Snow, hail, flooding, high winds – all in a day
GALE-WEARY householders face welcome relief from the freak weather, with a forecast for unsettled conditions over the next fortnight but no repeat of Atlantic super-storm Darwin.
Met Eireann and the National Emergency Co-ordination Committee (NECC) have said Ireland will see heavy rainfall, blustery conditions, some snow and a threat of flooding.
But there is no prospect of a repeat of hurricane-force Atlantic storms like Darwin.
The easing of Ireland's weather is being attributed to a slight northerly shift in the jet stream – the powerful airflow which has been driving gales on to Ireland from the so-called mid-Atlantic 'storm factory'.
"We are still in a period of very unsettled weather. Obviously, quite a bit of wind and rain today but nothing like the wind we had," Met Eireann's Ger Fleming said.
"The weather stays very unsettled. We'll have some respite (today). We will have more rain in the latter half of Sunday. Beyond that, into next week, it is basically every second day we'll have another weather system, which is typical of what we've been experiencing for more than two months now."
Met Eireann stressed that Atlantic storms would be carefully monitored in case their track brings them over Ireland.
"Most of them look to be normal winter storms but all have the potential to turn really unpleasant and nasty," Mr Fleming said.
The six Atlantic storms which hit Ireland since December 26 have been damaging because of their 'multi-pronged' status – essentially their power is increased by the combination of air temperature, high seasonal tides, rainfall, swollen rivers and the position of the jet stream.
The St Valentine's Day storm that swept over Ireland hampered the massive Darwin storm repair operation and caused further misery for commuters.
A Status Orange wind alert was in place for Munster and south Leinster, while ice and snow warnings were issued for Connacht, Ulster and north Leinster.
In Galway, Defence Forces personnel had to be enlisted after flooding left parts of the south county impassable. A number of families were evacuated from the Ardrahan area, with army crews using high-axle trucks to help householders including a family with a 12-week-old-baby, as 24 roads were flooded.
Blizzards caused chaos across the north-west, with two-hour delays on many main routes.
Donegal was worst affected by the snow, with some schools sending children home early.
A lorry jack-knifed on the Barnesmore gap on the main route between Donegal Town and Ballybofey. There was also traffic chaos in Letterkenny as broken-down cars blocked streets around the town.
The storm also brought down trees in Cork, Tipperary and Kerry, making the work of ESB Network's 2,500-strong repair crews even more difficult.
More than 265,000 Irish homes lost power supplies on Wednesday – though ESB Networks has now restored electricity to almost 200,000 homes.
ESB official Mike Fitzgerald said stormy conditions hampered repair efforts and, in cases, added to the severe grid damage. Crews couldn't operate in some areas for safety reasons due to gusts of up to 90kph.
Some coastal areas reported winds of 110kph. One power line in west Cork/Kerry had 44 separate faults reported.
Fears are mounting that some customers in isolated rural areas may be without power until Monday.
The storms also hit Ireland's preparations for the Triple Crown decider against England.
Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray said despite the best efforts of the team to maintain their training routine they had largely been confined indoors.
"We were in Clonmel on Thursday, trying to train outdoors, but it didn't work out too well and we've been indoors for the last few days," he said.
Councils in Clare, Limerick and Cork remain on flood alert and the ESB has been asked to prioritise grid repairs in areas where pumping equipment is required.
Limerick Fire Brigade's Michael Ryan said its units had dealt with 220 weather-related emergencies in just 48 hours.
Eircom is battling to deal with 11,000 line faults and warned that repairs in some areas could take weeks.
Cork and Waterford issued flood warnings due to high tides, with river flooding assessed as a serious threat in Skibbereen and Clonakilty and Fermoy.
'Boil-water' notices remain in place as a precaution in Clare, Limerick and Cork, with Clare Co Council operating a water tanker system.
The misery for commuters was compounded by snow showers and icy roads in some midlands and northern areas.
Up to 3cm of snow fell in some areas. Driving conditions across Mayo were hazardous throughout the day as drivers battled the snow and winds.
Snow fell heavily throughout Mayo, affecting visibility for motorists. Westport, Castlebar, Swinford and Ballina were worst affected.
Heavy snow also hit Ireland West Airport (Knock), forcing the diversion of three morning flights from the UK.
The N5 out of Westport was blocked for a time due to a lorry skidding on Sheeaune Hill. The Crossmolina to Bangor Erris road was blocked for a time due to a jack-knifed lorry. The vehicle was eventually removed.
Ralph Riegel and Sam Griffin