Nigel asks: Is our climate really a joke?
The climate of Ireland … where do I even begin! Ok, let’s get a couple of the jokes out of the way for a start. Summer is my favourite day of the year. It only rained twice last year … once from January to June and once from July to December. Okay then, that’s the humour out of the way and sometimes with the weather here in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, a sense of humour is vital! Down to the serious business now!
Whenever I am on my travels, especially in the US and people hear that I am from ‘Ireland’ (or as they call it ‘home’), I get asked two main questions. Question one is “My cousin Patrick lives near Cork, do you know him?” I usually say ‘I don’t know that particular Patrick’. Question two is “We would love to go to visit Patrick who lives near Cork. What’s the best time of the year to go?”
What’s that they say about ‘4 seasons in one day’?
At this point I let out a small sigh and try to explain that we don’t do seasons in Ireland, i.e. snow in winter, showers in springtime, blazing sunshine in the summer and crisp autumn days with misty mornings. Yes, we can get all of those weather types but often on the same day. We can have spring or autumn pretty much any time of the year. Sometimes we even have summer in the winter and vice versa.
Four seasons in one day
I remember making a snowman, or was it a snow bunny, one Easter Monday morning and then sitting out sunbathing in the afternoon next to a melted snow ‘thing’! We wish we had set weather patterns where we could say we are going to have a barbecue in two weeks and invite people over. But that’s a very risky strategy, as chances are it could end up as an indoor barbecue. It’s usually safer to wait until 6pm on a nice day and then tell people to get their tushies over here quick while it’s sunny!
Since I gave up work last autumn on health grounds (i.e. I was sick of it). I have discovered that the weather here isn’t actually all that bad. I now have time to enjoy all of the good spells of weather, which seemed to have a habit of coinciding with work days. So often when there was a nice spell of weather, it would begin on a Monday morning and finish at 5pm the following Friday, just in time for the weekend … how annoying is that?! Here however are my recent observations of our seasons, based on my experiences living in Northern Ireland close to Belfast.
Ahhh … spring at last! Well, actually this was taken in late December 2016
- very little snow
- some snow on the mountains
- one recent significant snowfall was in late March 2013 (i.e. spring!)
- relatively mild: around 40 – 50°F most days
- very little overnight frost, mainly inland
- brilliant sunny days are not unusual
- calm, clear skies: perfect conditions for overnight frosts
- Mid-December: 8am to 4pm
- late February: 6am to 6pm
The Mourne Mountains in the deep mid-winter of early April 2013
I recall one recent Christmas Day being 60 degrees! People here will frequently complain about the cold weather whenever it is perhaps 45°F in mid winter. Clearly, they think they live in a desert in the Middle East! If you hear someone say “I’m foundered” or “it’s Baltic out there” this is Ulster speak for “I think today is rather cold”!
- varies from year to year, usually more dry more often than wet
- anything from 40 to 70°F in March, even April
- May can be from 55 to 75°F
- Sunshine amounts vary
- May 2017 had many days of clear blue skies
- late March: 5am to after 8pm
- late May: 4am to 10pm
Daylight hours are what makes springtime perhaps my favourite season of all. If you are a light sleeper, you might need blackout curtains come May
April Showers – Belfast shipyard in the sunset
- Temperatures vary hugely, between 55 right up to 80°F
- more commonly between 64 and 72°F
Sunshine amounts can sometimes be quite high as there are almost 18 hours of daylight especially the further north you travel. Similarly, there can be days with zero hours of sunshine!
Rainfall is where it can sometimes be interesting! From my experience, we seem to have more rainfall in the summer than at other supposedly ‘wetter’ times of the year! Total washout days are rare but short heavy almost monsoon like downpours are not unusual.
Portballintrae Beach in the evening sun, County Down countryside and proof that people (aka Martha) actually do go into the sea here (Lucky Shell Beach, County Donegal)
Daylight hours remain high and peak in late June when the far north has only maybe three hours of total darkness. By late August however there is a noticeable change with it starting to get dark closer to 9pm than 11pm.
Water temperature is something I’m often asked about by friends in the US. It would tend to be in the mid teens so it’s very different to Florida! People do however go in, as I have done occasionally, and have lived to tell the tale!
In Florida they call 64°F winter and stay indoors, whereas we dust off the barbecue, buy new outdoor furniture, take our clothes off and say “I’m roasted” or “it’s baking out there”, which both mean “I am finding it rather warm today!”. If you hear somebody say “the gravy was running down my oxters”, this means that they have rather sweaty armpits … ewww!
Guess the season! Yup! Autumn. (Newcastle, County Down)
- Temperatures range from freezing to the mid 60s
- fewer sunshine hours due to shorter days but warm, sunny periods not unusual
- recently, September and October have been particularly sunny
- days get rapidly shorter
- after ‘clocks go back’ at end of October: 7am to 6pm
Rainfall is historically quite high in Autumn but again, recent years have bucked that trend (especially in September and October).
Autumn Glory in Castle Park, Bangor, County Down
Do not miss Christmas Dinner
Traditionally, this is my least favourite season, as it signals the downward spiral to winter and long hours of darkness … yuck! Normally, this is the time of year when I want to be put in a cardboard box like a tortoise and woken in the spring … apart from having my Christmas dinner! Ironically however, autumn has given us some of our best weather in recent years. We’ve had long, settled spells of dry, often sunny weather for a number of week, so I am slowly becoming a fan!
If I had to choose when to visit, then I would probably say May/June or September/October to have the best chance of hopefully more dry days than wet and decent hours of daylight. Nobody has ever booked a holiday to Ireland based upon getting a suntan even if it can happen. The rain is what helps to make our countryside as green as it is.
Looking towards Ballintoy Harbour with Rathlin Island in the distance
So after reading this, you will hopefully understand my difficulty in advising people when it’s best to come. As I said earlier, these observations are based upon where I live in Northern Ireland, about 10 miles east of Belfast. The climate in other parts of Ireland might well differ slightly. The west coast tends to get the most rainfall coming in from the Atlantic, whilst the south east of the Republic of Ireland around Wexford is often the driest and sunniest region.
Oh, and if you should need to find out about the climate in Cork, you should probably ask your cousin Patrick!