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Authors of the Storm

Meteorologists and the Culture of Prediction

Authors of the Storm

Meteorologists and the Culture of Prediction

Whether it is used as an icebreaker in conversation or as the subject of serious inquiry, “the weather” is one of the few subjects that everyone talks about. And though we recognize the faces that bring us the weather on television, how government meteorologists and forecasters go about their jobs is rarely scrutinized. Given recent weather-related disasters, it’s time we find out more. In Authors of the Storm, Gary Alan Fine offers an inside look at how meteorologists and forecasters predict the weather.

Based on field observation and interviews at the Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma, the National Weather Service in Washington, D.C., and a handful of midwestern outlets, Fine finds a supremely hard-working, insular clique of professionals who often refer to themselves as a “band of brothers.” In Fine’s skilled hands, we learn their lingo, how they “read” weather conditions, how forecasts are written, and, of course, how those messages are conveyed to the public. Weather forecasts, he shows, are often shaped as much by social and cultural factors inside local offices as they are by approaching cumulus clouds. By opening up this unique world to us, Authors of the Storm offers a valuable and fascinating glimpse of a crucial profession.


280 pages | 3 halftones, 1 map | 6 x 9 | © 2007

Culture Studies

Earth Sciences: Meteorology

Sociology: Occupations, Professions, Work, Social Organization--Stratification, Mobility

Reviews

“Weather has always been the source of small talk, but today the climate is a matter of life and death. It’s long past time to examine both the social significance of weather and the way meteorologists explain it in their daily reports, and in Authors of the Storm, Gary Alan Fine makes an important contribution to this urgent project. His rich ethnography takes us inside the mysterious world of forecasters at the National Weather Service, thoughtfully exploring the challenge of proffering expert knowledge on fundamentally uncertain future events. Fine’s book will not only change the way you think about weather reports, but the way you understand public science, too.”

Eric Klinenberg, author of Heat Wave

“This is a major contribution to understanding the role of organizations in the production of scientific knowledge. A superior social analyst, Fine skillfully exposes the craft, technology, culture, risk, and ambiguity in the workplace as meteorologists convert scientific uncertainty into certainty. A fascinating read for scholars and everyone who has ever complained about the weather. His best book yet.”

Diane Vaughan, Columbia University, author of The Challenger Launch Decision

“When discussing weather forecasts and forecasters, we think of highs, lows, numerical models, and isobars. Gary Fine’s study explores the cultural, organizational, and social factors that influence how forecasters think about themselves and their work and ultimately impact the forecasts they prepare. An insightful look at the human side of the forecast preparation process.”

Brigadier General (Ret.) John J. Kelly Jr., former Assistant Administrator, Weather Services NOAA and Director, NWS

Authors of the Storm represents the work of a craftsman at the peak of his powers. Gary Alan Fine’s book conveys in often amazing detail the work life of weather forecasters, laying out the patterns of their days and nights, the range of dilemmas they face, and the underlying organizational and political structures and tensions that shape their forecasts. This is a completely original book.”--Daniel Chambliss, Hamilton College

Daniel Chambliss

"In this fascinating and timely book, Fine introduces the reader to the intriguing world of weather prediction. . . . Fine engages his reader by skillfully describing the human side of weather forecasters who must contend with having to produce timely, accurate forecasts under the stress of meeting a complexity of organizational demands. . . . A highly recommended book for both scholars and everyone who has an interest in the weather."

Choice

"This is a study of work and the deprofessionalization of work among people who happen to be scientists. As such, it has real strengths and is worth an examination. . . . [I] can recommend it as a good read."

Mott Greene | Isis

"Anyone interested in the organizational life of the NWS or curious about how local offices operate will find plenty of material and insight in Authors of the Storm. The book could serve as a useful adjunct text for courses that deal with meterology as a profession and it certainly deserves a place in the libraries of universities with meteorology programs. For those studying the sociology of science . . . Authors of the Storm provides a unique and rewarding look at a group of public servants that are too often taken for granted."

Robert Henson | Bulletin of the AMS

Table of Contents

Contents

Preface

Introduction

1          On the Floor

2          A Cult of “Science”

3          Futurework

4          Writing on the Winds

5          Ground Truth

6          A Public Science

7          Weather Wise

Notes

Index

Awards

Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards
Won

Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction: Charles H. Cooley Award
Won

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