Friday 18 October 2019

Caroline O'Doherty: 'No hurricane, no harm, no drama - but still people are complaining after the great Lorenzo let-down'

Waves crash on the seafront at Lahinch, Co Clare. Picture: PA
Waves crash on the seafront at Lahinch, Co Clare. Picture: PA

Caroline O'Doherty

All the fuss was about the Kerry windsurfer and Wexford kitesurfer but the most popular sport in town seems to be surfing the tide of disgruntlement that followed the great Lorenzo let-down.

Competitive complaining about Met Éireann has been rife since the windy spell formerly known as a hurricane failed to live up to expectations.

The forecasters warned of ferocious winds, dangerous waves, falling trees, unnavigable roads and potential loss of life - all we got was a dull night in and a weekend of leaf-clearing ahead.

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Ruff seas: A walker and their dog at the Blackrock Diving tower near the promenade in Galway as Storm Lorenzo approached. Photo: Frank McGrath
Ruff seas: A walker and their dog at the Blackrock Diving tower near the promenade in Galway as Storm Lorenzo approached. Photo: Frank McGrath

Sure, there are householders in Donegal left cleaning up after flood waters poured into their homes.

Yes, thousands woke up to darkness and a cold breakfast when damaged power lines cut off their electricity.

But where was the real drama? If it wasn't for the surfers and the search and rescue operations their rather dubious choice of afternoon delights prompted, there'd have been no excitement at all.

High seas and winds pictured this afternoon on Dún Laoghaire Peir this afternoon... Pic Stephen Collins
High seas and winds pictured this afternoon on Dún Laoghaire Peir this afternoon... Pic Stephen Collins

READ MORE: Storm Lorenzo: 'Substantial' flooding and thousands of people still without power

You'd think that would be a good thing.

"Storm not as bad as expected". "Last-minute reprieve as Lorenzo runs out of puff". "No loss of life in lucky Lorenzo escape". Those should be the takeaways from this week's weather events, not the 'Forecasters got it wrong' variety.

When the National Emergency Co-ordination Group (NECG) reassembled after the storm that wasn't, they shared some information that reinforces their decision to raise the alarm.

Lorenzo was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the North Atlantic. Others have been fiercer but none have been so close to our generally hurricane-free zone. That's significant because it may be a sign of things to come. All those bent-over palm tree scenes we see in the Caribbean? Our horse chestnut trees don't bend.

While Lorenzo was lording it over the ocean, he produced 12-metre waves. That's the height of a three-storey house, higher than previous estimates, and street-loads of those houses were heading in the direction of our west coast. Worried yet?

READ MORE: Man goes swimming off Galway as Storm Lorenzo batters Irish coast

Even if we weren't, or shouldn't have been, the experts across the Atlantic - where they have an actual National Hurricane Centre - were. From last weekend they were watching Lorenzo come to life and remarking on his unusual track.

On social media, they were giving a folksy, 'hey Ireland watch out'. On the formal communications networks, they were telling their counterparts in Met Éireann that this needed to be taken seriously.

So they did. And they gathered all available information, made all possible assessments and issued warnings accordingly.

Warnings are only evaluations of likelihoods in relation to events that haven't happened. They are informed by similar events in the past but they don't have the luxury of peeking ahead in time to see if the same outcome will apply.

Expecting absolutes with extreme weather is childish, and giving grief when a prediction is less than perfect is churlish. It is, of course, disappointing to be a business owner looking out on a deserted street and losing a night's trade for no reason, if you consider warning people that tiles and trees might fall on their head to be no reason.

READ MORE: Caroline O'Doherty: 'Now Storm Lorenzo is gone, the biggest challenge for Met Éireann is forecasting the public mood'

Local mem collect sandbags at Salthill in Galway as storm Lorenzo tracked up the west coast of Ireland.Picture Credit:Frank McGrath
Local mem collect sandbags at Salthill in Galway as storm Lorenzo tracked up the west coast of Ireland.Picture Credit:Frank McGrath

It is annoying to have needlessly filled sandbags, tied down every moveable item in the back garden, stocked up on bread and medications and answered the phone to an employer advising that the army might be bringing you to work tomorrow because you're considered vital.

Or is it? What a luxury to know we have information-gathering capacity, warning systems, well-stocked shops, flood defences and crisis management plans. So many under-developed countries that are far more vulnerable to extreme weather do not.

Environment Minister Eoghan Murphy said after the NECG meeting: "Thankfully, there were no major reported incidents or injuries to members of the public or the emergency services. There was also very little damage or destruction of property."

So maybe, instead of wallowing in the trough of complaints, we might catch ourselves a little wave of gratitude.

Irish Independent

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