*FIxing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control*

For centuries, farmers in Austria shot consecrated guns at storms in attempts to dispel them.  Some guns were loaded with nails, ostensibly to kill the witches riding in the clouds; others were fired with powder alone through open empty barrels to make a great noise — perhaps, some said, to disrupt the electrical balance of the storm.  In 1896, Albert Stiger, a vine rower in southeastern Austria and burgomaster of Windisch-Feistritz, revived the ancient tradition of hagelschiessen (hail shooting)  — basically declaring "war on the clouds" by firing cannon when storms threatened.  Faced with mounting losses from summer hailstorms that threatened his grapes, he attempted to disrupt, with mortar fire, the "calm before the storm," or what he observed as a strange stillness in the air moments before the onset of heavy summer precipitation.

That is from the new and quite good book by James Rodger Fleming.  If you are wondering, Windisch-Feistritz is now in Slovenia and it is known as Slovenska BistricaIt looks like this.


Austrians are right up there in the crazy department. From the accretive nature of their academic titles (e.g., "Guten Morgen, Herr Doktor Doktor Professor!") to their not infrequent near-violence regarding arcane philosophical disputes (see "Wittgenstein's Poker"), Austrians make a nice bid for Europe's silliest serious society. A lot of scientific, artistic and academic contributions from such a reactionary Catholic little backwater. A nice demonstration of the oppressive weirdness (and a great film to boot)of early 20th Century Austria is Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon".

But we are all scientific and stuff now. At least we don't shoot cannons at clouds.

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