‘Weather Live’, which runs over three nights next week, offers a chance to see the science behind the forecasts, writes Ciara McDonnell.
Kathryn Thomas is a self-confessed weather nerd, and she doesn’t care who knows it.
Ahead of Weather Live, a three-day live broadcast on RTÉ One that Thomas is fronting this November, she says gleefully:
“I know I’m not alone. I don’t think you can be Irish and not have some obsession with the weather. It’s such a huge part of our lives — I can’t believe we’ve never done anything like Weather Live before — it is so exciting.”
The live show will take the same format as Big Week on the Farm and will see Kathryn and a host of stars from Met Éireann taking over the National Botanic Gardens for three nights of weathersplaining and science experiments.
“It’s going to be coming live from one of the greenhouses in the Botanic Gardens,” explains Thomas, pointing out that the main Met Éireann office is just across the road, making it an ideal location for a weather-themed show.
Each night, meteorologists including Evelyn Cusack, Joanna Donnelly, and Gerry Murphy will join Thomas to delve into what makes our climate here in Ireland so unique.
For the television presenter and avid adventurer, it’s climate change that fascinates her.
“I’ve seen so many different weather climates and patterns in my work, from monsoon rains in Asia to sandstorms in Africa.
"The most interesting part for me is the whole climate change issue. I’m the kind of person who watches the online videos of hurricanes and tornados and there is no doubt that we’ve seen such a change in weather patterns over the last ten years particularly.”
So what should we expect from our week with the weather team?
“We are going to look at all the different traditions when it comes to the weather in Ireland — from the child of Prague to the animals that predict the weather,” says Thomas.
“There’ll be lots of science experiments for the kids, and we’ll be sending a weather balloon up to measure the weather in real time.“
The recent ex-Hurricane Ophelia gave us an insight into the importance of our Met Éireann weather team, and Thomas hopes Weather Live will drive home what an exacting science weather forecasting is. “These are not people whose job is to stand in front of a green screen and look pretty,” she says.
“They are highly qualified scientists; they are the experts in their field and in times like the recent ex-hurricane, they will advise the Government in terms of what is safest for people during an extreme weather event.
"I think we take them for granted until something like this happens. It’s a really fine line to make sure that you’re not provoking a sense of panic, but that you are getting across the seriousness of the situation.”
Thomas sees Weather Live as an opportunity to get to know our meteorologists a little better.
“I’m looking forward to actually spending a bit of time with the weather team and getting to know them. It’s a scientific job and because they’re on television it’s easy to see them as a presenter, but they are highly qualified scientists.
"They’ve been on our screens for years and they are huge household names — they are our household scientists!”
Household scientist Gerry Murphy is delighted to be part of Weather Live.
“It’s very exciting to see something that is such an intrinsic and important part of our lives to get such a concentrated focus over a few nights and I think it has the potential to be as successful as Big Week on the Farm. Weather here is not just a physical phenomenon; it’s also part of our lives.”
The Monaghan meteorologist says it makes sense that we are obsessed with the weather in Ireland.
“The weather in Ireland is so variable. It’s rare that we get the same weather in Ireland for an extended period of time.
"It means that every day in Ireland we are wondering what it’s going to be like and as a result we all have a great feeling for the weather. A significant amount of conversations here begin with a comment on the weather.”
As a meteorologist observing ex-Hurricane Ophelia as it gathered steam, Murphy says it is unlikely we would see another storm of its ilk anytime soon. “Ex-Hurricane Ophelia was a phenomenal storm; it battered the southern coast in unprecedented ways,” he explains.
“This particular event could not be put down to climate change because it’s such a one off event.
"There was a similar storm called Hurricane Debbie in 1951, and in this particular instance the hurricane formed out in the Atlantic and in this instance the hurricane conditions developed quite far east in the Atlantic and then it pushed North on a jet stream.
"At the time, the sea surface temperatures of the Azores were two full degrees above normal, which fed it energy to make it into a full-blown hurricane. This would be quite unprecedented and very, very rare.”
Met Éireann, says Murphy, is aware of its role in society.
“There is always a great sense of keeping people aware of what is going in terms of the weather both in a general day-to-day sense for people like farmers, fishermen and pilots whose livelihoods depend on decisions related to the weather, and also in extreme weather situations when our role takes a greater sense of urgency when we have to warn people about safety during weather events.”
During Weather Live, Murphy will be heading down to the Valentia Geophysical Observatory in Cahirciveen, Co Kerry, where he worked as chief scientist until 2009.
“It’s a very interesting place to work because it’s there we do a lot of the measurements, both in relation to weather and other parameters like the atmospheric ozone and the radiation coming from the sun,” he explains.
“There is a lot of work that goes on there that feeds into the weather forecast and I will be visiting there in order to show the work that goes on there.”
What would Murphy like viewers of Weather Live to come away with after spending three evenings with Met Éireann? “I’d love people to improve their knowledge of the weather and to become energised and invigorated by the subject,” he says.
“It would be great to see children considering weather as a career and getting outside and measuring rainfall and temperature in their garden.”
Thomas says every person will find something to love during the broadcast. “Even if you’re 24 and work in Google and drink mochaccino lattes you’ll still start a conversation with, ‘It’s a lovely day, isn’t it?’
“That’s how ingrained the weather is in our DNA, and that’s why people are going to love our show.”
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