The following is a review of the fifth addition of the Weather Forecasting Handbook by Tim Vasquez. In the true nature of evolution, this edition is the best of the three I have reviewed. It has come a long way both in material and presentation since I reviewed the third edition.
Today a large, and growing, sector of weather enthusiasts want the experience and pleasure of preparing their own forecasts, particularly when they better the official local forecast. For them the Internet provides access to almost all the weather information, observations, maps and numerical forecast model outputs one could want. Indeed, the average layperson today has access to more weather information with which to prepare their own forecast than I did during those years in my early career when regular, specialized forecasting was part of my job description.
In the "Preface" to the Weather Forecasting Handbook (4th Edition), author Tim Vasquez states:
"In spite of the widespread public availability of weather data that blossomed in the 1990s, there are still no titles that give a ground-up introduction to forecasting for advanced hobbyists, storm chasers, pilots, and enthusiastic professionals."
As Vasquez correctly points out, most publishing houses continue to produce popular books on weather containing only forecasting techniques similar to those used 50 to 100 years ago by farmers and sailors. These techniques are usually based on a few simple measures (atmospheric pressure and its tendency and wind speed/direction) and visual observations. Such techniques have a place and can be quite useful when one is away from computer access. Many books of this genre are well written and introduce useful forecasting tools for the sailor or hiker but don't go into the use of weather maps and other charts, if they are mentioned at all, to determine the coming weather.
In this edition's "Preface," Vasquez writes:
"Overall, my aim in writing Weather Forecasting Handbook is that it serve as a readable, comprehensive, yet technical introduction for amateurs with a little bit of fun and humor thrown in."
I can say with this edition, Vasquez has succeeded in his objective. The Weather Forecasting Handbook has a wealth of useful material in it (It contains 204 pages up 42 from the last edition and 192 illustrations up 46 from the last edition. ) and the fifth edition has made important improvements over the previous editions.
I still would like more discussions of some crucial weather patterns and the lack of diagrams, maps and illustrations needed to understand those specific situations, but with such detail comes added length and thus cost to the book. The author has also sent along a new volume which I will be reviewing shortly. The Storm Chasing Handbook takes some of that specialized material that I want into a parallel book. I hope Vasquez takes a similar approach to providing special looks at forecasting winter weather situations and other topics.
The book has also undergone much tighter editing and most of the typographical errors have been eliminated. (For which the author generously thanked me for helping find several in previous editions.) More and clearer graphics have been added, and a little more fun as well. There are several new chapters and an expanded section looking at winter weather forecasting.
A couple added features in the fourth edition that deserve noting again are a set of review questions at the end of each chapter and several maps upon which the reader can practice map analysis. Vasquez provides answers to the review questions on his website (http://www.weathergraphics.com/fcstbook/).
In my opinion, the greatest strength of Weather Forecasting Handbook is as a concise introduction to the world of weather forecasting, its tools and many of the concepts needed to understand and begin the forecast process. Although parts may be difficult for the novice to understand (I recommend a good grounding in the principles of meteorology before tackling this book), much can be learned from this handbook by most readers. If you have a good understanding of the basic principles of meteorology, this book can help expand your meteorological knowledge base even if forecasting is not your main interest.
Another important addition is that the book also delves into the merits and cautions of numerical weather forecasting models and products. This information should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in preparing forecasts and it might also help us be more forgiving when we become perturbed at the inaccuracy of a specific forecast. Models are great tools, but they are not perfect in all situations as Vasquez so aptly points out. I applaud his stand on the need for forecasters to combine their knowledge and wisdom into a forecast rather than relying so heavily on the numerical products. I too believe forecasting is an art as well as a science, and nothing can yet replace the human mind in determining the nuances of large-scale weather patterns on the local weather situation.
Using Vasquez's book in conjunction with information available on the Internet can start you on the road to becoming your own weather forecaster. If this is a path that interests you, then the Weather Forecasting Handbook is a book I recommend as a starting point. And if you do not intend to try your hand at prognostication, there are many sections of this book which may help you better understand the background for forecasts and meteorological principles not given in the standard introductory books but often heard about on radio and television, particularly during severe storm situations.
Keith C. Heidorn, PhD
THE WEATHER DOCTOR
December 15, 2002
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