Friday 18 October 2019

'People stopped me on the street and touched me to say 'thank you, you saved lives'' - Joanna Donnelly on reaction to Ophelia

RTE weather presenter Joanna Donnelly
RTE weather presenter Joanna Donnelly
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

RTE meteorologist Joanna Donnelly has revealed that people have stopped her on the street to thank her for her work around Hurricane Ophelia.

Met Eireann issued a red warning ahead of the storm, which was the worst Ireland had seen in 50 years and ultimately claimed three lives, last month.

Joanna was the face of the storm as she fronted RTE's coverage on the Monday as the storm raged.  The following day she received a letter of thanks from a young girl who said her father and grandfather were safe due to the red warning.

"At the end of it I was actually quite emotional anyway and I was a bit drained so when I got the letter on the Tuesday morning it actually made me cry," she told Sean O'Rourke on RTE Radio 1.

"It made a lot of people cry I think because they read it and it said, 'My dad is a fisherman and he is safe and my grandfather is a fisherman and he is safe.'  That's really the nub of it - people's lives were saved.

"I know a lot of people were thanking me personally, a lot of people stopped me on the street and touched me to say, 'thank you, you saved lives' and retrospectively that was a lot of responsibility."

RTE weather presenter Joanna Donnelly
RTE weather presenter Joanna Donnelly

While she has become a household name since Ophelia, Joanna says, "People focus on that a lot, that people recognise you on the street, that you have some level of fame but to be perfectly honest I don't really see what that is in my life.

"It doesn't make any difference to me.  People are generally nice.  All it means is that people say hello to me and smile at me and that's absolutely fine by me."

She also defended the issuing of the red warning.

"I heard a quote over the time that you don't really know how bad you need a babysitter until your house is burning down," said Joanna. 

"And I think we've gotten away with our 'sunny spells and scattered showers' all these years and maybe we've been the butt of jokes because of the cliches but I think our weather is quite complex. 

It's a tricky place that we occupy on the North Atlantic.  It may come across as 'sunny spells and scattered showers, but there is a lot going into that."

Read more: Here's how Met Eireann produce weather forecasts - and what it's like to declare a Red Alert  

"They're cliches for a reason," she said.  "That's a good description of our weather.  But I think in this event we all showed our dedication to our craft and our experience and we certainly all worked as hard as we possibly could."

Joanna was joined in studio by fellow forecaster Siobhan Ryan who has been with Met Eireann for over a decade. 

Although Siobhan was not rostered to work when the storm hit, she said she was "egging to be in work" and contribute while Joanna revealed she "tag-teamed" with her husband Harm, also a weather forecaster, who worked the night shift.

Weathergirl Siobhan Ryan
Weathergirl Siobhan Ryan

Siobhan explained 'impact forecasting' and how it will be the focus for Met Eireann going foward.

“Up until recently what we have been following has been a threshold model per say with yellow, orange and red so when the weather element hits a certain parameter, say 100km per hour, we might issue a warning," she said.

"But the point with that is that numbers don’t make much sense to the viewer or listeners so really the focus going forward is what the weather will do as opposed to what the weather will be; how it impact on the ground, what people should do, how they should prepare, how the local authorities will prepare too in the event of severe weather. 

It’s really about personifying the weather, giving it a character.  It’s about pricking people’s ears.”

Both Joanna and Siobhan appear on Weather Live which is a special for Science Week running on RTE across three nights from Wednesday to Friday from 7pm.

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