Heatwaves and droughts, spring cold and late autumn glory – a year for all seasons

Who knew that the stubbornly cold spring would lead to a stunning summer?

Tourists enjoying the snow at the Sally Gap, Co Wicklow, in March. Photograph: Eric Luke

Tourists enjoying the snow at the Sally Gap, Co Wicklow, in March. Photograph: Eric Luke

Mon, Dec 30, 2013, 23:07

It was the worst of times – a sodden wet spring with no growth. It was the best of times – a scorcher of a summer with temperatures topping 30 degrees. It was a mild autumn comparable to New England for the colour of the falling leaves – then there was a blustery start to winter.

The coldest night of the year was recorded on March 11th- 12th, with an air temperature of minus 8.8 degrees noted at a roadside weather station at Charlestown, Co Mayo.

The rising temperatures and signs of growth associated with spring stubbornly refused to arrive and Dublin Airport reported a March monthly mean temperature of 3.1 degrees, the coldest since the weather station opened in 1942.

In April it remained very cold with temperatures well below long-term averages. Mullingar and Sherkin Island weather stations were the coldest in 24 years. Rainfall was higher than average and wind speeds of 12.8 knots and 12.3 knots recorded at Dublin and Cork were respectively the highest since 1950 in Dublin and 1986 in Cork.


Fodder crisis
By May the country was firmly in the grip of a fodder crisis which Dr Thia Hennessy of the Rural Economy Research Centre later estimated cost Irish farmers €500 million. Farmers were using more bought-in feed, but the most significant impact was the price of that feed, said Dr Hennessy.

Then in June, Ireland moved into the summer. “It was almost as if the country went straight from winter to summer, without spring,” says Met Éireann’s chief forecaster Gerald Fleming says.

Highest temperatures in June were mainly recorded between the 7th and 9th, with the month’s maximum of 25.4 degrees recorded at Newport, Co Mayo, on June 8th.

In late June and July, the country basked in a heatwave which saw newspapers devote front-page pictures to beach scenes. The highest temperature of the year was 30.3 degrees recorded at Ardfert in Co Kerry on July 19th.

A heatwave occurs when the temperature exceeds 25 degrees for a number of days, while a drought is declared after 15 days with little or no rain .

In July, Ireland was not only in the grip of a heatwave but also, according to Met Éireann, the country was in a state of “absolute drought”.


Afternoon sun
The HSE said the situation was “rapidly approaching the point where it becomes problematic”. Elderly people were advised to stay out of the afternoon sun, while Dr Kevin Kelleher of the health protection and health promotion units of the HSE said those out in such conditions should walk on the shady side of the street, where possible, to avoid sunburn.

August was categorised by Met Éireann as dry and warm nearly everywhere but dull overall. In general, it is a most “oversold” month, according to Mr Fleming, who says it rarely lives up to expectations.

Donegal postman Michael Gallagher continued to warn of worse to come, while New Zealander Ken Ring, who predicted the heatwave, said we could still have a white Christmas .

In September, the weather was drier than normal and temperatures reached a high of almost 24 degrees at one Met Éireann weather station.

October, temperatures were above average everywhere in the country, with some stations recording their highest October temperatures in 42 years. Hours of sunshine were also above average in many places.

Horticulturist Eileen Murphy from Teagasc Horticultural College at the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin said daytime sunlight and cool nights in the autumn were causing leaves to turn increased levels of sugars into the red pigment, anthocyanin, resulting in spectacular displays.


Unusually dry
It was an unusually dry and mild November, with just 21.6 millimetres of rain recorded at Casement aerodrome in Baldonnell, compared to an average for the region of about 73.7millimetres.

In December, the more usual windy conditions returned and a roof was ripped off the train station in Cork.

While the weather in recent days has led to a great deal of talk about it, Mr Fleming reminds us that there is “nothing really abnormal” about it.

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