In recent years our weather has frequently set records for all kinds of extremes. Is it global warming or simply chance? Certainly the vagaries of the British climate influence our familiarity with weather science through daily TV forecasts. But what creates weather and how can we predict such a fickle creature? How the Weather Works explores these issues in active fashion. The activities in Michael Allaby's book are designed predominantly for eight- to 12-year-olds, but older children might be attracted by the more complex investigations. Adults too may be drawn in to assist and find themselves involved in a family project.
The broad appeal of the book is encapsulated in its Cloud Atlas, a beautifully presented photographic guide to cloud classification. Children or family groups might use it to identify cloud types, predict approaching weather and search out unusual sky events such as glories, halos and mock suns.
The remaining five themes are explored through practical activities which utilise household items catalogued in a "home laboratory". Adult help is advised wherever minor hazards might arise. The experiments are described in step-by-step photographs and brief written instructions. Some activities simulate large scale events, while others examine the causes of phenomena or construct measuring apparatus.
After considering the nature of light, air and water, Michael Allaby looks at interactions of these three basic ingredients which result in sunshine, clouds, precipitation and wind. Children are shown how to create a giant snowflake and set up graphic simulation of wind flow rates. Sometimes the illustrations unintentionally reveal the result of an experiment but for the most part the outcomes are hidden. Some of the measuring devices could be modified by older children. A lemonade bottle rain gauge, for example, might be calibrated more accurately and the scale on a humidity tester needs reversing. Other instruments are used at different levels. Younger children can estimate humidity with a wet-and-dry-bulb hygrometer, while older readers can use the same instrument to predict dewpoint.
Similar possibilities are offered in the Weather Machine section which looks at global patterns. While younger children simulate tornadoes and hurricanes, older investigators can track a thunderstorm or discover ridges and troughs from a pressure map. Developing the global theme, Climates look at large scale weather patterns and the links with indigenous vegetation, currents and the earth's surface.
Weather forecasting provides the final theme and an end product in the assembly of a home weather station. Young meteorologists are encouraged to use their newly acquired skills by keeping a detailed weather diary - again a possible family project. This focus on the home - easily transposed to a classroom - is commendable and the natural endpoint of the book. It might have been useful, however, to include more detail about the way weather forecasts reach our TV screens and possible careers in meteorology. In a branch of science which generates so many statistics, it might have been possible to feature record examples of weather extremes.
How the Weather Works bears the unmistakable hallmark of Dorling Kindersley. Beautifully crisp photographs and a lucid text combine to explore meteorology through active involvement. Here is a splendid resource for teachers and children - or for a family to do real science together at home.
Dennis Ashton is a visiting lecturer at the Centre for Science Education, Sheffield Hallam University.