Books

Warner Books/$25.95

El Nino: Unlocking the Secrets of the Master Weather-Maker by by J. Madeleine Nash

The trade winds that blow across the vast expanse of the tropical Pacific Ocean push the warm surface waters along with them as they make their journey west. The warm water piles up in the Pacific's western end until, every two to seven years, the trade winds slacken and the warm water flows back towards the east as a ball would roll downhill. This event, through a complicated series of dynamic ocean/atmosphere interactions, triggers meteorological anomalies that are observed all over the world — an El Nino year.

Pretty dry stuff. Most people's eyelids grow heavy at the mere mention of the word 'meteorological." Only a pocket protector-clad member emeritus of the weather club could get excited about this topic. Then again, try complaining about the tedium of geophysical phenomena to Mai-Lin Shultzs of Rio Nido, Calif., as the root end of a 100-foot Douglas fir and 1-million tons of mud come barreling down the valley toward her front porch.

And it is there, the devastating California mudslides induced by the 1997-98 El Nino, that J. Madeline Nash begins her roller coaster of science writing in El Nino: Unlocking the Secrets of the Master Weather-Maker. Readers must hang on tight as Nash moves swiftly from the failure of the Nile to rise in ancient Egypt to the horrid famines of colonial India to paint a picture of El Nino as a leviathan that has been wreaking havoc upon civilization for all of history.

Most striking about Nash's effort is how her keen insight and matter-of-fact style render this murky topic, which has eluded the eyes of scientists until only very recently, both accessible and entertaining. Nash skillfully weaves the hard science of Kelvin waves and extratropical cyclones into the personal stories of the people who have studied El Nino.

Enlightening and easy, this book is a must-read for all those interested in understanding how the little blue planet we call home works. And besides that, it is full of juicy tidbits that will surely make you a hit at your next cocktail party. Remember the day it snowed in Miami? Yep, El Nino.

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