Has our best summer month just left us?

By Colm Gannon

In terms of Irish summer months, June was very good to us. June does make a case for being Ireland’s best summer month. The highest temperature ever recorded in Ireland was 33.3°C at Kilkenny Castle in June 1887. One of the highest temperatures recorded in Mayo since the early 1940s was 30.5°C, recorded at Claremorris in June 1983. What is in store for us weather-wise in the coming months? There are alternative forecasts to RTÉ’s nightly offering which often seems to hedge its bets and contradict itself by the end of the broadcast. Long before Evelyn Cusack appeared on television, local folklore determined what weather may be expected.

Being a largely rural county, it was commercially important for Mayo farmers to be able to predict the weather prior to the rise in popularity of radio announcements in the late 1920s. Our agricultural calendar is affected by the whims of an erratic Atlantic Ocean which often throws up four seasons in one day. It was important farmers had their own forecasting methods to fall back on. In 1949, a Mayo journalist thoughtfully shared these methods of local forecasting with his readership.

After years of observing the western skies, the journalist advised; if you see a red sunset with the clouds softening and disappearing and the swallows flying high, you can be almost assured there will be fine weather. If you notice white mists lying low on the meadows in the evening, the cattle spending the night on high ground, the fir cones open and heavy morning dew, you may plan for good weather.  

Observing a great bank of cloud across the western sky is a sure indication of rain. A keener, screwed up eye is asked to look out for little rainbows in the clouds at sunset and later a halo around the moon as signs that rain is imminent. A twelve hour rain notice is given by the appearance of a mackerel sky. A mackerel or buttermilk sky has a rippled cloud pattern that resembles the scales of a fish or curdled milk.

We are informed that if the edges of large distant, motionless, heavy with moisture storm clouds soften and the clouds spread sideways, there will be no rain that day. Should those clouds grow tall and increase in brightness, then a thunderstorm is not far away.

These folklore based forecasting tools do come with a health warning. Most of these signs are not reliable in spring. This is not very helpful news for the farmer who during that season would be concentrating on spring lambing, calving and sowing spring cereal crops. The farmer, and others of course, have the use of a barometer for reassurance but we are told too that that instrument can also be vague. For instance, a fall in the barometer may mean wind, snow or possibly thunder. The reader is told the only forecast that can be 100% predicted from reading a barometer is that it will most likely not rain if it is well over 30°C! Considering the rarity of the 1983 temperature recorded at Claremorris, we wont need to worry about that too often. Sitting at my laptop, attempting to read all those meteorological variations in the sky outside with no help from my now untrusthworthy online barometer seems like a lot of work. Come back Evelyn Cusack. All is forgiven.

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