Sunday 22 September 2019

Storm warnings are not a lot of hot air, says Met Éireann after claims that it is 'alarmist'

Billy Cardiff with Duke the dog as he clears the road outside his home in Taghmon, Co Wexford, following Storm Emma. PHOTO: GERRY MOONEY
Billy Cardiff with Duke the dog as he clears the road outside his home in Taghmon, Co Wexford, following Storm Emma. PHOTO: GERRY MOONEY
Fiona Dillon

Fiona Dillon

Met Éireann's Evelyn Cusack has defended the forecaster's weather warnings following a raft of criticism that it is "alarmist".

A storm of controversy erupted when Retail Excellence recently claimed Met Éireann's warnings had deterred people from venturing out to do their Christmas shopping.

A yellow warning had been issued for Saturday, December 15, in relation to rainfall and wind countrywide, upgraded to orange for wind for a short period in different areas.

The forecasting body defended its position, saying it issued warnings for public safety, and that they were based "on the best scientific evidence available at the time".

The issue of weather warnings is one that also attracts complaints into the offices of the Glasnevin headquarters as correspondence released under the Freedom of Information Act reveals, with some people thinking they are too severe.

One complainant said: "It's at the stage for me and others I know [that we] ignore Met Éireann warnings as they warn of severe danger and it's just a bit of wind."

But head of forecasting Ms Cusack said the warnings were necessary for safety reasons and conditions could vary widely in a small area.

"Wind for example is curious. High temperatures can affect the whole country fairly equally, but wind can be very local," she said. A householder could be living somewhere sheltered, "but if they go a mile down the road there could be a storm".

"So while it might be OK outside their front door, down the road there might be trees felled. The storm warning is for the prevailing conditions," Ms Cusack said.

It was certainly a year of extreme events when it came to weather, including droughts and "ice days" when the temperature never got above freezing.

The long, hot summer and the 'Beast from the East' will both live long in the memory.

Ms Cusack has been at the coalface of briefings as part of the National Emergency Co-ordination Group (NECG), which meets to review severe weather situations.

"As a forecaster, we deal with each event as it comes along," she said.

One of the first major weather events of the year occurred in late February when the 'Beast from the East' met Storm Emma.

The snow and winds associated with Storm Emma arrived with a vengeance and spelt airline misery for tens of thousands of passengers whose flights couldn't take off in the blizzard-like conditions on March 1. A status red weather warning was put in place, and at the time Taoiseach Leo Varadkar appealed for people to take heed of the warnings, saying it was "not a time for daredevils".

"That weekend [March 3], there was a lot of snow lying, and it was beginning to thaw and then we were worried all that snow would lead to flooding if there was a sudden thaw. But thankfully the thaw was very slow," the forecaster recalled.

Ironically, one of the next major events was the extremely dry weather that began in the middle of May, which had a major effect on farmers' fodder supplies.

"It got pretty warm for Ireland. We had a few days when we had status yellow for high temperatures in excess of 27C and minimum of 16C," Ms Cusack said.

June and July remained so dry that we had entered official drought conditions.

Irish Water announced a hosepipe ban from Friday, July 6 in a bid to conserve water supplies.

Later, Ms Cusack was on hand at the National Ploughing Championships in Tullamore, Co Offaly, to offer advice about Storm Ali, which was due to strike, bringing strong winds.

Ultimately, organisers ann­ounced the second day of the event would be cancelled on September 19 before it was able to resume again.

Séamus Walsh, the head of Climatology and Observations Division at Met Éireann, also gave the Irish Independent an overview of some of the most interesting statistics for the year, with information recorded at its weather stations around the country.

Highest

"The highest temperature of the year was 32C which occurred on June 28 and that was recorded at Shannon Airport. That was a record at that station for June," he said.

The lowest temperature recorded in 2018 was -9.7C at Durrow, Co Laois on March 1.

Cork Airport had its driest summer since records began. Meanwhile, at the Phoenix Park, in Dublin, it was the driest summer in around 150 years, said Mr Walsh.

He said that it was very unusual for us to get days when the air temperature didn't rise above freezing, and this occurred for a period of between 24 and 48 hours in places between February 28 and March 1 and 2.

For an 'ice day' to occur, the air temperature doesn't rise above zero for 24 hours, a very rare occurrence in Ireland.

Irish Independent

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