before, I was unable to follow the examples of predictions given in the book for different starting conditions. I'll have to do more reading and studying, tuning in to the weather channel, and of course simply paying attention to the weather, clouds and winds overhead. I'll see where paying closer attention and casual learning takes me, and at some point in the future check out some of the other recommended books (or see if there are newer books which may be worth reading): Meteorology, the Atmosphere in Action by Joe R Eagleman, British weather in Maps by James A Taylor & R A Yates, Weather Forcasting by Alan Watts, and A Field Guide to the Atmosphere (Peterson's Guide) by V J Schaefer and John A Day.


Anonymous said...

You might want to check out Mark Nelson's weather blog. It basically deals with weather in the Portland area in detail.

FarmerScrub said...

Cool, thanks for the link! I'm enjoying following the posts there and learning little bit by little bit about local weather patterns.