‘As long as I keep moving, the air is a little cooler’: studying weather experiences and practices

Martin Mahony

This week, parts of the UK have been basking in temperatures around 20 degrees Celsius  ‘At long last!’ many have exclaimed after a springtime marked so far by frigid easterly winds bearing cold air and snow from the still frozen interior of the Eurasian landmass. Trees have been late to blossom, crop growth has been stunted, and newborn lambs have perished under snowdrifts. Many were starting to wonder whether we would ever seen spring at all.

With climate change expected to alter weather patterns in many parts of the globe, a growing band of researchers across geography and the social sciences have started to explore how individuals experience and relate to the weather in their everyday lives. These researchers are interested in how people deal with extremes of heat and cold, or wet and dry, and in how even the most banal changes in the weather impact on our everyday lives. For example, Russell Hitchings has investigated the ways in which office workers deal with the seasonality of the weather, with interesting conclusions for thinking about how we interact with the elements when many of us spend most of out time indoors, in climates regulated by air conditioning and central heating.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Studying these practices is challenging. While many of us remember extreme weather events like heat waves and blizzards for some time, we might struggle to remember how we dealt with the intricacies of the weather on a typical British Spring day, where sunshine and showers alternate in step with the opening of umbrellas and the packing away of raincoats. Some of these methodological challenges are dealt with by Eliza de Vet in a new paper in Area, where she compares the use of interviews, diaries and participants’ photographs in research on weather experiences and practices.

Drawing on a research project looking at weather practices in Darwin and Melbourne, Australia, de Vet argues that interviews may be the most effective way for researchers to reconstruct the everyday practices of, for example, keeping cool and comfortable in the tropical heat. Interview techniques can be usefully supplemented by asking respondents to keep diaries and to take photographs which capture their own ways of dealing with the weather. However, de Vet points towards the importance of considering “participant fatigue” in such projects, as asking too much of respondents – especially about usually banal things like the weather – can lead to disengagement. Projects investigating people’s experiences and practices of weather therefore need careful management, but they can yield fascinating insights into behaviours which many of us take for granted, but which might become hugely significant under a changing climate.

globe42 Spring: where has it gone? The Guardian, March 30

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Russell Hitchings, 2010, Seasonal climate change and the indoor city workerTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 35, 2, 282-298

books_icon Eliza de Vet, 2013, Exploring weather-related experiences and practices: examining methodological approachesArea, DOI: 10.1111/area.12019

 

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