I've lived in three flats in London that have led me into regular, if short, contact with large numbers of neighbours whom I've barely got to know. Consequently, I've got very good at talk about the weather (although I remain extremely bad at predicting it.) The British talk about the weather, a lot, perhaps because theirs is so changeable, but also because they are such a polite race – politics, religion, etc are all distinctly "out".
And it seems from Jan Golinski's work that it was ever thus. In British Weather and the Climate of Enlightenment, he finds, however, that from the Enlightenment onwards, about the end of the 17th century, there was a significant change in the way in which people talked about the weather — or at least how educated people talked about it. Extreme events came to be regarded less as acts of god and more as natural phenomena to be explained (although as Golinski notes in the conclusion, even today, as in some discussion about Hurricane Katrina, some haven't managed to reach the stage of basic enlightenment).
As you might expect, the change was founded on science, or at least attempted science, which can be traced back to the efforts of the Royal Society in the 1660s. Robert Hooke published his "Method for Making a History of the Weather" in 1667, laying out the format that a daily journal should take. A few recorders, who more or less followed these methods – meticulously in the case of William Derham – were published in the Society's Philosophical Transactions. In the 1780s British efforts, which had been sporadic, were sharpened by efficient "competition" from France and Germany.
The efforts took a more popular form in The Gentleman's Magazine, which from 1751 began monthly accounts from the London physician John Fothergill, while later Thomas Barker in Rutland and the famous naturalist Gilbert White (whose The Natural History of Selbourne has just been republished) also contributed.
The notion of climate had, Golinski records, once meant simply a zone of latitude and later extended to mean the conditions of a place, including its atmosphere. Classical writers, including Caesar and Tacitus, had begun a familiar refrain about the British damp, but during the Enlightenment period, the trope gradually shifted: the weather was part of what made Britain great.- moderate and only gently variable in temperature and precipitation – indeed "civilised" (ironically when you look on a longer scale such as I recently did with Homo Britannicus.)