Hung up on a little graupel!
Weatherwise, I thought I had seen it all – until last week when I went outside and found the car covered in tiny bubbles of Styrofoam. I thought a volcano had erupted somewhere in Siberia and an initial layer of white ash had been deposited courtesy of the east wind. Then, even as I watched, waiting for the pumice to land, a sudden gust blew it off the bonnet in a second. It was my first sight of graupel.
Since then, graupel has become one of the most common weather words in national usage and no doubt, before long, will become a term of personal disparagement. It’s a new weather experience, as if we didn’t have enough weather to contend with already. The good old snowflake, after which a whole generation has been named, is an absolute warrior compared to this new kid on the block. Anyway, it’s been graupelling cats and dogs every day since, except that the analogy couldn’t be more inapt. Graupel is so fragile that even I, a long time chionaphobiac (snow wimp) wasn’t a bit intimidated by the stuff. I think I can deal with this.
The east wind is another kettle of fish. I grew up in a world where the east wind was considered in the same light as the four horsemen of the apocalypse. It had the potential to wipe us all out and, and coming from Siberia, was inevitably tainted with flu bugs and Communism and I don’t know which was worse. Every childhood illness I ever contracted was caused by being out in the east wind, according to my mother. “When the wind is out of the east, it’s neither good for man or beast,” an old saying went. Kavanagh wrote about it in his unbelievably poignant reminiscence of journeymen shoemakers, one of whom had a terrible dread of the east wind. It was always blowing down his spine, apparently.
Nevertheless, spring, which I believe is well sprung by now, has always been my favourite season. But not anymore! Things just haven’t been the same since they started meddling with the seasons and pushed the whole month of February back into winter, making it now the bitterest month of the year. But it will soon be over and you’re probably basking in sunshine right now and here I am, still hung-up on graupel, a phenomenon which we may never experience again.
Spring hasn’t been the same either since the demise of the amateur weather forecaster. If any of them do survive and still look to the skies and to nature for signs of an elemental let-up, they’re not going to publicise it, seeing how they were disparaged last year by the met office for being so ridiculously unscientific. Nobody is going to do a rain dance in the middle of a drought either or pray to the Almighty for good weather for the silage, for fear of offending the gods of science - and there are millions of them.
Some of us, however, still keep the faith and some of us continue to put our trust in traditional weather lore. I knew one weather predictor who could tell, without fail, when there was rain on the way, by the state of his rheumatism.
He was in torment when floods were imminent. There were others who watched out for a mackerel sky, or a ring around the moon, or how the crows were behaving in the rookery. They always said that a warm October was a certain prelude to a cold February. They said nothing about the graupel, but then Met Éireann didn’t mention it either. Anyway, I knew myself that we were in trouble as far back as Christmas Day when one of the shrubs in the garden spontaneously burst into bloom at least three months prematurely - always a bad omen according to the old time weather forecasters.
So where have they gone then, those amateur weather watchers, who once depended on nature to give signs of what was to come? Have they been intimidated by science or bewildered by climate change? Either way, they seem to have gone underground like the Tuath Dé Danann, taking with them all the wisdom, colour, mystique and natural science by which we once studied the antics of the elements.
We can’t bring them back, but there’s nothing to stop any of us from looking out for a halo round the next new moon or whether the ash breaks into leaf before the oak. And if March comes in like a lion in a week or so, can we still assume that it will go out like a lamb before the miserable ‘riobhach’ days of April?