As another sailing season moves to its conclusion with a generally poor summer where weather was concerned, one of the topics regularly debated has been the accuracy of weather forecasts. Neither Met Eireann nor any other forecasting service can be blamed for the weather. They are ‘forecasting’, in other words, predicting, from the best information available to them and based on their expertise as meteorologists. At times one could feel sympathy for the forecasters, with the most regular predictability this summer being rain.
But there is one aspect of Met Eireann forecasting about which I have a question. Why are ‘Small Craft Warnings’ issued during sea area forecasts on radio, not directed towards coastal areas in the same way as the rest of the forecast?
The sea area forecasts give headlands and locations where particular weather impacts can be expected. However, apart from one lady who regularly related the Small Craft Warning to a specific area, the forecasters made a general reference in their forecast introduction that a Small Craft Warning was in force.
But for which area of the coast, or is to be taken that the warning is for the entire coast, even when the rest of the forecast would not imply strong or difficult conditions in all areas?
I mentioned this issue on Seascapes in response to the opinions of listeners that the lack of a specific area reference did not make the Small Craft Warning particularly helpful. Subsequently I heard one male voice on Met Eireann state a specific area, but apart from this, the forecasters did not give an indication of where the warning was directed.
I first raised this issue during the controversy over last year’s junior regatta in Dun Laoghaire and the conditions in which young sailors were on the water. I was discussing the context of the ‘rescue’ effort. It was debatable whether there ever was a ‘major emergency’ as described in the general media. It had been stated that a Small Craft Warning had been in existence. I described the warning as a bit of a ‘catch all.’ In other words Met Eireann had, in fairness, issued a warning, but it was not specific to any area. Met Eireann took issue with that description and I invited them to further discussion, but none followed.
I am appreciative, as a sailor, of Met Eireann’s service and of the dedicated work of the forecasters, but why cannot Small Craft Warnings be made as specific as the rest of the forecast conditions for coastal areas? It would be more helpful to all leisure boat users and that would help safety.
While we have been having a pretty rotten summer here, there doesn’t seem much hope that the Government could afford a Weather Modification Department such as they have in China, where the country’s Academy of Meteorological Sciences employs 32,000 people, has a department in every one of the country’s 30 provinces and a resource of 7,100 anti-aircraft guns; 4,991 special rocket launchers, with 30 aircraft and a budget of over 130 million euro. Their job is to change the weather, by firing rockets into the clouds. It is the largest artificial weather programme in the world. Despite international scepticism, the Chinese remain convinced of the merits of attempting to alter weather patterns and say that, since 1999, 250 billion tonnes of rain was artificially created, enough to fill the Yellow River several times over. A pity we can’t export rain to them!