IT’S a year since I started writing these fortnightly columns. When I look back at the subjects I have covered over the last 12 months it’s amazing how often the weather has cropped up. But as a nation we are obsessed by it, so perhaps it is not so surprising that I have mentioned it a few times here.
I’ve written about the rain always seeming to be torrential these days. And back in February I wrote about the after effects of Storm Eunice. Remember the scary warnings of the risk to life? We were told to stay at home as a red alert was put in place.
The weather was always a favourite topic for us during my time on BBC Spotlight. From floods to snow, the impact of extreme weather often meant it became the top news story of the day.
In fact, some of my most memorable moments involved reporting on the weather. In the late 1990s I was sent to Princetown in a blizzard. I have stood in floodwater in numerous places. There were the freak storms over Boscastle and Coverack, and I froze in knee-deep hail after a weird storm over Ottery St Mary in Devon.
We were acutely aware of how much impact the weather had on everyday life here in the South West. So many livelihoods depend on it. A wet summer could have major economic implications for tourism. Too much rain could ruin the crops, affecting farmers’ income. Too little rain could also have devastating consequences for agriculture.
So many people also rely on making a living from the sea here in Cornwall and Devon. Sadly I have lost count of the number of tragedies I had to report where storms had claimed the lives of fishermen and other seafarers.
The weather can be a powerful beast and not something to be underestimated. But for much of the time it is still a benign creature. It can go largely unnoticed, quietly doing its thing; a bit of sun here, bit of rain there. Breezy one minute, calm the next. We automatically adjust to the conditions and life carries on.
But every so often, and sadly increasingly so, it can rear its ugly head and remind us of its considerable control over us mere humans. Last week was a case in point when the climate issued us with another red card.
This time it was for heat. Once again the forecasters were spot on, predicting almost two weeks ahead that we were in for exceptionally high temperatures.
Scenes of houses consumed by wildfires in other parts of the world are sadly becoming all too familiar, but to see it unfolding here in the UK was truly shocking.
The media reaction to the extreme heat veered from: “lives at risk, stay indoors” to “keep calm and carry on, it’s just summer”. The latter gained some support on social media, with some people accusing the forecasters of over-reacting.
But pictures of British homes engulfed in raging infernos proved that the warnings of a threat to life and property were correct.
We’ve had extreme heat before of course. I am just old enough to remember the heatwave of 1976. I can recall the pain on my feet after walking across the scorching hot pebbles at the beach and having calamine lotion put on my stinging shoulders each evening after spending too long playing in the burning sun without a top on. We were too young to worry about things like skin cancer!
I also remember presenting a radio programme from Stithians reservoir in the mid 1990s when we’d had a hot, dry spell and water levels had dropped. During that programme I interviewed Denis Howell who’d been the minister for drought back in 1976.
So summer heatwaves are not unusual. But last week felt different. Even here in Cornwall, away from the most intense heat, it was still ferocious. Going outside was like hitting a physical barrier. On one level the power of the weather is awesome and impressive, but I also find it increasingly worrying.
I know there will be those who’ll say we’ve always had moments of freak weather, and indeed we have; as I mentioned earlier I have reported on some of it. Many will also remember the prolonged and bitter winter of 1962-63. There was the great storm of 1987. The list is endless.
But to me it feels like those freak moments are becoming more frequent and more intense. The level goes up a notch with every extreme weather event. Each time a new record is set. Now we’ve beaten the previous UK temperature record.
The force of nature is so great it almost seems impossible to do anything about it. We’re told to take steps to reduce our impact on the climate. But when you see the destructive force of the weather, it feels a bit inadequate to turn the thermostat down one degree or do the washing on a cooler temperature.
Those small, individual actions seem no match for the massive forces at work in the weather systems swirling around this planet.
It’s going to take a concerted effort by governments, big business, every country and every person to make a meaningful difference. With the way the world is at the moment I am not sure that level of co-operation is on the cards any time soon. But we can’t say we haven’t been warned.
In the meantime we’ll just have to continue to adapt and prepare and take heed of the warnings when they come.
As I write this, the sun is shining, there’s a cooling breeze and it’s a much more pleasant 21 degrees. It’s what might be regarded as a perfect summer’s day: sunny, dry, not too hot, and not too cold. They are few and far between, and with the erratic nature of the weather these days, I appreciate “normal” service more than ever. Bye for now.