Recently I saw a public message asking why are there so many comments on Facebook and Twitter, together with hype in newspaper articles, about the weather. The writer rightly pointed out that after all it’s winter, so why are we making such a fuss.
But the seemingly tetchy outburst from the writer was a surprise. Daily discussions about weather and forecasts are part of what makes us British. I don’t think a day goes by without a comment, glib or otherwise, about what kind of weather is expected or has been experienced. We look to the skies, to the forecasters, and we often plan our daily tasks and our life events with weather in mind. Politely, patiently waiting in a queue, a Briton will comment on how warm, cold, wet or dry it is. Raining cats, dogs, stair-rods; drizzle, hail, sleet, snow, mist, haar; in Britain we have a multitude of national and regional descriptive words which, to those of us living on these islands, denote instant recognition and understanding. We are weathermen and weatherwomen all, happy to discuss what forecasters get right or wrong. Our islands, positioned as they are at the edge of the Atlantic, experience weather patterns that are volatile, unstable, impulsive, capricious and often hazardous; we sit at a nexus, where maritime warm and cold air systems meet with continental ones. And with warming oceans and atmosphere this nexus would appear to be developing in its ability to generate interesting weather!
In addition, we are currently debating and lamenting the inability of children and young people to connect with nature and the great outdoors as our towns and cities lose their green places and new towns are designed with neither play spaces or nature in mind. (See the article by George Monbiot http://www.monbiot.com/2015/01/06/the-child-inside/.) Yet discussions about the weather go on even in cities where only a tiny fraction of sky is visible and thus available for assessment and evaluation. By learning about weather, extreme events and by getting outside to spot cloud formations and feel the winds, we can encourage our youngsters to explore their surroundings and maybe, just maybe, get more involved with the wild outdoors, with wildlife and with how our environments are changing.
Here in the far north west, on the coast, weather is one of the most important dynamics, affecting every aspect of life and impacting on the very landscape itself. And we are all, young and old, very mindful of it; we can see the approach of storm and sun with a 3600 perspective, and we are always casting our gaze about: to check the wind direction, the speed of oncoming cloud and storm systems, the advance of showers and the much longed for patches of blue sky. Enough to make a pair of trousers for a sailor? Rainbows fade away, clouds disperse, and sunshine warms the ground, steam and mist swirl and vanish among tree tops and across the bogs. We don’t just comment on the weather, we live by it.
At times calm can assault senses as much as a storm wind; when the sea is still, glittering reflections on surface waters at once blind and then part to enable visions and glimpses of life sub aqua.
But when winter storms build across the deep Atlantic the promise of turbulence, tumult, turmoil and chaos is evident and anticipated in the swiftly moving clouds, curtains of rain, swelling waves and growing noise. We see the approach, we sense in every possible way the motion and energy of atmosphere and ocean. And today, as we hurriedly prepare for the biggest storm of the winter, birds fly and call to each other on turbulent waves of air, creamy white foam begins to whip on jostling waves of water and even the vegetation itself seems to shrink back to sodden earth, flattened. huddling and defiant. (I must ask dear friend “Old Birder” Jenny Jones where the little birds shelter…. Check out her lovely blog: https://oldbirder.wordpress.com/2015/01/05/mud-mud-mersey-mud/ )
But for a short time, we’ll hold our breath and hope that the predicted 100mph plus winds do not cause too much damage, that everyone stays safe and that little birds return to bird feeders when the winds die down.