There was a novel in the house in childhood days the title of which was always frightening. ‘Winter in July’ it was called, a title that conjured a terrible prospect in the mind of a primary school child. Only years later did the thought occur that in the Southern Hemisphere, winter in July might be a reasonable part of the natural order of things.
Seasons were sacred in those days, each would have its own characteristics. Miss Rabbage, our primary school headmistress favoured the astronomical division of the seasons: winter solstice to vernal equinox; vernal equinox to summer solstice; summer solstice to autumnal equinox; autumnal equinox to winter solstice. It was nice and neat and, most of the time, the weather obeyed the rules. Snow was uncommon before Christmas and, while June could be warm, it could not match the high summer days of August.
In teenage years, when daily statistics mattered, the weather column in the ‘Daily Mail’ provided material for daily consumption. One summer’s day in the 1970s, it made disconcerting reading – somewhere called Tummel Bridge on Scotland had recorded an overnight low of minus four degrees centigrade. This was the winter in July scenario foreshadowed in those childhood years, a threat of a nightmare.
The nightmare never materialised – the years became warmer and we were told that this was the future. There were suggestions that there would be a Mediterranean climate, even advice that we would need drought resistant plants.
No-one seems to have told the weather itself that this is how it is expected to be. The RTE weather forecaster this evening announced that it would be cold tonight with temperatures of three to six degrees and grass frost. Looking at the car display to check the date provided no assurance – 9th June: tomorrow the dates would be in double figures and there would be grass frost.
Last month was one of the coldest months of May in memory; last winter was one of the coldest for decades. Reports of erratic weather patterns around the world point to climate change, but change can mean cooling as well as warming. Since schooldays, there has been the nagging thought implanted by the geography teacher that if the Gulf Stream shifted we would have a climate comparable to that of Labrador on the east coast of Canada. What if the disruption of climate patterns leads to progressively colder weather? Already a bankrupt nation, the loss of agriculture would turn the country into a wasteland. It is not ‘Winter in July’ that is the troubling title now, it is ‘The Day after Tomorrow’