January 23, 2017 • By Dennis Beaver
If you have more than a passing interest in the weather and are thinking of starting your own business, then “Treading on Thin Air” by Dr. Elizabeth Austin will be a great read.
Published by Pegasus Books in April of 2016, every chapter kept me anxious to discover what was coming next, and a fly on the wall to her fascinating descriptions of how the weather impacts our daily lives in ways we do not usually think of.
While Austin is an atmospheric physicist and forensic meteorologist, she has the ability of taking highly complex concepts and putting them into terms that aren’t just understandable, but instead, brings the reader into her world of passion for the weather.
“How did you make it? What led to your success?” are questions that most of us who have opened our own shop have asked, with frequent “Hide the ball” responses. But Austin reveals a rare honesty, beginning with her Author’s Note, which I paraphrase:
“I wrote this book from my memories, notes, articles and research. As some events go back many decades, and my memories have faded, still, all events are true to my recollection. This book is not intended to be purely scientific nor a standard memoir, but a unique combination to give the reader a journey through the world of weather through my eyes.”
And does she indeed, in a conversational tone — feeling very much as if you were having dinner with Elizabeth and her husband, Alan — you find a person who deeply appreciates the great teachers she has had. It is obvious that key to her success is someone who isn’t a user, instead is eager to help colleagues and clients accomplish their goals.
In chapter six, “It’s Super Cool to Supercool,” as a graduate student in 1988, she takes you to Storm Peak Laboratory, 10,500 feet elevation, atop Mount Werner in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Readers can feel the bitter cold, the warmth and excitement of this future business owner, delighted to help scientists conduct weather experiments in miserable conditions.
This quality — a sincere desire to be available, to help — along with exceptional competence, has earned both herself and her company worldwide respect.
“It was 1994 and I had known for years that my ultimate goal was to start my own weather company,” she writes, which is the year WeatherExtreme, Ltd. opened its doors.
Based at Incline Village, Nevada, she and her staff provide national and international consulting and research in, not just global weather forecasting, but areas where the weather had and will have a profound effect. If you ask, “What role did weather play in this automobile or aviation accident?” Austin’s “Treading on Thin Air” shows you the answers with respect for the power of weather and deep compassion for its victims.
If the name Steve Fossett rings a bell, then you recall that he was a record-setting sailor, adventurer, aviator and close friend of Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson. Fossett also worked closely with Austin on the Perlan glider project, which she describes in captivating detail.
But you likely remember his name because of the way he died in September of 2007, his small aircraft crashing into mountains near Mammoth Lakes, California. And why did he crash? “Treading on Thin Air” allows readers to visualize how terrified her friend must have been, facing a power greater than anything he could cope with, a downdraft which overpowered his plane. We must wonder if those powerful winds were predicted — and if he knew — before taking off?
Austin helps the reader to see what, for most of us, is hiding in plain view, and that is the relationship of weather forecasting to consumer behavior. “By obtaining accurate predictions in a timely manner,” she writes, “merchants can take full advantage of meteorologists’ intimate knowledge of weather,” and be prepared to have what customers will need to buy before their competition.
The business of weather finds its way into courtrooms every day. Just ask any DA or defense attorney about the importance of eyewitness identifications. If the timing of the crime placed it as the sun was setting, could the witness see those events clearly? Austin introduces us to astronomical and nautical twilight in a murder case where she was the expert witness and the jury convicted, finding that the witness could indeed see what took place.
Not once does the reader get the idea that Austin has been motivated by money. Passion and her desire to be of service led to success. And that’s a lesson for anyone going out on their own.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.