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Irish weather forecasters put the fear of sunshine into gardeners

The weather forecasters in Dublin are among the best in the world. They succeed in predicting the weather for days ahead despite the vagaries of the Irish climate. But I took issue with them recently over their language.

There has been a mini drought in Ireland and my fruit and vegetable garden in the Dublin Mountains was crying out for rain. Yet when I tuned into the daily forecasts from the Irish Meteorological Office, or Met Eireann as it is known, I heard the presenter regularly talking about the "danger" of a shower, or of the "risk" of rain.

Watching my raspberry bushes wilt in the heat and the carrots shriveling up in the dry soil, I was more concerned with the danger that there might not be a shower or the risk there would not be any rain.

So I wrote to Gerald Fleming, the Head of Forecasting in Met Eireann, pointing out that the world "prospect" or "chance" might be more appropriate.

He replied that he fully appreciated my annoyance at the use of a word like "danger" when referring to rain at a time when the nation's farmers and market gardeners (and part-timers like me) are watching their plants thirst for moisture.

"In describing the weather we have to walk something of a tightrope," he explained, "especially in the summer months knowing that many, predominantly urbanites would like 12 weeks of unremitting sunshine while the farmers and gardeners require a mix of wet and dry for their crops and plants to survive."

In weather as in politics, he added, they could not keep all of the people happy all of the time.

He agreed that when the weather is very dry, talk of the "danger" of rain was overstating the mark, though it could be appropriate in circumstances where it would cause great inconvenience, as for example the afternoon of a big sporting event like the Munster (Gaelic football) final.

He also accepted that the word "risk" is normally used in the sense of something to be avoided but pointed out that it tends to be used in the scientific context in a fairly neutral manner.

Fleming said he had passed my note on to the forecasters, along with advice that care should be taken in framing references to rain in a very dry spell.

It seems to have had the desired effect, though I have since heard one forecaster speak of the "threat" of rain. They never warn of a "threat" of prolonged sunshine.

Happily the drought ended on June 28. I'm worried myself about now about the danger of the rain next week as I have guests arriving from the United States.

Oops! I should of course have said I'm worried about the "prospect" of rain.