The cloud atlas

They're the most beautiful things that we barely even notice. A new book aims to fix that by finding the most spectacular images in the Met Office archives.
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The Independent Online

Sunny, cloudy, wet. This is the extent to which most of us consider the weather. More interested in how it will affect our day-to-day lives (sun cream or an umbrella?), few of us pay much attention to its majesty and beauty, from everyday cloud clusters or the more spectacular halos and arcs.

It is something that has always fascinated Gordon Higgins. Having joined the Met Office as a meteorologist in 1965 (he is now retired), Higgins has delved into his years of experience to author Weather Wonders: Incredible Clouds and Weather Events from Above and Below. This book celebrates the power and variety of the world's weather in all its forms through fascinating and dramatic colour photography.

The book is divided into two parts: shots from above and below. The first section features grand-scale satellite images of Earth, while the second is made up of photography taken from the ground.

"It was a great idea," explains Higgins. "Everybody can look from below but you do not often get to see from above and get an idea of the different scales. It's a lovely way of approaching the subject."

Having a fair idea of what he wanted to feature, Higgins then spent an enormous amount of time going through the Met Office's library archive to find suitable images. "We wanted a mix of the everyday that people would recognise and the more spectacular ones," he explains.

With their marked resemblance to flying saucers, Higgins extols the curious beauty of the altocumulus lenticularis clouds, but it is really the satellite images that impress him the most. "They are the most revealing," he notes. "Hurricanes fascinate me because they are so powerful and when you're looking down on them, you get this amazing image of their massive scale."

During his career, Higgins saw much advancement in the technology used to measure the weather, allowing meteorologists to handle huge amounts of global data, analyse them and make predictions based on them. It has been paramount in learning about and understanding climate change.

While this serious and very real threat provides a backdrop to the book, Higgins also had a lighter goal.

"One of the points I was always trying to get across was that a lot of people don't actually see the things that are there," he concludes. "I wanted to encourage people to look up and see that there are some interesting things around. There's such beauty in the sky and such amazing power in the weather that you wonder why people don't pay more attention to it."

'Weather Wonders: Incredible Clouds and Weather Events from Above and Below', by Gordon Higgins, is published by David and Charles. RRP £12.99