Windswept: The Story of Wind and Weather

Windswept: The Story of Wind and Weather

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by Marq De Villiers
     
 

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Windswept is the story of humankind's long struggle to understand wind and weather--from the wind gods of ancient times to early discoveries of the dynamics of air movement to high-tech schemes to control hurricanes. Marq de Villiers is equally adept at explaining the science of wind as he is at presenting dramatic personal stories of encounters with gales

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Overview

Windswept is the story of humankind's long struggle to understand wind and weather--from the wind gods of ancient times to early discoveries of the dynamics of air movement to high-tech schemes to control hurricanes. Marq de Villiers is equally adept at explaining the science of wind as he is at presenting dramatic personal stories of encounters with gales and storms. We have made great strides in understanding how wind affects weather, but much is left to learn about how global warming and pollution may impact the winds themselves. The stakes are high because, as Hurricane Katrina so vividly reminded us, anything that affects the winds eventually affects human life.

Editorial Reviews

Elizabeth Royte
Windswept moves breezily through the meaning of wind — what it represented for the ancients, and how it was personified as arbitrary and angry — to a history of our understanding of it, from early measurements of air pressure to the discovery that storms travel, and then on to the science of accurate measurement, the art of prediction and the appearance, on Jan. 11, 1954, of the first TV forecast. "Well-coiffed weather people have been with us ever since," the author writes. Some of the liveliest bits cover how wind smashes up structures and how it has been used for sailing, flying, cooling, grinding corn and generating power. Throughout, de Villiers stresses that winds are important agents of planetary self-government, and as such make life on earth possible. Winds, both gentle and giant, redistribute air, moisture and heat vertically and latitudinally, they scrub the air of pollutants, and they accelerate the movement of the great ocean currents that keep our planet stable.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Wind is personal for de Villiers, winner of Canada's Governor General's Award for Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource. A gust from a ferocious gale in South Africa came close to blowing him over a cliff when he was a child, a fearful experience that invests this articulate study of the history and nature of moving air with notable immediacy. Winds figure in the creation myths of almost all cultures, he notes. But it wasn't until the mid-18th century that scientists began to develop a cogent theory about wind and its relation to weather. Two centuries later, during WWII, high-altitude flyers discovered the jet stream and "a real understanding of winds was, finally, in place." De Villiers has marshaled an absorbing if daunting array of historical, cultural, environmental and scientific facts to detail that wind, despite its destructive power, makes life on Earth possible. But the book's grace notes lie in entertaining did-you-know nuggets. Among them: a great storm that lashed London in 1703 caused windmill blades to rotate so fast that friction set them on fire; Cuban meteorologists, more advanced at the turn of the last century than Americans, warned fruitlessly about the path of the hurricane that devastated Galveston. B&w illus. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Natural history author de Villiers (Sable Island: The Strange Origins and Curious History of a Dune Adrift in the Atlantic) combines science, mythology, history, and reminiscences in this engrossing survey of wind and weather. He examines subjects ranging from hurricane forecasting to wind farms, although some relevant topics (e.g., tornadoes, Mt. Washington's notorious winds) are given surprisingly short shrift. De Villiers presents little new scientific information, but readers will enjoy his evocative writing and inclusion of myriad accounts of personal experiences with extreme weather. Appendixes include detailed explanations of various wind and storm scales and compilations of data on several different storm types. Consider purchasing this title for academic and public libraries, but note that a reissue of Jan DeBlieu's Wind: How the Flow of Air Has Shaped Life, Myth, and the Land (Shoemaker & Hoard)-similar in coverage and style but less expensive-is due out in June. Recommended for academic and public libraries. (Index not seen.)-Nancy R. Curtis, Univ. of Maine Lib., Orono Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-A readable, cogent introduction to wind. Woven throughout the text is the story of Hurricane Ivan, which started as a storm in Africa and gained power as it headed west toward the Americas. Chapter by chapter, the author examines the place of wind in mythology, ancient scientific beliefs about air and wind, composition of the atmosphere, wind scales and patterns, historical and modern weather forecasting, the mechanics of hurricanes, how wind moves pollution around the globe, and technology utilizing wind power. The book includes 12 appendixes, each providing statistics about storms or lists of such events as the Beaufort wind, Saffir-Simpson hurricane, or the Fujita tornado scales. The illustrations, reproductions, and graphs are clear and easy to read. This book could lead students to further research, but it is also entertaining on its own.-Susan Salpini, formerly at TASIS-The American School in England Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher

“Bad weather almost always makes good copy, and those who study wind and weather can be counted on to do all sorts of neat things, like flying planes into howling hurricanes, building massive wind tunnels and modeling the topography and breezes around the 11th green and 12th tee of Augusta National Golf Course.”—Elizabeth Royte, New York Times Book Review
 
Windswept excels at tracking 2004’s Hurricane Ivan, from its inconspicuous birth in the Sahara to its final furies weeks later.”—Washington Post
 
“A refreshing narrative of meteorology and a different perspective on its history.”—William Burroughs, New Scientist
 

“A lively, engaging treatise on wind and the weather it makes.”—William Grimes, New York Times

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780771026447
Publisher:
McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
Publication date:
05/09/2006
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Marq de Villiers is the author of Sahara: The Extraordinary History of the World's Largest Desert, Sable Island: The Strange Origins and Curious History of a Dune Adrift in the Atlantic, and several other books. De Villiers lives in Eagle Head, Nova Scotia.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
Wind’s Mystery and Meaning

The story of Hurricane Ivan: It began, as these things so often do, long ago and far, far away. Long ago, at least, in the reckoning of weathermen, and far away at least as seen from the Ca­rib­be­an and the east coast of North America, where the storm’s full fury would in due time be unleashed. In the course of its tumultuous and destructive life, the cyclone they came to call Ivan would exemplify all the perilous uncertainties and complex patterns of global climatology (and exaggerate my own rather paranoid view of hard weather), but its beginning was hidden, even secretive, and could only be seen in rueful hindsight.

In the spring of 2004, it rained in Darfur, the Sudanese hellhole wracked by de­cades of civil war. Darfur is on the southeastern fringes of the endless emptiness of the Sahara, and its soil, beaten down from too many cattle and too many goats over too many years of drought, couldn’t hold the water. It pooled and then gathered in little muddy torrents that swept away the scattered huts of the countryside. A few days before, the refugees in their grim camps had been dying of thirst–an ostrich egg of water having to do for a family for a ­whole day–but ­were now forced to scramble to keep their pathetic scraps of food and their meager possessions from washing away. They ­were still starving, though now sodden and burdened with cholera and dysentery in addition to their other miseries.

All along the Sahel, the southern fringes of the Sahara, the rains came. Lake Chad, which had been shrinking for de­cades, stopped shrinking briefly, andthe remaining hippo channels winding through the papyrus and water hyacinths filled up. The dusty plains north of Kano, the Nigerian trading city, looked lush for the first time in fifteen years. Outside fabled Timbuktu the ground took on a shiny green sheen, before the goats in their insatiable hunger nibbled the new plants down to a stubble, then trampled the residue into the mud. In Niger, Mali, even in ­ever-­arid Mauritania, the rains fell for the first time in a de­cade. Not enough, really, to unparch the desert, but more than usual.

No one in the Sahel knew why it was raining, or, except for a few aid agencies, cared; they ­were just grateful the water was there. In the outside world hardly anybody paid much attention. There ­were a few exceptions–the paranoid actuaries for the giant insurance company Munich Re, for example, who are paid to worry, and a few analysts in hurricane centers across the Atlantic, who ­were wrestling with the complex causative cycles of violent weather–but more people should have been concerned than that, for they ­were about to get a brutal lesson in the interconnectedness of natural systems. Who would have thought that, say, a rural tavern in Pennsylvania would be threatened by a ­storm-­born flood that was linked in complicated ways to the ending of a drought half a world away?

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