Britannia's first-class four seasons

The Weather of Britain
October 31, 1997

Great play is made of the fact that the British are always talking about the weather. Is this because it is a convenient way to "break the ice" when confronted with strangers, or does it go deeper than that? If the latter is true then this book will appeal to many. It is an expanded and updated version of the 1982 first edition.

The book covers every aspect of weather experienced in Britain with facts and figures throughout, which are at the very least fascinating and, to the obsessed, totally absorbing. The first four chapters give an overview of the processes that affect our weather with a minimum of jargon, which may suit the layman but not the professional. Thereafter, each chapter is independent and concentrates on a particular weather element. A browse through the contents may tempt the reader to jump ahead to his or her favourite subject. In this respect the book acts as an ideal reference for weather records presented in the many tables. But it is the accompanying description of events that gives this book its charm, with Robin Stirling's personal recollections reflecting his enthusiasm for the subject in a unique way.

The updated information relating to notable weather events is entertaining and comprehensive, although the record low December temperature of around minus degrees Celsius at Altnaharra in 1995 has not been mentioned. Perhaps the most important additions have been made in chapter 10, which covers "drought" in the United Kingdom. This is up-to-date, with mention of the recent two-year period being the driest for more than 200 years.

Conversely, in other chapters, it was disappointing to find that some of the climatological long-term averages still relate to the 1941-70 period. Other minor criticisms are that despite the supplementary information, only one or two extra photographs have been added since the first edition.

The final chapter asks if our climate is changing. Much of the material in this chapter duplicates the original edition, which is surprising given the amount of research dedicated to this particular subject over the past 15 years. Discussions based on British data have some merit, but some of the wider issues are dealt with in rather speculative fashion. One feels that global warming and climate change should be left to the experts.

Perhaps our weather is not as extreme as in other parts of the world, but how many are aware that the range of temperature experienced in the British Isles is nearly 65 degrees, with record minimum (minus .2 degrees) and maximum (37.1 degrees) values achieved since the first edition was published? In terms of day-to-day variability, our weather is second to none and this is why it is so interesting. The Weather of Britain encapsulates this interest in typical British fashion.

Nicholas Grahame is chief forecaster, National Meteorological Centre.

The Weather of Britain

Author - Robin Stirling
ISBN - 1 900357 06 2
Publisher - Giles de la Mare
Price - £19.99
Pages - 306

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