Small talk but big impact: How the weather is so important to our daily lives
It’s often seen as an easy way to make conversation in a shop or with an acquaintance, but a University of Manchester project set in Yorkshire is getting under the skin of how critical the weather is to our daily lives.
‘Living the Weather’ is a year-long research project that looks at how the weather impacts on everyday life, affecting everything from our day-to-day routines and activities to our moods and relationships and how climate change is changing this relationship as weather becomes more unpredictable.
What makes this weather project different is that it recruited local people from the Calder Valley, West Yorkshire, to be interviewed and to act as weather correspondents, reporting on their day to day experiences with weather in the different seasons across a year that ran from 2015 to spring 2016. It was an eventful weather year, including some tropical style summer storms and the Boxing Day Floods in 2015, which affected the local area very badly.
Due to its location in West Yorkshire Pennies, Calder Valley and its surrounding region has one of the UK’s most diverse weather patterns, with some locals saying you can witness all four seasons in just one day. This made it the ideal location for project leader, Professor Jennifer Mason to study.
The project found that it is possible to identify different kinds of ‘weather character’. Some people want to get outside whatever the weather is doing, and don’t mind getting wet and cold, while others monitor the weather forecast closely and try to plan so that they are only outside when it is fine. Professor Mason said: “People notice differences between their own and other people’s approaches and attitudes to weather, and these can be sources of amusement, irritation and fascination – with gentle fun often being poked at so-called ‘softy Southerners’ who find the Pennine climate somewhat challenging!”
The project also found that people feel weather very directly with their bodies, spirits and imaginations. Some kinds of weather, at certain times, can seem very meaningful – a shaft of sunlight or a stormy sky can sometimes pierce through the mundane aspects of everyday life, and touch us in magical ways, creating moments that feel potent and significant. Many of the participants in the project liked the different seasons, and some worried when seasons seemed increasingly wrong– with cold wet summers and weirdly warm winters.
The Boxing Day floods seemed to some as a consequence of climate change, unleashing a different vocabulary in everyday weather-talk, and marking the start of a changing relationship with weather. One participant said: “The weather is no longer just something to grumble about, but a threatening presence.”
Professor Mason drew people’s ‘weather stories’ together to create a new book, a documentary film and a photographic library of experiences of Calder Valley weather.
The documentary film was made by Lorenzo Ferrarini, a filmmaker and social and visual anthropologist, from The University of Manchester, who worked with Professor Mason to capture the feel of Calder Valley weather.
It documents five different experiences of ‘living the weather’, featuring residents of the Calder Valley talking about the weather as they go about daily activities such as walking their dogs, jogging or driving to work. It is an unconventional documentary which is designed to immerse the viewer in the region’s diverse weather. The film is available online.
There will be a community screening of the Living the weather documentary, together with a Q&A about the project at 7.30pm on 15 September at The Trades Club, Hebden Bridge. The evening is free, with a collection in aid of the Watermark Flood Fund. Book a place on the dedicated Eventbrite page.
The project is funded by a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship.
People notice differences between their own and other people’s approaches and attitudes to weather, and these can be sources of amusement, irritation and fascination