Mostly Sunny? Why We Talk About the Weather

Has a day gone by that you haven’t talked about the weather? It’s a universal phenomenon that most of us take for granted, and it’s interesting to learn how this common subject in society has evolved. Weather has been traditionally a concern of famers, land owners, and construction crews for obvious trade-related reasons; however, today’s society talks about the weather almost with the same ferver and expectations. Cavemen likely had methods of communicating the weather, even with minimal expectations of accuracy. In the twenty-first century, how many of us actually will use the weather to guide our daily activities, when most of us work indoors, and rarely need to resort to special travel arrangements except in extreme cases?

The writer Samuel Johnson posed this very question in the eighteenth century with his famous comment: ‘It is commonly observed, that when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather; they are in haste to tell each other, what each must already know, that it is hot or cold, bright or cloudy, windy or calm.’ Today, the weather remains a daily hot topic, often a conversation starter, and seems to always be on everyone’s mind alongside news briefs. It’s fascinating to see the emergence of websites such as where live updates are a popular site for daily, even hour-by-hour updates. The Weather Channel can often be found as ‘background noise’ for many households today, and today’s doppler technology and satellite imaging helps to watch weather in real time 24/7. USA Today reports that teenagers in particular have shown great interest in reading the newspaper to check the weather, and the rest of us can confess to checking the weather in some way or another on a daily basis!

The artist Olafur Eliasson took this idea one step further. He composed a complete Weather exhibit at the Tate Gallery in Britain from October 16, 2003 to March 21, 2004. Here, he created a series called “The Weather Project,” most importantly showcasing the exhibit “Have You Talked About Talking About the Weather Today?”. The Global Weather Survey within this component asks questions such as “If you talked to a friend about the weather, on average how long did you discuss it for: 30 minutes, 15 minutes, 5, minutes, or 1 minute or less?” For this question, the results show that large city populations tend to discuss the weather for periods ranging from 1-5 minutes, while smaller areas and areas such as deserts, large fields, etc. may be 30 minutes or more. Another question posed was “Do you think the weather or climate in any way impacts your salary: Yes or No?”. For this question, the worldwide consensus shows that more people said ‘Yes’ to this question than ‘No.”

Does the weather really affect our mood? It’s certainly a matter of opinion, but plenty of sunshine is a well-known human need and can contribute to a better state of well-being. Although we can’t count on weather reports being accurate most of the time, we can look forward to reports of ‘partly sunny’ as a positive aspect of our day! The city of London, usually remarked as the rainiest and dullest city in Europe, has shown an increase of sunshine in the past 50 years due to an urban heating effect that is reducing cloud coverage in the country’s capital. Some personality types certainly thrive in wet or dry areas better than others, and this might be a cause of genetic makeup, family history, or just general preference. Whatever the case may be, the weather certainly does affect our mood in some ways. The National Weather Service has also defined the use of ‘partly sunny’ and ‘partly cloudy’ terminology by weathermen. Partly Cloudy means that 30-70% of the sky is covered by clouds. Partly Sunny means that 30-70% is covered by sun, and is used more often to encourage a more ‘positive’ outlook! To confuse you even further, “Mostly Sunny” is less than 30% coveed by clouds, and “Mostly Cloudy” means more than 70% covered by clouds. “Overcast” is the term for more than 90% of cloud coverage. It’s a lot to think about, but since the 30-70% range is so variable, accuracy of each term usually isn’t an issue.

In talking about the weather in social groups, common trends include exclamation of a natural disaster or event in the area; any extreme temperatures; the expectation of rain; the expectation of snow; and looking forward to the weather on the weekend. It’s clear that the weather plays an important role in all of our lives, regardless of whether we actually use the firsthand information to get through our day. It is one of society’s many ‘safe’ topics, and will likely be a part of future generations!

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