No heatwave for us, then, but imagine sweltering in 70C..

The hottest temperatures recorded on Earth are mind-boggling, says Kathriona Devereux
No heatwave for us, then, but imagine sweltering in 70C..

People on the beach at Garretstown, West Cork — it hasn’t been a great summer in Ireland this year

IN my attic, I have a vacuum-sealed bag of clothes labelled “30 degree clothes”. These are light, billowy silk and cotton summer dresses that I wore during travels to tropical places when I was young and child-free.

Hot and humid are rare descriptors of Irish weather so these clothes hardly get an airing in Ireland.

Once the August bank holiday rolls round, I always feel like we’re in the last days of summer. It might be premature pessimism but it’s unlikely the “30 degree” bag of clothes will be opened this year.

Yes, we can hope for a period of warm weather in autumn to shorten the winter — an ‘Indian summer’ — but the chances of a heatwave this year are quite small.

Those clothes were cracked out for the 2017 and 2018 summers. The latter saw the longest heatwave we’ve had in 150 years (as far back as reliable records go). Heatwaves are defined as five consecutive days with maximum temperature over 25C.

A temperature of 32.0C was recorded at Shannon Airport, Co Clare, on June 28, 2018, as the highest temperature in 2018.

The all-time record of 33C still stands from Kilkenny Castle in 1887. Another Kilkenny record that some Cork people will want a go at beating.

The thing is, Ireland really isn’t designed for temperatures like we saw two years ago — water nearly ran out, crops failed, gorse fires wiped out houses, and throughout, I kept thinking of poor patients sweltering in hospitals without air conditioning — particularly women in the always cosy CUMH.

Though we’re ill-prepared, we can expect more heatwaves as a consequence of climate change. We’re getting less westerly winds and getting more of what are called blocking high and low pressures, which stick around for a while and stop the Atlantic westerlies that dominate our weather.

In 2018, the ‘Beast from the East’ was a blocking low pressure weather system that caused a drastic cold spell and the heatwave was caused by a blocking high pressure weather system later the same year.

Weather, essentially, is a big machine that distributes heat from the hot equator of the earth to the cold poles of the earth. With global warming, the poles are warming up so the temperature difference between the equator and the poles is not as extreme and the whole weather machine is slowing down as a result.

The weather is a bit more meandering and blocking is happening more often, so we can expect more weather events caused by blocking pressures.

This year is not going to be record breaking summer (no bad thing) and when I looked at high temperatures globally, I’m pretty thankful for our “not-to-hot and not-to-cold” global positioning.

The “highest recorded temperature on Earth”, which was officially verified by the World Meteorological Organisation and consequently the Guinness Book of Records is 56.7C, measured in July, 1913, in Death Valley, California.

Obviously, in order to win the record you have to put a thermometer in place to actually record the temperature, and there are strict criteria about the exact positioning of the thermometer — it has to be out of direct sunlight and a certain height off the ground, etc. But recently scientists are questioning if there are hotter places on Earth, places where we simply haven’t had the instruments in place to measure how hot it is.

In 2005, using infrared technology, a NASA satellite measured a ground temperature of 70.7C at one spot in the Lut Desert, which is right in the middle of Iran. It was the hottest satellite reading of a ground temperature ever.

In 2014, scientists ventured into the Lut Desert to install a thermometer to see if they could verify that reading. Apparently it was a pretty scary inhospitable place with swarms of locusts and biting, attacking birds, but the hardship paid off because the thermometer, planted 30cm above the surface in the shade of a wooden cylinder, registered 61C — some 5C higher than the official shade record set in Death Valley in 1913.

61C! That’s almost twice as hot as one of our hottest days!

It’s thought that bands of heat-absorbing black sand, together with topography that limits air movement, help explain the blazing temperatures, and it is possible that the World Meteorological Organisation will accept the Lut record in time — but only after rigorous examination of the instrumentation and methodology used.

So watch this space... the Death Valley’s 107-year-old record might be knocked out by the Lut Desert.

Regardless, we won’t be booking any holidays to either place any time soon!

Mind your mask!

It’s so heartening to see the uptake of mask wearing around the city — people want to protect each other.

However, I wince every time I see someone pulling their mask down around their chin or neck. It’s understandable — masks are stuffy and it’s nice to get a breather — but positioning masks like that increases the risk of spreading the virus

The World Health Oorganisation recommends washing or sanitising your hands before you don your mask and when you remove it and not to touch it while wearing it.

If you do inadvertently touch it, sanitise your hands again! Remember there might be Covid-19 on the inside of the mask if you’re an asymptomatic carrier and there might be virus droplets on the outside of the mask if you’ve encountered it while out. So wear with care!

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