Ways of the Weather: A Cultural Survey of Meteorology

By W. J. Humphreys | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X
ATMOSPHERIC ELECTRICITY

The term atmospheric electricity usually is limited to only those electric phenomena of the air which normally we never see, and of which we can have no knowledge without the aid of special instruments and equipment. In its wider sense, however, the sense in which it is here used, it includes, besides all these, St. Elmo's fire, that is, the natural corona, or ghostly flames common on high mountain peaks; the aurora; and all forms of lightning. Indeed in this case, as in so many others, it was a study of the conspicuous that led to the field of the inconspicuous--a field of fertile soil and abundant harvest.

The most familiar and yet most arresting natural manifestation of electricity is lightning, ranging as it does from the exquisitely beautiful to the extremely terrifying--beautiful when far away on a dark night (of course out in the country, not in a city canyon); terrifying when so close that we barely escape. Lightning and its noisy product, thunder, manifestly were objects of awe and superstition ages before the utmost reach of record or tradition, but identifying them with manageable laboratory phenomena, about which we know the how and the how much, is a very modern accomplishment and an exceeding great one. Through the ages until but a few decades ago each nation, the world over, regarded lightning as a terrible weapon in the wilful hands of their own god. Thus to the Norsemen it was Thor's mighty hammer with which he struck many a telling blow on the powerful demons; and to the Greeks, the thunderbolts of Zeus, that scared them half to death the time they had the Trojans nearly defeated, thereby prolonging the war--to the glory of Homer and the laurels of Virgil. But hammer or thunder-bolt, lightning still is with us, still alarming with the mighty crash and roar of its thunder, still striking and still killing.

The next most conspicuous electric phenomenon, best seen

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Ways of the Weather: A Cultural Survey of Meteorology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Preface *
  • Contents *
  • Chapter I - Weather Perceptions 1
  • Chapter II - Weather Measurements 19
  • Introduction 19
  • Chapter III - The Atmosphere: Origin And Composition 47
  • Chapter IV - Structure of the Atmosphere 71
  • Summary 89
  • Chapter V - Distribution of Temperature 90
  • Chapter VI - Distribution of Water Vapor 113
  • Chapter VII - Distribution and Changes of Atmospheric Pressure 133
  • Chapter VIII - Wind 150
  • Chapter IX - Precipitation 172
  • Chapter X - Atmospheric Electricity 210
  • Chapter XI - Weather Music 250
  • Chapter XII - Atmospheric Optics 272
  • Chapter XIII - Climate, Present and Past 294
  • Chapter XIV - Weather Control 323
  • Chapter XV - What of It? 336
  • Chapter XVI - Meteorological Mileposts 357
  • Index 393
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