Changing the weather

Dec 22nd, 2010 | By | Category: Personal Columns

Sitting in the kitchen of a Georgian farmhouse where the past and present seemed combined into a single moment, a silent pause allowed a question about the weather.

“Do you remember the winter of 1963?”

“I do, very well”.

“When did the snow come?”

“Not until after Christmas, not like now”.

“What about 1947?”

“That was two years before I was married.  I was living in Wicklow then.  The snow stayed until the beginning of June”.

“But when did it come?”

“Oh, after Christmas: after Christmas”.

We paused for thought.  The prospects did not seem good, a winter already breaking records for sub-zero temperatures had begun at the end of November.

But will January and February follow December?  What is the line they use when they are trying to sell you some get rich quick financial schemes, ‘Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results’.

Even the forecasters admit that predicting weather beyond five days ahead is fraught with danger.  The anticipated thaw that was to reach us on Christmas Eve has now retreated to Saint Stephen’s Day and has become a threat of flooding.  The amateur forecaster from Donegal who was on the radio promoting his book a few weeks ago declared in plain terms that this winter would not be as severe as last – his prediction has proved wrong before even Christmas is reached.

Edward Lorenz’ work showed the unreliability of prediction, whether from Met Eireann or people watching birds and trees.  His 1972 paper, “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?” gave birth to the term the ‘butterfly effect’.

We live in a fundamentally unstable and uncertain world.  The next time the farmhouse is visited, there might be double digit temperatures on a mild January afternoon.

Lots of butterflies, and soon, please.

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  1. I do have a memory of the ’63 winter, being dwarfed by the snowdrifts and the snow plough coming down ‘Field Road’…!!!!

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