The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

September 4, 2009

Review: Book offers humorous explanation of weather

Anyone who works at a reference desk can tell you stories about the different types of questions people ask. Some are routine, some are a puzzle and others peak your interest, making you want to know more about the subject

I recently was asked a want-to-know-more question. The request was for information about a storm that came through Oklahoma and Missouri in November, 1911. The storm hit on Nov. 11 and spread across much of the middle of the country.

According to the Joplin Globe and Joplin News Herald (the library has the newspaper on microfilm back to March 1877), the day was warm with a “soft and balmy southern breeze.”

Things changed drastically when the temperature dropped 50 degrees in 25 minutes. The drop from a “balmy” 82 degrees at 2 p.m. to 19 degrees by 7 p.m. was accompanied by high winds, rain, hail and a blizzard.

I wondered what forces came together to produce such a drastic change and turned to Dennis DiClaudio to find some answers.

DiClaudio has written a book called “Man vs. Weather: Be Your Own Weatherman.” Easy to read and full of information, this book helped me understand how a November day can go from warm and balmy to a blizzard in just a few hours.

DiClaudio is an improvisational comedian as well as a writer, and it shows in his writing style. This look at weather is given in a breezy (no pun intended), conversational style that sometimes turns into a monologue.

He starts our introduction into weather much the same way that day went in 1911. The reader is safely enjoying this little book when a lightning bolt crashes through the roof, striking the floor in front of the recliner. The deluge of rain coming through the hole in the roof puts out the fire but then comes the wind, hail, and a tornado.

The glacier that follows is pretty improbable but you get the point — weather is out there and we need to understand it.

Our understanding starts with the journey a single water molecule. The water molecule has decided the ocean is a boring place to be. With the help of the sun’s radiation, the molecule breaks free to begin its journey to the sky.

Aided by the wind, the molecule reaches its destination only to eventually grow weary of being pushed around by the winds. It bands with other discontented molecules to form clouds and, with the right circumstances, is able to escape back to earth as a raindrop.

The fallen raindrop helps form a puddle that overflows into a creek. The molecule moves through the creek into a stream. The stream flows into a river that takes the molecule into the ocean, which it finds a boring place to be.

The journey this molecule takes is explained with chapters on the atmosphere and winds. You not only get explanations of the troposphere (bottommost level of the atmosphere) and Karman line (unofficially official dividing line between Earth and outer space), but unique explanations on the wind and how it moves around the globe.

Next are the air masses and explanations of fronts; warm, cold, stationary, and occluded. You now have enough information to understand the “economics of a storm cloud.” Thunderstorms, thunder and lightening, tornadoes and hurricanes are all explained, as well as ice, snow, hail and the Santa Ana winds.

The last part of the book is on how to read the signs to predict the weather. You’ll learn the cloud types with illustrations so you will recognize them in the sky. Also temperature, wind, barometric pressure, and humidity and the instruments used to measure them are explained so you can setup your own weather station.

If you want to understand how a day can go from 82 degrees to a blizzard or just what that cumulonimbus cloud may bring, check out this book from the Joplin Public Library and find out.

Patty Crane is the reference librarian at Joplin Public Library.