Ireland living through atypical patch of fine weather

Evelyn Cusack to give talk explaining the country’s weather patterns this evening

Evelyn Cusack pictured at the National Maritime Museum in Dun Laughaire ahead of her talk this evening. Photograph: Margaret Brown

Evelyn Cusack pictured at the National Maritime Museum in Dun Laughaire ahead of her talk this evening. Photograph: Margaret Brown

Thu, Feb 27, 2014, 11:53

This past winter has been dreadful with the stormiest, wettest conditions in years, and yet overall we live in the best of conditions. The past 12,000 years of comparatively mild and stable weather may well be the factor that enabled humankind to flourish and spread across the globe.

“We are really living an atypical patch of fine weather, with most of human history developing after the end of last ice age 12,000 years ago,” said Evelyn Cusack, deputy head of forecasting for Met Éireann. And we have the geology of the planet to thank for that, she suggests.

Ms Cusack will give a “whistle stop tour” of the earth’s and Ireland’s weather in a talk this evening in Dun Laoghaire entitled: “Ireland’s Weather: a journey through time”. She will also show how the positions of the continents is what gives Ireland the weather patterns we have today.

“It has been a lot warmer in the past but there has been a general cooling up to the present due to the geology of the planet,” she explained. Things were quite warm during the days of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, but at that time the continents as we know them today were much closer together, she said.

“Our own climate came about four million years ago when the Isthmus of Panama formed, blocking the connection between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans,” she said ahead of her talk tonight at the National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire.

“That set up the north Atlantic drift, the Gulf Stream.” This in turn fed south-westerly winds and rain up towards Ireland, the same conditions that have given us this winter’s storms, she said.

“When the mild south-westerlies formed that led directly to a series of ice ages, something that is counter intuitive,” she added.

“The conditions produced precipitation and this fell on the oceans or evaporated but further north it fell as snow and caused the polar ice cap.”

Much of the advance of humankind arose from the end of the last ice age. “We are not independent of climate, humans respond to climate. The Neanderthals were around a lot longer than us but they lived through many climate changes. They died out because we arrived.”

No meteorologist would link the recent series of storms to climate change, but there is little doubt that things are changing. “Atmospheric carbon dioxide was stable until 1800 then took off. There is no question that CO2 is increasing, no question that ocean temperatures are rising, no question sea level is rising. We know this from satellite readings, it is real data.”

Ms Cusack’s talk will take place this evening at 7.30pm at the National Maritime Museum, Haigh Terrace, Dun Laoghaire, with doors opening at 6.30pm. It is held in association with the Irish Met Society. All proceeds from the €10 entrance fee is in aid of the museum.