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Book City: Cliff Mass on the Northwest's naturalistic religion

A non-fiction kind of guy, Cliff Mass has a thing or two to say about where you get your weather and climate news.
Cliff Mass

Cliff Mass

Cliff Mass is a full professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington. When he was majoring in physics as an undergraduate at Cornell University, Mass worked with Carl Sagan on a model of the Martian atmosphere.

Somewhere along the way to specializing in the Puget Sound Convergence zone, Mass became the go-to guy when it comes to storms and other Northwest weather events. He has a regular radio spot on KPLU, and has written a popular book, “The Weather of the Pacific Northwest”. Mass’ blog has had over twelve million lifetime hits.

Valerie Easton: What book is open on your nightstand right now?

Cliff Mass: “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools,” by Diane Ravitch.

Let me guess – you don’t read much fiction?

Non-fiction mainly.

So why are we all so fascinated with the weather? Is there something about living in Seattle that turns us into weather nuts?

People love weather — everywhere. It is as close to a naturalistic religion as it gets. The awe of severe weather is universal.

What attracted you to studying climatology?  

Not climatology…meteorology! As I kid I loved heavy rain, snow and strong winds. Meteorology was a way to combine that with math, physics and computers.

What should we non-scientists read to help us understand climate change?

Keep away from the Seattle Times. The media generally hypes climate change issues. And keep away from the web sites of advocacy groups. The IPCC (The International Panel on Climate Change) reports are good, as are some books, like “The Rough Guide to Climate Change,” by Robert Henson. 

Besides your book and your blog, what other sources of weather information would you recommend?

Well, the web has a huge amount of accessible, real-time weather data, including my department website or the web sites of the National Weather Service. My favorite other weather blog is Scott Sistek's at KOMO.

Which brings us to other local weather people. Any you'd recommend we watch??

We have very good weather folks on TV in Seattle. Steve Pool, Jeff Renner, Shannon O'Donnel, M.J. McDermott, Rich Marriott.  Weekend folks without degrees are not so good, but few are real clunkers like I have seen on other markets. And don't forget the national weather service!

What were your most cherished childhood books?

Dr. Seuss…I loved Dr. Seuss. “The Cat in the Hat” and “The Lorax.” And I have great affection for a number of children's books, like “Goodnight Moon.”

Do you read on a Kindle, an iPad, in hard copy? Do you buy books, download them, use the library?

I like both hard copy books and have kindle software on my laptop. I guess I split roughly evenly between electronic and paper these days.

Have you read any good books lately? Any fiction at all?

My favorite book of all time is Robert Caro's book  “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York.” I love that book. I’ve also read and enjoyed “Storm Kings:  the Untold History of America's Storm Chasers,” by Led Sandlin, and “Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe,” by George Dyson. I’m just a non-fiction type of guy...sorry.

Do you have any favorite mystery titles, or favorites in another genre?

Sherlock Holmes….I’ve always been attracted to books, movies, TV with Sherlockian material. I like historical novels dealing with ancient Rome. Haven't read any lately.

What book do you plan to read next?

“Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal,” by Nick Bilton.

What Val’s Reading This Week: “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work,” by Mason Currey, is a look at how writers, philosophers, composers, filmmakers and other visual artists organize — or not — their time. From Carl Jung, who courted simplicity by regularly performing daily chores like sweeping and cooking, to John Cheever who took his first drink by 10 a.m., artists pay strikingly close attention to how they eat, sleep, where and when they work. 

Valerie Easton started her career as a librarian shelving books at Lake City Library when she was in high school. Now she writes full time, and has authored five books, including The New Low Maintenance Garden and her newest title Petal & Twig. She writes a weekly column and feature stories for Pacific Northwest magazine in the Seattle Times.


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