Authors of the Storm Meteorologists and the Culture of Prediction
by Gary Alan Fine
University of Chicago Press, 2007
Cloth: 978-0-226-24952-0 | Paper: 978-0-226-24953-7 | Electronic: 978-0-226-24954-4
ABOUT THIS BOOKAUTHOR BIOGRAPHYREVIEWSTABLE OF CONTENTS

ABOUT THIS BOOK

Whether it is used as an icebreaker in conversation or as the subject of serious inquiry, “the weather” is one of the few subjects that everyone talks about. And though we recognize the faces that bring us the weather on television, how government meteorologists and forecasters go about their jobs is rarely scrutinized. Given recent weather-related disasters, it’s time we find out more. In Authors of the Storm, Gary Alan Fine offers an inside look at how meteorologists and forecasters predict the weather.

Based on field observation and interviews at the Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma, the National Weather Service in Washington, D.C., and a handful of midwestern outlets, Fine finds a supremely hard-working, insular clique of professionals who often refer to themselves as a “band of brothers.” In Fine’s skilled hands, we learn their lingo, how they “read” weather conditions, how forecasts are written, and, of course, how those messages are conveyed to the public. Weather forecasts, he shows, are often shaped as much by social and cultural factors inside local offices as they are by approaching cumulus clouds. By opening up this unique world to us, Authors of the Storm offers a valuable and fascinating glimpse of a crucial profession.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Gary Alan Fine is professor of sociology at Northwestern University and the author of numerous books, including Everyday Genius: Self-Taught Art and the Culture of Authenticity; With the Boys: Little League Baseball and Preadolescent Culture; and Shared Fantasy: Role-Playing Games as Social Worlds, all published by the University of Chicago Press.

REVIEWS

Authors of the Storm represents the work of a craftsman at the peak of his powers. Gary Alan Fine’s book conveys in often amazing detail the work life of weather forecasters, laying out the patterns of their days and nights, the range of dilemmas they face, and the underlying organizational and political structures and tensions that shape their forecasts. This is a completely original book.”--Daniel Chambliss, Hamilton College

— Daniel Chambliss

“This is a major contribution to understanding the role of organizations in the production of scientific knowledge. A superior social analyst, Fine skillfully exposes the craft, technology, culture, risk, and ambiguity in the workplace as meteorologists convert scientific uncertainty into certainty. A fascinating read for scholars and everyone who has ever complained about the weather. His best book yet.”

— Diane Vaughan, Columbia University, author of The Challenger Launch Decision

“Weather has always been the source of small talk, but today the climate is a matter of life and death. It’s long past time to examine both the social significance of weather and the way meteorologists explain it in their daily reports, and in Authors of the Storm, Gary Alan Fine makes an important contribution to this urgent project. His rich ethnography takes us inside the mysterious world of forecasters at the National Weather Service, thoughtfully exploring the challenge of proffering expert knowledge on fundamentally uncertain future events. Fine’s book will not only change the way you think about weather reports, but the way you understand public science, too.”

— Eric Klinenberg, author of Heat Wave

“When discussing weather forecasts and forecasters, we think of highs, lows, numerical models, and isobars. Gary Fine’s study explores the cultural, organizational, and social factors that influence how forecasters think about themselves and their work and ultimately impact the forecasts they prepare. An insightful look at the human side of the forecast preparation process.”
— Brigadier General (Ret.) John J. Kelly Jr., former Assistant Administrator, Weather Services NOAA and Director, NWS

"In this fascinating and timely book, Fine introduces the reader to the intriguing world of weather prediction. . . . Fine engages his reader by skillfully describing the human side of weather forecasters who must contend with having to produce timely, accurate forecasts under the stress of meeting a complexity of organizational demands. . . . A highly recommended book for both scholars and everyone who has an interest in the weather."
— Choice

"This is a study of work and the deprofessionalization of work among people who happen to be scientists. As such, it has real strengths and is worth an examination. . . . [I] can recommend it as a good read."
— Mott Greene, Isis

"Anyone interested in the organizational life of the NWS or curious about how local offices operate will find plenty of material and insight in Authors of the Storm. The book could serve as a useful adjunct text for courses that deal with meterology as a profession and it certainly deserves a place in the libraries of universities with meteorology programs. For those studying the sociology of science . . . Authors of the Storm provides a unique and rewarding look at a group of public servants that are too often taken for granted."
— Robert Henson, Bulletin of the AMS

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Preface

- Gary Alan Fine
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226249544.003.0001
[weather forecasters, weather forecasting, meteorology]
This introductory chapter begins by outlining the broad theoretical issues addressed in this book, in an attempt to understand the conditions of work of weather forecasters. It then provides a background on the current study, followed by a discussion of the history and memory of weather. An overview of the subsequent chapters is also presented. (pages 1 - 18)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Gary Alan Fine
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226249544.003.0002
[meteorologists, meteorology, weather forecasts, work relations]
This chapter explores the social contours of the meteorological life. The goal is to situate the occupation within its organizational and social psychological constraints. It argues that the structure, culture, and interactions of operational meteorologists create the conditions in which weather forecasts are produced. In this case, it is the relationship of meteorology to science, to claims about the future, and to the communication of this knowledge that are at issue. The chapter begins with the place and space in which meteorology is done, moving inward to work relations, the links between humans and machines, and labor under conditions of stress and threat. Although meteorologists work for numerous organizations, the focus is on government employees, the authors of official weather information and keepers of the equipment that produces this information. (pages 19 - 56)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Gary Alan Fine
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226249544.003.0003
[meteorological scientist, meteorologists, weather forecasters, work tasks, occupational identity]
What does it mean to be a meteorological scientist and how is this claim linked to the microculture of groups of meteorologists? Forecasters are assigned different tasks and define their occupation in various ways. Having examined three local offices of the National Weather Service, this chapter argues that any orientation toward science and work is created by groups with their own shared pasts. Local conditions matter. By examining the office culture at the Chicago office, their impressions of other offices, and those offices' images of the Chicago office, it is argued that the relationship between particular work tasks and occupational identity varies, an outcome of tradition, resources, and organizational structure. (pages 57 - 98)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Gary Alan Fine
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226249544.003.0004
[meteorologists, weather forecasts, weather forecasters, future workers]
This chapter explores the production of the future. How do meteorologists create forecasts to contain uncertainty? Meteorologists rely on gathered data in conjunction with models that provide a theoretical infrastructure. This affects the data to be collected. But if this was all that was necessary, forecasters would not be needed, so humans carve out a domain of personal expertise, selecting among alternate models, doubting the adequacy of data, and then adding their own experience. Armed with data, theory, and experience, the organization provides legitimacy that is crucial for the presentation of these public predictions. Meteorologists, like other future workers, are authorized to predict by their sponsors. They are mandated to colonize the future. (pages 99 - 134)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Gary Alan Fine
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226249544.003.0005
[public science, communication, meteorologists, weather forecasts]
This chapter explores public science as communication. Specifically, it addresses four aspects of the occupational tasks of meteorologists: how they coordinate their forecasts with others inside their office and with other National Weather Service offices; the art of writing forecasts and forecast discussions, suggesting how meteorologists think about their words; how forecasters at the Storm Prediction Center use visual representations (“boxes”) to claim their authority, emphasizing that communication is not necessarily tied to words; and the technological change the author of this book observed during his research in which a computerized forecast system was introduced. In this system meteorologists manipulated a database, which removed the authority to create the written forecast from the meteorologist. (pages 135 - 172)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Gary Alan Fine
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226249544.003.0006
[scientific truth, group culture, Steven Shapin, weather forecasters]
This chapter analyzes the organizational problem of scientific truth, tied again to the dynamics of group culture. The creation of models of truth has been emphasized in science studies, notably in Steven Shapin's A Social History of Truth. But Shapin's analysis is fundamentally normative, examining the rules of truth-telling as set by society. In contrast, the chapter treats verification as an interactional achievement. Forecasters make claims about what the future will bring, but these claims need to be accepted by others. (pages 173 - 208)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Gary Alan Fine
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226249544.003.0007
[operational meteorology, organization, autonomy, control, National Weather Service, public science, government agency]
This chapter focuses on the organizational features of meteorology, particularly the position of operational meteorology as government-sponsored activity. The organization of operational meteorology highlights the tension between autonomy and control. Scientific domains are integrated into society and cannot be separated from the organizational infrastructure that they help create. Not only do sciences have managers, but they also have audiences. The presence of an audience produces demands for expertise. The chapter examines the implications of the organization of the National Weather Service as a governmental agency devoted to public science. It then explores how this occupation is linked to a set of clients on the output boundary of government meteorology—the public, the media, and private firms. (pages 209 - 236)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Gary Alan Fine
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226249544.003.0008
[work, science, prediction, autonomy, truth, public knowledge]
This chapter addresses broad theoretical concerns and points to connections between this ethnographic investigation and other studies of scientific and work processes. It discusses core concepts of work, science, prediction, autonomy, truth, and public knowledge, hoping to generalize from this particular and peculiar case to other domains of science, of culture, and of work. (pages 237 - 250)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

Notes

Index