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Peterson First Guide to Clouds and Weather

Review by Kerry Lake, MG '13

 
 
 

After reading and reviewing the book the Gardeners Guide to Weather and Climate, I saw this little First Guide to Clouds and Weather at my South Hadley bookstore and decided to purchase it. Peterson First Guides are small books with condensed content that you can take with you into the garden or on a hike. This guide focuses on all cloud types and what they can tell us about the weather.

Of all weather elements, clouds are the visible element; humidity and temperature are physically felt, not seen. Just as in the days before media weather reports, we can learn to forecast the weather by observing the clouds.  Clouds float in the atmosphere of which there are 4 layers. Different types of clouds float in different layers, which also can tell us which atmospheric cell or jet stream is providing today’s weather, and forecasting for tomorrow.

For example, the cloud cover yesterday (February 1) was Altostratus. These clouds are in the mid-range of the earth’s atmosphere (10,000 to 20,000 feet or 3 – 6 km).  This cloud type is thin and was primarily made of ice because it is gray and obscuring the sun. Altostratus is formed by cooling over the surface of a warm front. It is often the forerunner of Nimbostratus (another cloud type) from which steady precipitation fails. Sure enough, this morning we awoke to 2 inches of fresh snow. By 9am the cloud cover had changed again, this time to Cirrus, which are wispy clouds formed at the highest levels of our atmosphere predicting fair weather. We are now enjoying a sunny winter day with fresh snow highlighting the branches of trees and shrubs.

Peterson First Guide to Clouds and Weather has photos and descriptions of all twelve cloud types, including 13 pages devoted to unusual clouds. Color in the sky is also explained, including rainbows, coronas, and the green flash that can be observed at sunset. The second half of this little guide explains water evaporation from the earth and how it affects cloud formation and precipitation. Did you know that there are ten types of precipitation?

  • Plates
  • Stellars
  • Columns
  • Needles
  • Spatial dendrites
  • Capped columns
  • Irregular crystals
  • Graupel
  • Sleet
  • Hail

(I can attest that the year I spent in Buffalo, New York, the precipitation has usually Needles!)

The last section of this little book covers weather forecasting with explanations of cold fronts, warm fronts, the wave cyclone model, how to understand a weather map, wind and air pressure, along with how to observe and forecast the weather.  This is a wonderful little guide for anyone who is interested in the weather, especially for gardeners who want to be prepared.  Great information for gardening in changing times.

Peterson First Guides are published by Houghton Mifflin.

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