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2012-06 Weather

James Column for the Sligo Weekender

Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative.(Wilde)

Apologies Oscar, from one of your most devoted fans.

On my most recent visit home to Sligo, while taking my Dad out for a spin in the car I decided, due to the fabulously sunny weather to steer clear of Sligos numerous splendid beaches, and instead travel our favourite Lough Gill circuit. We paused on the Green Lane (which truly lives up to its Scenic Drive status) to survey the lake and its many unique islands from the Sligo end. The temperature outside was 26° C, and the visibility and view were, quite honestly, as good as it gets.

With both front windows fully open, we made our way past the Holy Well, Dooney, Slish, Crossboy, Killery, into Dromahair which was bustling with post-mass socialisers on that sunny Sabbath at midday. We slowed at Sriff to admire the lake from the top end, then parked at Parkes Castle just as the Rose of Innisfree pulled in to the little quay beside us. Tourists on the upper deck were applying suncream, as my father and I perched on a wall and reminisced of former times on these shores, and picnics with his mother  Granny Nelson  a flask of tea, home-made crumpets, and home-made lemon curd.

As we always say on such days in Ireland  If only we had the weather, thered be no need to go anywhere else. And its true, and it got me thinking.

The trouble with weather forecasting is that its right too often for us to ignore, and wrong too often for us to rely on.(Patrick Young) When people excitedly inform me on tour that they have been to Ireland, and especially to Sligo, I always immediately and insecurely ask And how was the weather? The reply is normally We had one nice day& or How do you say  soft weather? I then launch into an apology for our unpredictable climate, sometimes even jesting that Ireland has one long wet season. Sometimes they reply  It couldnt have been better, and then Im able to look them in the eye for the rest of the conversation.

We have supposedly a temperate oceanic climate due to being warmed by the Atlantic Gulf Stream, which hypothetically gives warm summers and mild winters. Mild, changeable, moist, with abundant rainfall and a lack of temperature extremes. But how do we then explain those brief hot mini-summers in March, May, and even September sometimes, and those freak extreme winters like 2010 when temperatures hit an almost record low of -16C in places? I say almost record low, as according to Wikipedia our record low temperature in Ireland occurred at our own Markree Castle in January 1881, tipping -19C! Perhaps these freak occurrences are what prompted people like Ilka Chase to pronounce that among famous traitors in history, one might mention the weather.

And yet, I for one, am grateful that I wasnt born in a country of weather extremes, Ireland is not on a fault line like Italy, Turkey, Japan, Iran, Haiti, California etc. We dont suffer the consequences of being in one of the Tropical Cyclone belts of Asia, the Caribbean or the Pacific, or the Tornado belts of the mid-west USA, or in a potential Tsunami zone. And what is it with those pretty cutesie Hurricane names? Katrina claimed almost 2000 lives and cost billions of dollars of damage, and Mitch claimed over 18,000 fatalities.

As climates change, more heat means warmer oceans, more evaporation, more (or perhaps less) rainfall resulting in extreme flooding (or drought), more glacial and ice melt, and generally the weather becoming less predictable. Floods, storms and wildfire claim tens of thousands of lives every year, to say nothing of astronomical damage costs. Even our closest neighbour seems to suffer more severe weather conditions than us.

And yet, in my local supermarket, my lovely check-out lady always comments on the rain Isnt it wicked all the same? Last week, when the temperatures were in the high 20s she said Ah its just too hot, isnt it now? We are never happy. Its no small wonder that Kim Hubbard exclaimed Dont knock the weather! Nine-tenths of people couldnt start a conversation if it didnt change once in a while.