Satellites show regional variations in fodder

Despite nine named storms lashing the land in 2018, it was the uplands of the west and the bogs of the midlands that produced more grass and other herbage than usual this year, while grass growth suffered in the rest of the country.

That is the conclusion agreed upon by researchers in Teagasc from examining the monthly observations taken by satellites. Green cover can be assessed in satellite images (by using a vegetation index from zero for no vegetation up to 0.8 of more for typical Irish summer grass).

Adding up the monthly indices gives an idea of how well grass has grown throughout the season. The researchers used Nasa images produced each month in 2018, and added them up from February to October, and compared the results with average growth data for the 10 years from 2002 to 2012.

They found that eastern farming regions produced between 5% and 10% less grass than normal this year, equivalent to about one tonne per hectare less.

Nearly the whole country produced less grass, but the uplands of the west and the bogs of the midlands were less constrained by water shortages, and benefitted from the extra warmth and sunlight.

As a result, poorly drained soils in the North and West fared best in terms of producing herbage in 2018, the year of 10 storms, including a spring snowstorm, and a summer heatwave and drought which included Ireland’s highest ever daily temperature.

Long-standing weather records were broken at Met Éireann stations across the country, with that record daily temperature of 32C at Shannon Airport on June 28; 16.5 sunshine hours on the same day at Malin Head, Co Donegal (its highest daily total since 1955); and Casement Aerodrome in Co Dublin having its sunniest year since 1964.

The storm year began with Eleanor bringing strong winds on January 2. It included the year’s highest gust reported at Knock Airport, Co Mayo, of 156 kilometres per hour. Fionn followed closely on January 16.

Next came a big one, Emma bringing widespread snow from February 28 to March 2.

The next storm was Hector on June 14, briefly bringing rain and wind.

But the strongest winds of the year were yet to come, in Ali on September 19. It included the year’s highest 10-minute wind speed of 115 km/h at Mace Head, Co Galway.

October had both Bronagh and Callum. November had Storm Diana on the 28th. December had Storm Deirdre on the 15th.

The number of days in 2018 with storm force winds was as high as four days at the Mace Head weather station in Co Galway.

The annual average wind speed was 27.6km/h at Malin Head, Co Donegal.

The widespread droughts from mid-June to mid-July caused very high soil moisture deficits.

But the very warm summer was accompanied by several colder than average months including February, March, September and October.

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