Dr. Carl Ludwig Dorsch's Reviews > Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather

Warnings by Mike Smith
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's review
Jul 19, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: reality

A description of the development of American severe weather warning systems focusing on tornados, but covering also the reception and integration of Fujita's downburst theories and including what reads as a fairly lengthy but not particularly informative aside on hurricane forecasting, relating specifically (and almost exclusively) to 1992's hurricane Andrew and the Katrina catastrophe of 2005.

Smith's history seldom reaches farther back than 1948, but this is because the volume is also something of a professional memoir: the author as a storm spotter in 9th grade 1966 Kansas City, his career as a television meteorologist in Oklahoma City, St. Louis and Wichita, and eventually his founding of WeatherData Services, Inc. in 1981. (WeatherData Services is a provider of "weather-risk management consulting and state-of-the-art weather forecasting and services to utility, transportation, manufacturing, educational and governmental clients"* and is now a part of AccuWeather Inc., though Mr. Smith remains its CEO and regularly touts its services, record and software in this book.)

Though expecting a broader history, two aspects of Mr. Smith's account stay with me. First is simply the record of discovery. It is a welcome but disconcerting experience to be reminded what, still beyond our ken, shares the planet with us. There are for instance, Smith informs us, huge djinn here, terrible creatures a dozen miles tall and a league wide, who, roaring with winds fiercer than a typhoon, suddenly appear and disappear across the land, often at night, indiscriminately destroying all they meet, only to, with no real notice, fold themselves up again into the air and vanish. What exactly are they? Our wise ones still try to understand, but only slowly and with much caution, as a djinni, even when encountered, is difficult to approach without suffering enormous violence: being fatally propelled through the air, having limbs ripped from one's body etc. It is easy at times to read Smith’s reports as records of the exploration of an unknown world.

On the other hand, Mr. Smith’s incomplete and largely anecdotal description of the development of the severe weather warning systems in the U.S. (both private and public, though mostly of the public systems and, again, most coherently on tornadic weather) from the post WWII radars to the current dopplers, and of the institutional and technological challenges in constructing what wants to be a network of instantaneous observational and communications capability, is a very human tale. And though perhaps a report from a planet more familiar -- with its institutional and bureaucratic conflicts and inertias as well as its incremental technological advances and uneven deployments -- it is also a tale well worth being reminded of.

"Warnings" unfortunately has no index, a disservice even in a work so slight.

*from an American Meteorological Society description

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