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Invisible in the Storm:
The Role of Mathematics in Understanding Weather
Ian Roulstone & John Norbury

Winner of the 2015 Louis J. Battan Author’s Award, American Meteorological Society

Hardcover | 2013 | $42.00 | £34.95 | ISBN: 9780691152721
376 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 15 color illus. 76 halftones. 77 line illus.
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A Q&A with Ian Roulstone & John Norbury

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Talking Points with Ian Roulstone and John Norbury

Invisible in the Storm is the first book to recount the history, personalities, and ideas behind one of the greatest scientific successes of modern times--the use of mathematics in weather prediction. Although humans have tried to forecast weather for millennia, mathematical principles were used in meteorology only after the turn of the twentieth century. From the first proposal for using mathematics to predict weather, to the supercomputers that now process meteorological information gathered from satellites and weather stations, Ian Roulstone and John Norbury narrate the groundbreaking evolution of modern forecasting.

The authors begin with Vilhelm Bjerknes, a Norwegian physicist and meteorologist who in 1904 came up with a method now known as numerical weather prediction. Although his proposed calculations could not be implemented without computers, his early attempts, along with those of Lewis Fry Richardson, marked a turning point in atmospheric science. Roulstone and Norbury describe the discovery of chaos theory's butterfly effect, in which tiny variations in initial conditions produce large variations in the long-term behavior of a system--dashing the hopes of perfect predictability for weather patterns. They explore how weather forecasters today formulate their ideas through state-of-the-art mathematics, taking into account limitations to predictability. Millions of variables--known, unknown, and approximate--as well as billions of calculations, are involved in every forecast, producing informative and fascinating modern computer simulations of the Earth system.

Accessible and timely, Invisible in the Storm explains the crucial role of mathematics in understanding the ever-changing weather.


"Mathematicians Ian Roulstone and John Norbury demystify the maths behind meteorology. Trailblazers' work is vividly evoked, from eighteenth-century mathematician Leonhard Euler on hydrostatics to physicist Vilhelm Bjerknes's numerical weather prediction. The pace cranks up with twentieth-century advances such as Jule Gregory Charney's harnessing of the gargantuan ENIAC computer for his work in the 1940s and 1950s on forecasting pressure patterns."--Nature

"[O]ne of the great strengths of the book is the way it picks apart the challenge of making predictions about a chaotic system, showing what improvements we might yet hope for and what factors confound them."--Philip Ball, Prospect

"A welcome and authoritative account of the 20th-century contributions of mathematically sophisticated meteorologists such as Vilhelm Berknes (1862--1951), Carl-Gustav Rossby (1898--1957), Jule Charney (1917--1981), and Ed Lorenz (1917--2008). . . . Clearly, this book is informative and inspirational, leaving plenty of room for innovations by future generations of mathematicians and modelers."--James Rodger Fleming, MAA Reviews

"This book gives a deep insight of the mathematics involved in the forecast of weather. . . . The authors have done a brilliant work to collect a huge amount of historical information, as well as mathematical information, but keeping always a level in the explanations that makes the text accessible to undergraduate students in the first years, and even to people not so familiar with mathematics. All in all, this is a very interesting and enjoyable reading."--Vicente Muñoz, European Mathematical Society

"Shows how much modern weather forecasting depends on mathematics. . . . A superior read."--Alexander Bogolomny, CTK Insights

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Table of Contents:

Preface vii
Prelude: New Beginnings 1
ONE The Fabric of a Vision 3
TWO From Lore to Laws 47
THREE Advances and Adversity 89
FOUR When the Wind Blows the Wind 125
Interlude: A Gordian Knot 149
FIVE Constraining the Possibilities 153
SIX The Metamorphosis of Meteorology 187
Color Insert follows page 230
SEVEN Math Gets the Picture 231
EIGHT Predicting in the Presence of Chaos 271
Postlude: Beyond the Butterfly 313
Glossary 317
Bibliography 319
Index 323

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