Unsettled, weather we like it or not

THE flooding that devastated parts of Cork and other places was unexpected, coming as it did in the final days of June.

People whose homes and businesses were inundated could not have been ready for rainfall on such a scale over a few hours.

But, fine, dry summers are the exception and we’re lucky to get even a few weeks of sunshine during the months of June, July and August, most years summer flooding is not unusual. After the wettest June on record, people might fear we’re heading into something apocalyptic, but you have to be optimistic to live here.

Another maddening thing is the way people talk about all the fine summers we used to get, fado fado. We also got drenching summers in those distant days, as any farmer who had to struggle to save hay in the pre-silage era, or people who had washed-out holidays in our seaside resorts will tell you.

We get more bad than good summers. On average, only about every third summer could be described as fine, according to Met Éireann. No wonder then hundreds of thousands of Irish people head for Spain and other sunspots on their holidays.

Despite all the hardship it can cause, some people have an ironic sense of humour about our weather. The IrishTourist.com website happens to be honest as well. It says Ireland is rarely hot, or very cold, because of moist Atlantic air and the moderating effect of the Gulf Stream.

You might be lucky enough to encounter a warm, dry spell in summer, but showers and bright intervals are far more likely, it cautions.

The website wryly advises potential visitors: “Take raincoats and umbrellas and be prepared for what the locals call ‘soft’ days, which are warm with fine, misty rain that goes on for hours, keeping the Emerald Isle green.

“The west, where it rains on at least half the days of the year, tends to be wetter than the south east. Don’t be fooled by bright mornings — the sun may not last. On the other hand, don’t despair if you wake up to pouring rain. The sky could quite possibly be cloudless by midday.”

For some mysterious reason, barbecue sales have rocketed here in recent years: they were scarcely pulled out in the past few summers. Then, was Ireland ever really a barbecue country? Gerard Fleming, head of the Forecasting Division at Met Éireann, says most Irish summers are unsettled, wet and not particularly warm. He explains we’re a long way from the equator and too close for comfort to the cold and damp Atlantic.

Interviewed in this newspaper, in May, he said a decent summer in Ireland would be three good weeks in June or July, adding we usually get one of those every third year or so. A good hot summer on the other hand — warm settled weather lasting about six weeks — is far more rare and comes once in a decade.

Ken Ring, a New Zealand weather forecaster of some repute, was on the ball some months ago when he told us to expect a slow start to a mild summer in Ireland. He was not correct in his prediction the second half of June would be mostly dry with some warm sunshine in the last week.

But, all is not lost for he said real summer temperatures won’t surface until around the last week of July, running into the first week or two of August, when we should have temperatures of between 20 and 25 degrees.

He warns not to expect heatwaves and reckons summer sunshine will be a bit below normal, whatever normal is. Ring says the month to worry about is September which may experience rainfall and some flooding in the beginning and the end of the month.

In parts of America, meanwhile, they are praying for rain as drought is currently a critical problem. Livestock and crops are under threat. Temperatures have surged to over 100 degrees from Montana to Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas and reached the century mark in at least 19 states.

In most areas, the drought is not as bad as 1988, but the situation has the potential to reach crisis level in parts of the Corn Belt, with typically the hottest part of the summer ahead.

According to long range and agricultural meteorologist Jason Nicholls, rainfall will be ‘spotty and stingy’ as waves of heat expand from the central plains to the Tennessee and Ohio valley states into July. What a different world! Thunderstorms have struck in some drought-stricken areas, but the rains they bring are not nearly enough for lasting relief. Terms like ‘cornmageddon’ are being used to describe the likely situation in corn belt states if sufficient rain doesn’t come in the weeks ahead.

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