Our weather forecasters would, hopefully, forgive us if we secretly hope that dire warnings about the looming Beast from the East are as inaccurate as a BBC forecast made by Michael Fish who, just over 30 years ago, shrugged off a suggestion that a hurricane was about to hit Britain.
“Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she had heard a hurricane was on the way,” chirped Fish with a misplaced sense of certainty, “well I can assure people watching, don’t worry, there isn’t.” Repent at your leisure etc...
That forecast was so catastrophically wrong it changed weather forecasting forever and, naturally, encouraged
a culture of caution that recognises that it is far better to be prepared for something that does not happen than it is to be unprepared for a catastrophe that does arrive. Within hours of Fish’s fateful broadcast, around dawn on October 16, 1987, the south of England was battered by the greatest storm in nearly three centuries. Gales reaching 185km/h caused devastation, leaving 18 people dead, 15m trees flattened, and a bill of £2bn — £5.3bn in today’s terms.
As is the random nature of these things that storm did not have a comparable impact in Ireland. It did lead to a review of weather forecasting and how weather scientists are trained so today’s forecasts are more accurate than Fish’s could ever have been. Therefore, it is far better that we prepare for the worst rather than hope for the best.
It is a measure of our benign, temperate climate that warnings about conditions — 6cm of snow over Tuesday night and Wednesday morning — that would be regarded as unremarkable in many other countries have caused an outbreak of panic buying, emptying some shops of basic foodstuffs. Hopefully, it is not a misjudgment of Michael Fish proportions to suggest that this kind of behaviour is unnecessary and creates an unhelpful atmosphere.
It is interesting too to try to understand why we react so vividly to these short-term, wild-weather threats while we refuse to accept the far more dangerous implications of
climate change — especially as our Government celebrates securing “derogations” from EU measures designed to avert the well-documented, dire consequences of climate destruction, especially around water security, quality and flooding.
Despite those wriggle-room qualifications, despite the hopes that the Beast might not prove as difficult as is suggested, it would be reckless not to act on the warning.
It would be reckless too, if you are able to, not to take personal responsibility for your safety and the security of property. Should the warnings prove accurate rescue and support services will have a lot more to do than try to save people from their own indifference and lack of preparation.
As is always the case in these circumstances it seems appropriate to encourage people to be good neighbours — though really good, thoughtful neighbours don’t need to be encouraged.
It is easy to over-react but it would be foolish not to prepare to batten down the hatches — or at least clear them so they might be battened down. As Michael Fish might attest it’s far better to be safe than sorry.