The myth of long, hot summers

WE did not have more fine summers long ago.

One of the myths about Irish weather is that nearly every summer, fadó, fadó, was long and scorching, but the records do not bear that out.

Indeed, we had plenty of very poor summers. But people tend to remember only the good ones. And when we get a bad summer, or two, you hear the remark, “sure we haven’t had a good summer in years’’.

I recall barefoot days traipsing across meadows, and when the tar on the road squelched up between the toes. There were also summers when the hay went black and the snails came up through it; sodden turf remained in the bog and our Wellingtons never came off.

Records at the Armagh Observatory show very mixed weather since it began officially tracking the elements in 1880. May is the best month for sunshine, June is often the warmest, while July and August are usually, though not always, wetter and duller.

Records for the last century, based on the sum of temperature, sunshine and rainfall, show that 1911, 1959, 1968, 1975, and 1976 were among the top 10 hottest summers _ we don’t have to relate what happened in the many years in between.

There were three blazing summers from 1975 to 1977, with heatwaves following in 1983, 1984, 1995, 2003 and 2006. A heatwave is defined as a number of consecutive days where temperatures exceed 25C. But, given Ireland’s location on the globe, we cannot expect Mediterranean summers every year. We’re stuck between the Azores high and Atlantic depressions meaning the only certainty is regular spells of disturbed weather.

We’ve already had drownings and the EPA has published research, led by DIT’s Prof Pat Goodman, which shows heatwaves in the past 30 years led to 294 deaths more than would be the norm. More people die at times of extreme temperatures, with cold being the greater cause of mortality.

Prof Goodman says we need to identify at-risk groups, as we face the challenges presented by global warming and climate change. Precautionary measures are also needed to protect people vulnerable to extreme heat, he urges.

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