Hot, dry and sunny – a long time coming

Summer 2013 started late but then it seemed to go on . . . and on, and had us basking in soaring temperatures and glorious autumn foliage

Snout in the sun:  Hollie Swift applying sun cream to Fergi the saddleback pig at the DSPCA in June. Photograph: David Sleator

Snout in the sun: Hollie Swift applying sun cream to Fergi the saddleback pig at the DSPCA in June. Photograph: David Sleator

Sat, Dec 28, 2013, 01:00

It was the summer we’d been dreaming of for years. A childhood summer of bright blue mornings and long, sweet evenings: and it never seemed to end. September came, and October, and November – and still the sun shone and the nights didn’t bite.

But it didn’t begin well. May was a shocker. There were gusts and gales and cold. On farms, livestock starved in large numbers as a fodder shortage turned into a fodder crisis. The days lengthened, but the grass didn’t.

We braced ourselves for a bad year. The May blossom came and went and we were still in our winter woollies. June was summery, but not spectacular.

And then, one day in early July, everything changed. I was heading to west Cork to research a feature for this newspaper. I loaded the boot with thermal outerwear, rain gear, hiking boots and heavy socks, and set the alarm for 5 am. Then I checked the weather forecast.

“The weekend will be glorious,” was the general drift. Yeah, right, I thought. When I left the house shortly after 5am, the sky was already alight, but the midlands were shrouded in fog. When I stopped for breakfast in Skibbereen, it was overcast and drizzling.

I tried to be philosophical. I’d rather be in Skib in the rain than in Dublin in the sun, I declared stoutly. The woman in the cafe, who was English, was having none of it. “Where’s this heatwave we were promised?” she wanted to know.

All over Ireland
The heatwave materialised in mid-afternoon – and it stayed. Sunshine was general all over Ireland. Tourists couldn’t believe their luck. Neither could festival organisers. At Galway Arts Festival, where they had programmed a series of street theatre events on consecutive days – a recipe for disaster, you’d think, given the past few very wet summers – thousands of people sat on the grass, clapped and ate ice- cream and positively beamed with goodwill.

“Extremely warm and sunny,” reports the Met Éireann summary for July. “Mean temperatures were all above average, with differences of about 2.5 degrees Celsius in parts of the west and midlands. It was the warmest July on record at stations in the west and in part of Dublin, the southwest and midlands, with up to 63 years of observations exceeded.

“Valentia Observatory had a mean temperature of 17.3 degrees C, plus 2.0 degrees C above average, equalling its highest for this month since 1921, overall the highest for July since the station records began in 1893. Remaining stations across the country reporting their warmest July in seven to 30 years . . . ”

Dooks in Co Kerry went all tropical as the temperatures soared to a record 31 degrees. Passengers at Cork Airport found it swathed in sunshine for a whopping 600 hours. In Dublin, Arnotts sold out of Dyson fans, at €400 a pop, as office workers wilted at their desks.

And so it continued. Of course there were, as the people at Met Éireann are always careful to point out, regional variations. This is weather we’re talking about, they’ll say, not climate.

Dry and warm
But still. Along came August (dry and warm), September (dry and warm) and October (dry and warm). Rain appeared to have gone out of fashion – and not just in Ireland. On the other side of the world, I arrived in Sydney in mid-October to find they hadn’t had any since June. The result was an unseasonable and scary outbreak of bush fires.

Back in Ireland, the summer of 2013 appeared to be still going strong in November, with the trees putting on the finest display of virtuoso leaf-changing we have seen in many a year.

Will we ever see its like again? Who knows, but we have our memories.

We sat in the garden chatting and drinking chilled white wine late into those gentle twilights. We went to outdoor concerts without even thinking of a coat. We lived on salads and sunshine. And didn’t it feel good!

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