March has come in like a lion this year and, as I write, the wind is battering our house and hurtling rain at the windows. It's 10 degrees outside - an average temperature for this month in Ireland.
Irish obsession with weather
Visitors often marvel at our Irish obsession with weather. I think it's the top national conversation because we get such variety and, if we had several weeks of snow, we'd soon tire of talking about it. The same with sunshine. A hot summer day is exciting in Ireland, usually ephemeral and always to be celebrated because there might not be another one for a week or a month. We just don't have the experience to handle days of endless snow or sunshine. No point in our local councils buying snow ploughs to use once every ten years and very few commercial horticultural growers or cereal farmers need to install field irrigation.
Personification of storms
Since the naming of storms became the norm (we share our storms with the UK), extreme weather events have been elevated to drama. Storm Brian sounded more engaging than a gale force wind. Ex-hurricane Ophelia became a viscous personality who prompted a Red Alert national emergency. She lashed our country last October, knocked trees and power lines, and ripped off roof slates. Storm Emma, a colleague of The Beast from the East, disabled our infrastructure when her winds blew snow into deep drifts that brought the country to a standstill.
Camaraderie and care
The Beast from the East stole in silently overnight and was at first beautiful, entertaining and fun. Children who hadn't seen snow since 2010, or who had never seen snow, were given a holiday from school and enjoyed snowball fights, built snow people and igloos. Our dogs loved it. We got a break from being busy and concentrated on caring for others, checked on older neighbours, helped to dig each other out and shared stories and cups of tea. Fortunately The Beast took no human lives. Our Met office and Government issued a curfew type warning for everyone to stay indoors during the worst Red Alert hours and it worked.
No unnecessary sandwiches
One thing we hadn't bargained for was a shortage of bread. Our local supermarket bread shelves were bare 24 hours before the first snowflake fell and buttermilk sold out (used in traditional homemade brown bread). One #snowjoke meme doing the rounds depicted a well known TV reporter warning us "not to make any unnecessary sandwiches."
Birds were victims of the Beast
The Beast from the East made life tough for our birds. Snow is easier on the little ones that can flock to garden feeders but thrushes and blackbirds had a hard time. Their less frequently seen cousins, the Fieldfares and Redwings, came closer to houses searching for food.
I found this Redwing flopping about under a hedge and brought it into our house in an attempt to revive it. A friend who knows about rescuing birds advised me to put it in a cardboard box with air holes in a warm, dark place as this apparently helps it relax. Sadly, exposure to cold and lack of food proved fatal. I also came across a dead thrush on my dog walk later.
Snow drama on the front page
Everyone old enough to remember talked about 1987. Our neighbours remembered skating on frozen flooded land while I have vivid memories of 2010 when we actually had snow on Christmas Day and frozen water pipes in the stable yard for several weeks. We're so used to mild, wet Irish winters, it's no wonder serious snow made a front page story.