Eoin Butler's Q&A
GERALD FLEMINGIrish meteorologist looks back on 50 years of TV weather forecasting and answers the question “So, what happened to our summer?”
So . . . What happened to that summer we were expecting?
Well, why were you all expecting it? Yes, we’ve had a lot of low pressure, a lot of cloud and a lot of rain. But this is Ireland. Those conditions are not atypical for this time of year. We should learn to take the rough with the smooth.
Or the rough with the rough.
I don’t know. Irish people have a tendency towards irrational optimism.
Maybe if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to live in this country and stay sane. The hope that there is something better coming around the corner sustains us when, if we were to look at the statistics and accept the grim realities, life would be a lot more difficult.
Does the public ever blame meteorologists for bad weather?
Yes, absolutely. It’s irrational and there’s nothing we can do about it. But we are the personification of the weather in a lot of people’s eyes and, when things are bad, they sometimes need a scapegoat.
What’s the biggest influence shaping our climate in this part of the world?
The Atlantic Ocean. There is a lot of cold, dry air blowing down from Canada and Greenland. It mixes with the moist, warm air coming up from the Gulf of Mexico.
So out there over that vast expanse of water is where all of our weather systems generate. They blow up and they die away and as they do so they pass over us. Trying to understand them is the basis of forecasting in this part of the world.
How has weather broadcasting improved in the time you’ve been on air?
Oh it has come on enormously. When I began broadcasting in 1985, we used sticks and hand-drawn charts. At one stage, there was a triangular tripod that we rotated in order to display different charts.
In the 15 years that followed, between 1985 and 2000, there were huge changes as computer graphics came in. Things haven’t changed quite as dramatically since then, but the technology is improving all the time.
In the UK, the BBC’s Michael Fish is still remembered for failing to predict the Great Storm of 1987. Any cock-ups of that magnitude in this country?
Well, we’ve gotten forecasts wrong on occasion. Happily, not too often.
The most notorious case in point was the August bank holiday in 1997 when we predicted fine sunny weather. Unfortunately, a weather front moved up unexpectedly and the south of the country got absolutely soaked.