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Extraordinary Weather – Richard Hamblyn ***

Probably the next most photogenic aspect of science after astronomy is the weather. From red skies and dramatic thunderstorms to snow scenes and lightning, the weather can truly hit you between the eyes.
This new book from David & Charles and the Met Office, put together by Richard Hamblyn, aims to show us some of nature’s most dramatic views thanks to the weather. The photographs are great, at least as far as the subjects go. A lot of effort has gone into finding some amazing shots of weird and wonderful weather phenomena. The only criticism I’d have is that they have often come out too dark – the colour doesn’t jump off the page. Instead they can be rather murky and low contrast, which with a subject like this (and despite fancy glossy pages) is a real disappointment.
Even so, there are, just as the title suggests, some extraordinary weather effects here, including storms, ice and snow, heat and drought, bizarre clouds and my favourite ‘strange phenomena’. This is very much a picture book. After a rather lyrical couple of pages of introduction, Hamblyn limits himself to extended captions. The only trouble with this is that you have to know quite a few meteorological bits and pieces to be able to keep up. So, for instance, the captions for several photographs refer to supercells, which sounds like they are a kind of battery, but appear to be serious thunderstorms. The word is used as if it’s common parlance (‘I was on the way down to the shops and I saw an amazing supercell!’), and it just isn’t.
I enjoyed thumbing through this book – it was more of a thumb-through than a read – and I really don’t mean this as an insult to say it would be a great book to keep in the toilet. It’s the sort of title that you can dip into for a couple of minutes and really get something out of it. As long as you aren’t expecting more than this, there is everything to recommend about Extraordinary Weather – but don’t expect too much in the way of scientific insights.

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Review by Martin O'Brien

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