It Was A Dark & Stormy Night: Weather in Fiction

“Weather tonight: dark. Turning partly light by morning.”

Who remembers George Carlin, the Hippy Dippy Weatherman? A whole generation of viewers in the 1970s laughed at his silly weather forecasts, but they struck a chord. People are obsessed with the weather.

Especially the English.

According to surveys, 94% of British respondents admit to having conversed about the weather in the past six hours, while 38% say they have in the past 60 minutes. “This means,” according to British sociologist Kate Fox, “at almost any moment in this country, at least a third of the population is either talking about the weather, has already done so or is about to do so.”

While complaining about the weather in Britain is a national sport, visitors from across the pond best not join in. It’s the equivalent of calling someone’s baby ugly.

I’m one of those obsessed with the weather—not so much in life but in fiction. And since my Kate Hamilton Mystery series is set in the UK, weather is an important part of the setting.

Setting doesn’t mean place alone. Setting includes things like the history of a place, the myths and legends attached to it, the geography, the social and political climate—and the weather. Who can forget the muddy streets in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House? How about the thunder, lightning, and winds in Macbeth? Or the oppressive heat in A Streetcar Named Desire?

Weather sets the time and the season; weather creates suspense and conflict; weather creates a mood and an atmosphere. I remember one hot summer at the lake cottage when I found myself (in ninety degree weather) making endless cups of tea as I read Charles Todd’s A Cold Treachery. I literally felt the icy blasts of the wind and the trickles of ice down the back of Inspector Rutledge’s neck.

But the weather in that book is more than a sensory detail. It’s a plot device. Not only is the violent blizzard a reflection of the violence Rutledge finds in a remote Lake District farm house, the weather also means potential disaster for a missing child.

In my debut novel, A Dream of Death, an unexpected snowstorm cuts off the fictional Isle of Glenroth, limiting the suspects in an unusual murder. In my forthcoming novel, The Art of Betrayal, a season of unrelenting rain wreaks havoc in rural Suffolk, creating a major challenge for antiques dealer Kate Hamilton and her friend, Detective Inspector Tom Mallory

If you’re a writer, how do you use weather to set your scene or develop your plot?

If you’re a reader, what part does weather play in some of your favorite books?

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11 thoughts on “It Was A Dark & Stormy Night: Weather in Fiction

  1. My debut, Swiss Vendetta, hinges on weather- ice storm at a chateau in Switzerland… it was truly a dark and stormy night… with no power or heat thrown in. Even when weather isn’t as crucial I agree that it is the backdrop for life. People behave differently when cold or hot. Cooped up together in sweltering heat… you just want out of the house. You’d do “anything” to cool off alone (enter the premise for murder).

    1. What a stunning setting for a crime novel. Have you read the latest by Ruth Ware about a group of people in a Swiss chalet, cut off from the outside world by an avalanche? A body turns up, of course.

  2. My third Sabrina Salter mystery, Tropical Depression (stay tuned for details about publication) takes place during Hurricane Irma in St. John. I found it challenging to write about a weather event that actually happened rather than one I had made up in my mind.

    1. So true. My husband and I lived through a hurricane in Biloxi, MS, when he was in the Air Force. Can’t wait for your new book!

  3. What a stunning setting for a crime novel. Have you read the latest by Ruth Ware about a group of people in a Swiss chalet, cut off from the outside world by an avalanche? A body turns up, of course.

  4. Excellent topic! I crafted my Maeve Malloy series around Alaska weather intentionally. The first book was set in mid-summer when we have 19 hours days. Originally I’d planned to call it Midsummer Murder – only to discover to my horror, someone else had taken the name. The second book, Hemlock Needle involved a blizzard. The third book, Hell and High Water, takes place during a “pineapple express” – a tropical storm that lands in Alaska but is no longer called a hurricane because we’re not in the tropics.

    1. Keenan, first of all, I love your book titles. Weather in Alaska is always a huge factor. My husband and I spent a year in Anderson (north of Denali, south of Nenana) at a radar site. That year we broke the North American weather for low temps–minus 80. (or maybe officially it was minus 79). We didn’t get above -50 for six weeks. And then spring and the killer MOSQUITOES! Man alive–something’s always trying to kill you in Alaska.

  5. When time first folded over in my time-travel mystery series allowing Steven and Olivia to see each other, I set that event against a backdrop of a raging blizzard with howling winds. I wanted to balance the magic of time folding over with the power of a massive storm.

  6. Carol, I love that. The whole idea of time travel fascinates me. In fact on Friday, Feb 26, it’s my question of the week for my fellow Miss Demeanors. Can’t wait to hear what they have to say! I think I know what you would say.

  7. Oh boy, weather is so crucial! I love books set in England and I think it’s because weather is practically the main character in most of them. Bad weather. I set my debut in freezing, snowy, February, and book two will take place during a heatwave in July. I’m already planning a Halloween setting for book 3, and then I’m duty bound to do… what? Easter in upstate New York? Spring break?

    But yeah, give me an avalanche and a storm and I’m committed to the book!

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