From time to time weather forecasters find themselves in the news (remember Michael Fish and the hurricane?) but mostly, they operate behind the scenes wielding arcane formulae to reduce the planet’s weather to predictable patterns and narks on maps. You can just get an inkling of how difficult this is when you realise that, despite the enormous advances in technology since weather forecasting first began in the mid-19th century, it is still almost impossible to forecast accurately more than two or three days ahead.
What then of the meteorologists who were charged with forecasting the weather for the D-Day landings? The generals wanted a five-day forecast, and they wanted to know when fine weather in the Channel would coincide with a full moon so low tide would be far enough out to complete the clearance of mines and tank traps from the designated beaches. One man, Wallace Ryman, a reclusive pacifist living in the wilds of Scotland, has devised a mathematical system which might be able to achieve this. Henry Meadows, a young maths prodigy from the Met Office, is sent to track him down and discover his system.
The central tenet of Ryman’s system is to be able to quantify the relationship between predictability and turbulence. As Meadows, another of Foden’s blundering innocents, like Nicholas Garrigan in The Last King of Scotland, is drawn into the secret tragedy of Ryman’s life and marriage, chance and turbulence affect his own life just as they do the weather.
This is a clever novel, excellently researched, but one which does not quite work. Perhaps this is because of the difficulty of illustrating the effects of turbulence through the formal structure of a novel. There is a certain randomness to Henry Meadows’ progress which, while true to life and weather forecasting, makes for an ultimately unsatisfying read.