Monday, 5 March 2018


                                      When the weather's so bad that the country shuts down...

NOT SINCE the dying days of Communist Russia have Irish people witnessed the kind of scenes we were exposed to in recent days.

But this time it isn't from the comfort of our living rooms, as we watch television coverage of thousands of people, thousands of miles away, queueing for the last loaves of bread, or scouring empty supermarket shelves for the last tin of soup, whilst, outside, icy winds blow and snow thickly falls.

This time it's up close and personal. Because as the small island on the edge of Europe braces itself for the so-called Beast from the East, we Irish do what we do incredibly well. We panic-buy.

Within a single day of Met Eireann's* warning of the predicted snow storm from Siberia, there isn't a litre of milk or a loaf of bread to be had in the local shops. A day later, as the first snow falls, our local supermarket is vegetable-free. Not only have people bought everything in sight, but icy, snowy roads mean supply trucks can't get to the East coast.

We hunker down. And we're not disappointed - especially in the East and South of Ireland. Snow like we've never before seen, settles overnight: dry, powdery stuff that usually has no business in this damp little corner of the world.

Within days, The Beast from the East becomes Storm Emma. By now, the whole country is now on Status Red, and we're all warned to stay indoors for 24 hours.

By this stage, it's looking pretty good for kids. You can see it from their point of view. There's no school or college, because everywhere is closed. Roads are eerily quiet. Public transport the length and breadth of the country shuts down too. Travellers are forced to sleep in airports. Tourists are baffled.

There is snow: lots of it. As it's a pretty rare sight in this country (our last serious snowfall was 2010), there's snowmen to build and hills to slide down on old mats and black plastic bags. For those of us who don't lose electricity, there's binge-watching of favourite TV shows.

And for those of us who don't make it to the supermarket on time, there are no vegetables for dinner. The fact that The Boy doesn't have school or broccoli, goes a long way to compensate for all his sport being cancelled.

It isn't all snowball fights and hot chocolate by the fire, of course. That would be far too hygge for us. This isn't Scandinavia. Basically, we don't really cope that well with snow.

For a start, once things start to get really bad, we stop gritting the roads. This is true. And it's something our unfortunate tourists try desperately to come to grips with. Pun intended.

There's news footage, of one bewildered couple trying to make it across the country (East to West). Except they can't get to Dublin Airport, where they have their car. There's no public transport and taxis have stopped running. I hope they hole up in the best hotel they can afford, order room service and binge-watch feel-good movies.

Meanwhile, closer to home, or to be precise, at home, the pipes to our water tank freeze. Luckily, we have cold water in the kitchen, which comes directly from the rising main. Not so luckily, we have no hot or cold water in the rest of the house, and no flushing toilets.

By the end of Day One, we are all sick of the sight of each other. By the end of Day Two, we are fast becoming sick of the smell of each other. By some sort of miracle, the start of the thaw brings warming pipes, and the problem resolves itself. That there are no burst pipes, is a cause for celebration and showers. 

At the height of the storm, the weather forecast is the most hotly anticipated programme on broadcast and social media. And all kudos to our meteorologists: they're having their day in the sun. Or rather, the snow.

Despite the Irish obsession with the weather, most forecasts consist of "patchy cloud and scattered showers", or "rain and scattered showers" (technically two very different things, apparently), or my favourite, "sunny spells and scattered showers".

Now, in an arc worthy of any hero's journey, these same weather people become national treasures, as they take to our screens, to update us on the latest temperature drop, or upgrade various parts of the country from a Status Yellow to a Status Orange, and finally, to Status Red. Stay indoors. Do not come out. You have been warned.

In years to come, Spring 2018 will be remembered by many, for different reasons. A group of our Oscar nominees can't fly out to attend the Oscars. And a group of our Winter Olympians can't make it home...because of the snow.

By Saturday, the real thaw begins, and we shovel snow from driveways and venture carefully to the village. No power in our local supermarket, and as yet, no fresh deliveries, mean brisk business for the smaller shops.

But we are lucky. We live by the coast. And whilst we bore the initial brunt of the storm, the snow is melting fast. If we had to survive for a few days on frozen vegetables, we had warmth and light.

And when our water returned, we also had shampoo.

The Beast from the East is gone. Storm Emma is no more.

Let normal service resume.


#BeastfromtheEast #StormEmma #snow #Ireland #Dublin #March

*Met Eireann: Irish National Meteorological Service. 

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