Order Wind: How the Flow of Air Has Shaped Life, Myth and the Land Today!
Wind, a simple title but a far from simple book, for author Jan DeBlieu takes us deep into the complex world of the wind and shows us many ways that atmospheric flow has "shaped life, myth and the land." Most of the book looks at wind not from a meteorological perspective, but from a biological vantage point, particularly a human view.
Ms DeBlieu has weaved a marvellous story of the wind as seen from her particular perspective as a resident of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Interestingly for me, she has a grand sense of place in much of the book. Although I am trained as a micrometeorologist, I still see the rhythm of weather changes mostly from the larger scale patterns that are common over the Great Lakes region. Ms DeBlieu melds such changes into the smaller scales prevailing on a coastal habitat.
I also like the fact that the author has not fallen into the current fad of focusing on the destructive nature of wind and weather. She does discuss tornadoes and hurricanes, but gives them no more emphasis than she does the interaction of wind and trees. In fact, I learned much in her chapter: The Voices of Trees.
The opening chapter, particularly the first four pages, captivated me with their excellent blend of illusion and metaphor. For example:
"Gradually the vapors begin to swirl as if trapped in a simmering cauldron. Air molecules are caught by suction and sent flying. They slide across mountain ridges and begin the steep downward descent toward the barometric lows. As the world spins, it brushes them to one side but does not slow them."
I was also fascinated by the historical discussion concerning the use of balloon-transported incendiary bombs by the Japanese during World War II. I had know that they knew of the presence of the jet stream and used it to deliver bombs to the North American continent, but all that I had heard was that one or two had reached the continent and they had started a few minor forest fires in the Pacific Northwest. DeBlieu reports that one exploded in Oregon, killing five children and the minister's wife at a Sunday school picnic. Another ironically damaged power lines to the Hanford, Washington nuclear reactor which was producing the plutonium for the Nagasaki atomic bomb. Balloons were also reported in Alaska, Montana, Kansas, Saskatchewan and outside Detroit, Michigan. The US War Department did an excellent job of keeping this information from the public. Had the "attack " become public information, the psychological effect on Americans would likely have been significant.
I found only a few technical or conceptual errors in the book, most small such as:
"In 1874 the International Meteorological Committee adopted the Beaufort scale as a standard for forecasting." [emphasis mine] I feel this sentence gives the false impression that the Beaufort scale is a forecasting tool. It is a standard for observing, not forecasting, a means of reporting winds as observed at sea which can be used in a forecast report to describe impending wind speed or, more correctly, force.
In describing the planetary boundary layer, DeBlieu writes: "The boundary layer is analogous to the bottom layer of water in the ocean...." It is more than analogous, they are both boundary layers, the former at the bottom of the atmosphere, the latter at the bottom of the sea.
I was most confused by the statement quoting Dr Vogel:
"They'd fluctuate five degrees centigrade in a matter of seconds....In Fahrenheit that translates to a minute-by-minute swing of thirty-five degrees."
At first I thought that this was a error in converting degrees Celsius to degrees Fahrenheit, but then became unsure when I wondered if the swing in temperature over a few seconds became a larger swing over a few minutes. The dramatic point being made is lost here in this jumble of units.
My final concern is the statement in the discussion of the troposphere: "Above this is the tropopause, a stratum of dense air that marks the edge of the stratosphere." In fact, the tropopause is the transitional boundary region between the troposphere and the stratosphere, usually characterized by an abrupt change in the fall of temperature with height (to less than 2 Celsius degrees per kilometre) over an extended depth. In the troposphere, air temperature generally decreases with height, while in the stratosphere, it increases with height: the tropopause is the transition region between these states. The density of the atmosphere steadily decreases with altitude and has no "stratum of dense air" above the planetary surface layer.
I don't want to leave you with the impression that this was not an educational or entertaining read. I learned several new items and was caught up in the author's wonderfully descriptive prose. At times, I almost wished that I was walking the Outer Banks beaches with her, so that we could exchange impressions. I too live on an eastern coast, the more protected coast of Vancouver Island. I read sections of the book at Island View Beach where I like to go to be one with the wind and clouds and sun and sea and kept thinking: "It is the same but different here."
There are many passages that I enjoyed in the book, but I will leave you with this one, written as Ms DeBlieu awaits the approach of Hurricane Bertha:
"After our meal Reid goes off happily to play, while I pace the house, looking for something to do. Gusts seep beneath the windows and doors. The wind is a dragon exhaling in bursts. The wind is a kettledrum being played above us with dull, rolling strikes that rise to deafening crescendo..."
I happily place this volume alongside Lyall Watson's Heaven's Breath and Slater Brown's World of the Wind. Perhaps someday the chronicle of my love affair with the winds will join them.
Wind : How the Flow of Air has Shaped Life, Myth, and the Land, by Jan DeBlieu, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1998, ISBN 0-395-78033-0Order Wind: How the Flow of Air Has Shaped Life, Myth and the Land Today!
Keith C. Heidorn, PhD, ACM
THE WEATHER DOCTOR
March 25, 1999
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