The Iceman Cometh


As the snow finally melts away, Amy Wall questions the government’s commitment to contingency planning as extreme weather becomes commonplace

“We are definitely on our way to a white Christmas!” stated Michael Gallagher, a postal worker who is renowned in Donegal for his ability to accurately predict the weather. It is a shame that at the time of this prediction – the early weeks of December 2009 – no one bothered to listen. What followed Gallagher’s seemingly harmless prediction was a solid month of freezing temperatures, blizzards and extremely hazardous driving conditions. Throughout the country, daily life was badly affected. Ireland itself came to a complete standstill, and more and more the public began to see Ireland’s total inability to cope with such weather conditions.

It is understandable in some respects. Generally, winters in Ireland consist of nothing more than a few weeks of solid rain, and a few evenings of frost. However, in recent years, the threat of snow to Ireland during the winter and spring months has gotten higher and higher. In February 2009 the country was, yet again, forced to a standstill as snow swept in following a severe snowstorm across Britain – and let’s not forget the snowfall in October 2008, which led to a group of tourists having to be rescued from a bus in county Wicklow.

As global warming continues to play havoc with our climate, we can begin to see a distinct weather pattern emerging. It seems that while we were previously lucky if we even got a light dusting of snow, it has now become something of a seasonal norm. In each the past three years, Ireland has been subjected to some level of snowfall. One must wonder; if snow is now almost expected at some stage every year, then why are we, as a country, still so unprepared to deal with it?

Aside from crippling the country, more serious problems arose from Ireland’s inability to cope with this kind of weather, and this was clearly illustrated in the past few weeks. Countless fatalities occurred on the roads over the Christmas period due to increasingly bad driving conditions. Due to a severe lack of grit supplies, many roads in Ireland remained ungritted causing many accidents. In County Wexford, tragedy struck when a bus carrying postal workers to Dublin overturned on the N11. Eighteen were injured, with one fatality. An ambulance also overturned on the same stretch of icy road while it was responding to the accident.

‘The Big Freeze’, as the recent bad weather has become affectionately known, is the worst cold spell that Ireland has seen since the 1960s. It has been estimated that over 50,000 tonnes of salt – the average annual salt supply – was used within three weeks over the course of the holidays. But with Ireland’s weather considerably getting worse each winter, why haven’t salt supplies been augmented? Why has the government waited until bad weather caused so many accidents and spurred it into action? Surely it would have made more sense to keep on top of monitoring the weather, recognising that our climate is changing, and nipping the problem in the bud before it became such a catastrophe? Perhaps instead of wasting money storing obsolete electronic voting machines, we should be storing extra reserves of salt instead.

When it snows in Ireland, daily life stops. Thousands missed work, businesses suffered, transport links were down, almost every school in Ireland closed, and sadly a number of people lost their lives. Potentially facing the same scenario every year is not acceptable. As the big thaw continues, many people are still preparing for more danger. Cork is anticipating further bouts of heavy flooding. Many roads are still treacherous due to high winds, heavy rainfall and lingering black ice, while footpaths are lethal due to ice, with a high number of people slipping and breaking bones. The Road Safety Authority reports that many road surfaces have been damaged due to the bad weather, and asked motorists to be vigilant and take even more care whilst driving.

While snow can bring a lot of joy and delight with it, it can also cause many problems – each with their own varying degree of danger attached. It cannot be denied that snow in Ireland is becoming a more frequent occurrence, and it is obvious that some kind of contingency plan is needed. As global warming continues to wreak havoc with our climate, our Government must realise that our weather will become more unstable and unpredictable as the years pass. Simply, our Government must take action, sooner rather than later.