It is no exaggeration to say that weather affects everything we do in our lives. Weather influences how we dress, changes our plans for outdoor activities, cancels sporting events, closes airports, changes the course of wars, erodes mountains, destroys entire towns and cities, and has even been blamed for the death of U.S. President William Henry Harrison and the fiery 1986 crash of the Space Shuttle Challenger.
While inclement weather might cause us discomfort or even death, our very lives depend on it to sustain agriculture and to keep our bodies healthy. Without weather, the Earth’s atmosphere would remain stagnant, rivers and lakes would dry up, and it would be hard to imagine any life thriving on our planet’s continents and islands. On the lighter side, weather provides us with a lot of fun: because of weather, we can fly a kite, go skiing, have a snowball fight, or experience the simple joy of splashing in a fresh puddle of rain water.
Because of its power and potential for both harm and good, the weather has been a subject of intense interest and scrutiny by human beings since ancient times. The American humorist Mark Twain once said, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” That’s not entirely true. People have tried to predict it, even manipulate and change it, for thousands of years, but usually to know great effect. Native American shamans, for example, were known for performing “rain dances” in the hope of causing rain to fall; rain dances have been a cultural part of many other civilizations, too, ranging from ancient Egypt to modern-day life in the Balkans. The ancient Greeks considered weather so important that control of rain and lightning was accredited to Zeus, the king of the gods. The Greeks would therefore pray to Zeus on matters regarding the weather. Of course, with the establishment of the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, control of the weather was regarded as something only God could command.