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Martin Hedberg: “Extreme weather” – no life without lightning

  • Arno Widmann

    fromArno Widmann


“Extreme Weather”, a book by the Swedish meteorologist Martin Hedberg, is as spectacular as it is instructive.

One hundred very impressive photos of hurricanes and lightning, polar lights and floods. A man holds three hailstones at the camera: each larger than a tennis ball. And an explanation for each photo. So it is not just overpowering, fear and horror, but you can be enlightened from your couch in your sheltered home apartment about the weather and storms, on which we are more dependent than we imagine in our Central European post-war cosiness could.

The Swedish meteorologist Martin Hedberg, who was born in 1967, writes about the hailstones falling from a few thousand meters: “The hail with its compact, frozen water has a decidedly wintry character, but almost always occurs when it is really warm. The reason for this is that a lot of energy is required to generate the strong updrafts in the cloud, which are the prerequisites for the initially small ice lumps to stay in the cloud until they grow. The energy comes from solar radiation, which heats the lower layers of the air. This air rises and forms huge cumulonimbus clouds. Snow crystals and raindrops begin to grow in this cloud. They clump together and at some point are so heavy that they fall out of the cloud. “

The book

Martin Hedberg: Extreme weather. A. d. Swedish v. Lotta Ruegger and Holger Wolandt. teNeues, Kempen. 192 pages, 29.90 euros.

So far, I only knew the Santa Ana winds in California from the Christmas film “Love doesn’t need a vacation” by Nancy Meyers, which the kitschier in me likes to see again and again. Kate Winslet catches the eye in it. Jack Black explains to her that it is the Santa Ana wind, and after he has asked her if he can do it, removes what caught her eye. The photograph on this page shows the Santa Ana wind and what it’s doing. It is a very dry wind that easily ignites something. Here it is a local, precisely defined catastrophe. In the film it’s love.

How does lightning happen? “About a hundred lightning discharges occur every second,” writes Martin Hedberg. “Lightning not only redistributes the electrons, they are also part of the natural cycle that binds nitrogen. Nitrogen is an important prerequisite for all life. But although 78 percent of the air we breathe consists of nitrogen, neither animals nor plants can use pure nitrogen because the nitrogen atoms are too tight to one another. However, the energy of the flashes can separate nitrogen molecules into individual atoms, which are then transformed into nitrogen oxides with oxygen. Nitrogen oxides dissolve in water, which means that nitrogen gets into the earth when it rains. This is part of the cycle of the ecosystem. Lightning discharges cause about a tenth of the natural nitrogen fixation. The rest of the fixation is done by bacteria that ‘eat’ nitrogen in symbiosis with plants. “

I fell in love with the book because of its photos. Incidentally, the one shown here comes from NASA. Now I love it because of Martin Hedberg’s lyrics. “Extreme Weather” is one of those books that makes you happy about your ignorance, because that’s the only way to be lucky enough to learn so much new things. One likes to succumb to the illusion of being able to grasp all of this now. And it will soon be forgotten again. But not quite. How layers of air at different temperatures react to one another, how hurricanes arise, that may still remain one available in my head. The photo of a sailboat on a calm sea is too impressive. Next to it the text: “The silence that creates hurricanes.”



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