Non-specialist reference books generally offer little to feed an obsession with the weather - with one outstanding exception.

One of the reasons Whitaker's Almanack is such a delight is the meticulous care it takes in recording the previous year's weather. I have just been browsing through the ten pages of weather in its review of the year (11 pages, if you include its just-what-we-always-wanted-to-know map of the Shipping Forecast Areas). Reading Whitaker's on the weather is the literary equivalent of sitting indoors in front of a fire, watching the rain pouring down outside.

It takes up where the last edition left off, in July 1996, when we read that "rainfall totals were below normal generally for the third successive month", though thunderstorms were widespread over the Midlands and southern England on the 29th. Moving on to August, we learn that "the highest daily sunshine was 14.5 hours at Poole (Dorset) on the 4th." There were 39.9mm of rain at Nantmor (Gwynedd) on 31 October 1996, but it was the sunniest December since 1976. Hailstones the size of golfballs fell in Hampshire on 12 May 1997 and 27 June was wet in the south.

Perhaps I was wrong about its being like watching rain falling. It's more like being trapped in a train compartment with a particularly erudite arorak. Wonderful stuff!