World of Politics with Harry McGee – firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s not just trees that can be felled by extreme weather. Political reputations can also be toppled by the winds – the real ones, not just those of change. Of course, we can’t blame politicians for extreme weather events, although we all know deep down that they MUST be, at least, partly responsible!
It’s how they respond that matters. The old chestnut – fail to prepare, prepare to fail – applies. Of course, it helps if the meteorological forecasters do their job properly.
Back in 1987, the UK Met Service failed to predict the powerful tail-end of a hurricane that resulted in over 20 deaths in Britain. It rather than the political establishment took a reputational hammering, with TV meteorologist Michael Fish, in particular, in the crosshairs. He talked down any possibility of a hurricane.
This time Met Eireann was spot-on and the response of services here very much erred on the side of caution. Can you ever over-react to an extreme weather event? In some places, the wind did not reach the velocity predicted – and some parents might question to close all schools for two days. Others might question the status red status for the entire country.
But then, three people died in the storm, including in Co Louth which was originally not status red. Two of them were killed by tree fall.
As Joanne Donnelly of Met Éireann said on Monday what elevated the danger was the fact that so many trees were still in leaf, even though we are well into autumn. Hundreds of trees were downed by the storm, as Twitter photographs reveal.
The highest gust was 156 kilometres an hour in Roche’s Point and many of the wind speeds exceeded those of Hurricane Debbie in 1961. The difference this time was that the preparation was done and the warning systems were all in place.
Strangely, the only call for a political response came after video was posted on social media of thrill seekers swimming and walking the diving tower at the end of the Prom at Blackrock. The behaviour was condemned by a number of politicians including Michel Ring with some demanding that laws be brought in to make such behaviour illegal.
So impactful was Ophelia that everything else was backgrounded. Fianna Fáil might have hoped for coverage of its Ard Fheis to ripple into the week but that did not happen.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.