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Science Meteorology & Climatology


The Story of Wind and Weather

by (author) Marq de Villiers

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Apr 2007
Meteorology & Climatology, Weather, General
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2007
    List Price

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The must-read natural history book of the season from the Governor General’s Award-winning author of Water.

Wind makes life on earth possible. It moderates climate, dispersing the sun’s rays and carrying moisture from the oceans to the land, where it falls as rain. Its action created the great rivers that nurtured the world’s earliest civilizations and permitted the development of the first technologies not dependent on human or animal energy. Winds affect human history, too. A Saharan sandstorm foiled the Persian invasion of Egypt in the fourth century B.C., and the Spanish Armada went down in defeat because the winds conspired with the British to blow in the wrong direction. Winds taught mankind to sail, and then to fly.

This book delves into the origins of wind and weather. It looks at the power of the oceanic storms, at hurricanes, tornadoes, dust devils, and at the way the human species is tampering with the global climate. But wind is the most forgiving of our natural phenomena and in it nature has given us a perpetual motion machine that we can use to make things better. Always engaging and often provocative, Marq de Villiers has once again given us a compelling investigation of the natural world.

About the author

Born in South Africa, Marq de Villiers is a veteran Canadian journalist and the author of thirteen books on exploration, history, politics, and travel, including Windswept: The Story of Wind and Weather, Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource (winner of the Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction), Down the Volga in a Time of Troubles, and Into Africa: A Journey Through the Ancient Empires, written with Sheila Hirtle. He has worked as a foreign correspondent in Moscow and through Eastern Europe and spent many years as Editor and then Publisher of Toronto Life magazine. Most recently he was Editorial Director of WHERE Magazines International.


Marq de Villiers' profile page

Excerpt: Windswept: The Story of Wind and Weather (by (author) Marq de Villiers)

Chapter One
Wind’s Mystery and Meaning
The story of Hurricane Ivan: It began, as these things so often do, long ago and far, far away. Long ago, at least, in the reckoning of weathermen, and far away at least as seen from the Ca­rib­be­an and the east coast of North America, where the storm’s full fury would in due time be unleashed. In the course of its tumultuous and destructive life, the cyclone they came to call Ivan would exemplify all the perilous uncertainties and complex patterns of global climatology (and exaggerate my own rather paranoid view of hard weather), but its beginning was hidden, even secretive, and could only be seen in rueful hindsight.

In the spring of 2004, it rained in Darfur, the Sudanese hellhole wracked by de­cades of civil war. Darfur is on the southeastern fringes of the endless emptiness of the Sahara, and its soil, beaten down from too many cattle and too many goats over too many years of drought, couldn’t hold the water. It pooled and then gathered in little muddy torrents that swept away the scattered huts of the countryside. A few days before, the refugees in their grim camps had been dying of thirst–an ostrich egg of water having to do for a family for a ­whole day–but ­were now forced to scramble to keep their pathetic scraps of food and their meager possessions from washing away. They ­were still starving, though now sodden and burdened with cholera and dysentery in addition to their other miseries.

All along the Sahel, the southern fringes of the Sahara, the rains came. Lake Chad, which had been shrinking for de­cades, stopped shrinking briefly, and the remaining hippo channels winding through the papyrus and water hyacinths filled up. The dusty plains north of Kano, the Nigerian trading city, looked lush for the first time in fifteen years. Outside fabled Timbuktu the ground took on a shiny green sheen, before the goats in their insatiable hunger nibbled the new plants down to a stubble, then trampled the residue into the mud. In Niger, Mali, even in ­ever-­arid Mauritania, the rains fell for the first time in a de­cade. Not enough, really, to unparch the desert, but more than usual.

No one in the Sahel knew why it was raining, or, except for a few aid agencies, cared; they ­were just grateful the water was there. In the outside world hardly anybody paid much attention. There ­were a few exceptions–the paranoid actuaries for the giant insurance company Munich Re, for example, who are paid to worry, and a few analysts in hurricane centers across the Atlantic, who ­were wrestling with the complex causative cycles of violent weather–but more people should have been concerned than that, for they ­were about to get a brutal lesson in the interconnectedness of natural systems. Who would have thought that, say, a rural tavern in Pennsylvania would be threatened by a ­storm-­born flood that was linked in complicated ways to the ending of a drought half a world away?

Editorial Reviews

“A refreshing narrative of meteorology.”
New Scientist

“Bad weather almost always makes good copy, and those who study wind and weather can be counted on to do all sorts of neat things.”
New York Times Book Review

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