Why are we so fascinated with the weather? Here's the science behind our 'grand soft' climate (2023)

Why are we so fascinated with the weather? Here's the science behind our 'grand soft' climate (1) Source: YouTube

WITH OPHELIA AND BRIAN behind us, and hope growing that there will be no repeat of The Cold Snap of 2010 this winter, it’s particularly obvious at the moment that we are a little obsessed with the weather.

Irish people are so fascinated with the weather that their interest has inspired a new TV show called Weather Live, which features meteorologists Evelyn Cusack, Gerry Murphy and Jean Byrne and is hosted by Kathryn Thomas. Taking an in-depth look at our unique climate, it will air next week live from the National Botanical Gardens.

But why is the weather one of our favourite topics to read about and discuss with each other? And is it really necessary to have fifty words for various states of rain?

Like nearly everything we experience, science holds some particularly fascinating answers to that question.

For Science Week 2017, Science Foundation Ireland is calling on the general public to #StopAndAsk questions about the world around them.The campaign encourages people to ask the question they want answered on social media, using the hashtag #StopAndAsk.

In turn, Science Foundation Ireland and the scientific community will answer some of the questions being asked through its social media channels.The aim is to facilitate conversations between the general public and the scientific community in Ireland.

So, to start the conversation, let’s focus on our favourite topic as a nation – the weather.We spoke to meteorologist Vincent O’Shea of Met Éireann about why the weather circling such a small country is so conversation-worthy.

1. The Atlantic makes our weather pretty unusual

Why are we so fascinated with the weather? Here's the science behind our 'grand soft' climate (2) Source: Laura Hutton

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Although it’s not totally unique, the Atlantic does make us somewhat of an anomaly when compared to our neighbours and other countries at the same latitude. This is particularly evident in the fact that our winters are by international standards, mild, says Vincent:

Though the average person may not realise, we enjoy quite a mild climate and much warmer weather given our latitude. For example, there are other places as far north as we are, such as Canada, Russia, southern Siberia and northern China that are a lot colder than us.

Love the weather in Vancouver, Canada? That’s because it experiences the same ‘moderation’ from a major ocean, just like Ireland does with the Atlantic:

Western Canada and places around Vancouver are in a similar situation to us in relation to Pacific – they are moderated by the ocean so they tend to experience milder weather than the rest of Canada, just like we do when compared with our neighbours.

Though the Atlantic keeps our winters mild, it also makes our weather quite changeable – which is key to why we find it so interesting.

2. Its constant change provides a lot of conversation fodder

#Irish #weather in a nutshell!#Galway #snow pic.twitter.com/RnmzSRtXPd

— Housam Ziad (@housamz) March 1, 2015

Source: Housam/Twitter

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Reckon it’s particularly stressful to keep an eye on your clothesline in Ireland? That’s because we have some of the most changeable weather around, also thanks to the role of the Atlantic in our climate, as Vincent explains:

Though we don’t tend to have extreme weather, it’s very changeable from day-to-day. This is due to a lot of movement of weather and pressure systems from the Atlantic which move quickly towards Europe and alternate frequently, meaning that pressure can move from high to low very quickly – which determines good or bad weather.

This particular element (pardon the pun), is central to our fascination, as Vincent explains:

Even though we always talk about the weather, we are lucky that we get few extremes.We give out all the time, but in essence we like the variability. There is an element of psychology in it. We actually like the frequent change.

3. Forecasts were for aviation originally, but we soon realised the public were fascinated by them

Source: AviationUpclose/YouTube

Even though the weather section of the news has become such a staple in almost every Irish household (bonus points if you’ve ever had a hello from Martin King), our weather observatories weren’t originally built for public consumption, says Vincent:

The British set up most of the observatories in the 1800s, before the Irish State started measurements. In 1936 when Met Éireann was set up, it was for aviation services – for flying across the Atlantic. Forecasts for the Irish public weren’t done initially, but with the advent of computers and more accurate forecasting, they’ve now taken over.

And as is made obvious by the video above recorded during Storm Barbara, the wind in Ireland would certainly be an important factor for anyone trying to fly in or out of the country – but we also care deeply if there’s any chance of a picnic.

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4. And each area can have its own individual patterns

Why are we so fascinated with the weather? Here's the science behind our 'grand soft' climate (3) Source: Leon Farrell/Rolling News

Wondering why the west tends to get more rain and wind than Dublin (giving even more reason to complain)? You can thank our prevailing wind, which comes from the south-west – and sometimes brings polar winds to those regions, according to Met Éireann.

Although “nowhere has extreme weather relative to the rest of the world”, there are particular places that tend to get specific weather, says Vincent:

The far north and north-west coastal areas are generally windier than other places.Mountain areas of Munster, Connacht and west Ulster are wetter than other areas. Coasts of the south-west are also wetter.The midlands and the north get more frosts and spells with lying snow.

Want to see if your county has set any Irish weather records? For example, the highest air temperature was recorded as 33.3°C at Kilkenny Castle, while the lowest was recorded as -19.1°C at Markree Castle, Co. Sligo. Have a look at all of the records here- and impress everyone with them the next time you’re giving out about the rain.

5. Our wind is a bit mad (and we like to discuss it)

Why are we so fascinated with the weather? Here's the science behind our 'grand soft' climate (4) Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Whether it’s putting the Child of Prague out before a wedding or it’s the chatter we’ll have with strangers on a particularly rainy day, we can’t help but talk about it when bad weather might be on the horizons.

There’s a reason our bad weather seems particularly miserable when it hits, and that’s due to our high instance of wind, says Vincent, which is specific to Ireland:

Although driving rain (rain propelled by wind) is not unique, we do have a bit more of that in Ireland than they get in France or the UK. Generally it’s windier in Ireland than it is in neighbouring countries.

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This means that when the weather tends to make the news, it tends to be because of the wind, which is another impact of our proximity to the Atlantic, says Vincent:

The extreme weather events in Ireland are very windy events. The most recent example was Storm Ophelia, which even by international standards wouldn’t be considered to be that extreme. We’ve had a few nationwide status red warnings in the past, though it is a new warning system adopted by the Irish Met Office about five years ago.

6. We’ve been given even more events to talk about recently

Why are we so fascinated with the weather? Here's the science behind our 'grand soft' climate (5) Source: Leah Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Though Vincent says that they cannot yet give definitive answers about the role of climate change in our weather, there has been one particular change:

There has been an increased frequency in weather events, but records are not being broken in an increased way. Even with all the attention given to Storm Ophelia, it didn’t break any records, some of which go back over a hundred years, so we have to be careful about the conclusions we draw.

If your memory is a little blurry about some of our past weather events, you can have a look at them all on Met Éireann’s website, including ‘the warmest summer since record-breaking 1995′ and a ‘dry period from October 1974 to August 1976′, along with ‘the coldest winter for almost 50 years’ in 2009-2010 (never forget).

7. … But we’re actually pretty lucky when it comes to weather

Why are we so fascinated with the weather? Here's the science behind our 'grand soft' climate (6) Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

As much as we like to complain about it, the Atlantic Ocean protects us from harsh winters and other pretty scary weather events that other countries experience, albeit not on a regular basis:

In terms of temperature we definitely don’t get high heat or big freezes like other countries. There are no sandstorms, no hurricanes, no tornadoes like in the US. There are no avalanches, no violent thunderstorms, little snow and very few dangerous heatwaves.

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In fact, the general impression that it rains a lot here, isn’t all that accurate, according to Met Éireann, with two out of three hourly observations not reporting any measurable rainfall. On average, it’s dry for over half of the year (59%) if you live on the East or South East coast (though some parts of the West enjoy only 39% of the year without rain).

So, generally speaking, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever be in danger with our weather, but there’s a high chance your washing could be ruined with little or no warning.And that would be something worth talking about, wouldn’t it?

Want to know more about the weather and the world around us? Science Week takes place from the 12th to the 19th of November and includes events with Dara O’Briain, umami burgers, bog bodies and theatrical performances, with hundreds of events taking place nationwide.

FAQs

Why are we obsessed with the weather? ›

Even though we always talk about the weather, we are lucky that we get few extremes. We give out all the time, but in essence we like the variability. There is an element of psychology in it. We actually like the frequent change.

Why do Irish people talk about the weather? ›

The Irish weather as conversation topic

In many cases, the object of talking about the weather is to complain about it, which often serves a valuable psychological purpose. If the sun is shining, it is too hot, if the day is rainy, it is too wet, and so on.

How does weather affect human activities? ›

Weather and climate to a large degree determine how we stay warm (or cool) enough to survive, how (and if) we stay comfortable, what modes of transportation we use, what type of clothing we wear, what foods we can grow and eat in an area, and what resources (such as water and trees) are plentiful or rare.

How do you change the weather? ›

Weather modification is the act of intentionally manipulating or altering the weather. The most common form of weather modification is cloud seeding, which increases rain or snow, usually for the purpose of increasing the local water supply.

Why do old people worry about the weather? ›

Older adults do not adjust as well as young people to sudden changes in temperature. They are more likely to have a chronic medical condition that changes normal body responses to heat. They are more likely to take prescription medicines that affect the body's ability to control its temperature or sweat.

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