The Cloudspotter's Guide

Bookshelf: The Cloudspotter’s Guide

The Cloudspotter’s Guide – Gavin Pretor-Pinney

The Cloudspotter's Guide
The Cloudspotter’s Guide

Gavin Pretor-Pinney is the founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society (over 35,000 members), and this book is a natural outflow of his immense, self-professed love for clouds. I’m mentioning this book here not because it mentions scuba diving even once, but because clouds form part of the weather system that is driven by the ocean, and furthermore affects all our activities on and under the sea. And, because paying attention to the rhythms of the weather is important amid the regimented humdrum of everyday activities, and is one of the things that enables me to live a relatively sane life.

The Cloudspotter’s Guide is divided into chapters by type of cloud. Pretor-Pinney explains how to identify the different types, how they form, and how they fit into the greater scheme of things. I find meteorology hard to keep in my head, so it’ll bear another reading, but I learned several (I suspect extremely basic – deep ignorance as my starting point) things about how clouds are formed that have improved my understanding of how the world works. This is a great book to take on holiday, alongside your bird book, or to keep near a window so that you can practise identifying the clouds that roll overhead, and start to understand the type of weather that they presage.

The other book I’ve read by Pretor-Pinney is The Wavewatcher’s Companion, and The Cloudspotter’s Guide is the same kind of deceptively simple, amusing take on a fairly complex phenomenon. By the end of the book you’ll have chuckled several times, admired some remarkable photographs of clouds (contributed by Cloud Appreciation Society members), and contemplated booking a plane ticket to Cairns, Australia in order to check out the Morning Glory cloud in person. You’ll also have learned quite a lot.

Did you know, for example, that the contrails (condensation trails) created by plane traffic contribute more to global warming than the carbon emissions of those same planes? The contrails are an artificial cloud that – by increasing cloud cover – trap heat at the earth’s surface and prevent it radiating out into space. You can read more about this here and here – the circumstances that allowed scientists to come to this conclusion were highly unusual.

You can get a copy here or here, otherwise here if you’re in South Africa. You can also grab the companion volume The Cloud Collector’s Handbook, which is an identification guide combined with a checklist (for serious work in the field), here.

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.