Sunday, January 21, 2018

Wind and wuthering

You've probably all heard about the Great Storm we had in the Netherlands this last Thursday. The 18th January 2018 will go down in history as the 7th worst storm in Holland since records began in 1901 and maybe even the worst so far this century.

Here's a video of what it was doing in Zeeland not far from the crumbly cottage:



What is interesting, though, is that according to weather experts, we've generally had quite a peaceful time since the nineteen seventies and eighties. Apparently, bad storms were more frequent back then, and the last really serious one countrywide was eleven years ago. Oddly, however, it's seemed to me that we've had an increasing number of serious weather events in the last few years, but now I wonder if that's just an illusion created by the growth of our communications network; in other words, the internet.

Perhaps we're all inclined to think things are much worse because we see so much more; it's all over social media like a rash. The point is, I didn't really know how bad our storm on Thursday was until I saw all the footage on Twitter and on the news sites when I got home. As far as I was concerned at the time, the worst thing about it was the fact all the trains stopped running due to trees falling on the line. It was simply inconvenient because I had to take a very round about way back from work.

I will admit I got blown sideways by the wind when I was walking through the campus and nearly ended up in a pond (not quite as bad as in the video below, but you get the idea). The thing is, it's always bad at the university; the buildings tend to form wind tunnels, so even then, I wasn't really conscious we were having a record breaking day. But once I saw all the images, and all the damage it had caused, I was mighty impressed. Suddenly, it was something to be shocked about.

The best thing about the social media coverage was the way people helped each other get home. On Twitter there was a brilliant initiative to offer stranded train travellers lifts by connecting through the hashtag #stormpoolen, a really heartwarming and useful way of using our modern technology.

Here's another video of news footage about the storm:



Of course, in the last year, there have been some of the worst hurricanes ever recorded, and weather wise in general, the last twelve months have been horrendous, haven't they? But I can't help thinking that without all the excitement caused by instant messaging, instant videos and instant images, most of us wouldn't be half as awe-struck by these extreme weather events unless we were personally affected by them. Or would we?

I was in London during the Great Storm of 1987. Now that was impressive, it really was, and even without social media. I remember the wind positively screaming round the flats in Woodford Green where I was staying with my small daughters. I also remember going into my eldest's bedroom and finding her window ripped open and banging against the outside wall while the wind howled through her room like the proverbial banshee. I was horrified and rushed to haul the window back in place, which was no mean feat, I can tell you. After I locked it, I checked on my child. She hadn't even woken up, bless her. The next day, though, we had to climb over numerous trees that had come down in the streets around Woodford. There was debris everywhere and everything was in chaos; it was almost apocalyptic.

Since I've lived on the Vereeniging too, we've had a few other memorable storms that even resulted in fallen trees across my bows, but they remain in my memory because they actually affected me. Had they not done so, I probably wouldn't have noticed given that these events were before the age of Facebook and Twitter. I may or may not have read about them in the paper (I didn't have TV even then) but I doubt if they'd have made all that much of an impact on me – not the way the trees did!

So what do you think? Are we more alarmed, impressed and worried because we see and hear so much more? I'd be interested to know what you think!

18 comments:

  1. Hi Val - I think we're shown so much, or hear about the storms so much ... and then we see the aftermath. I'm fascinated by them - but am very glad I'm not in them.

    My brother was in Cambridge for the big 1987 storm I was in SA) ... I think it took him 3 days to get back down to Sussex ... my SIL had a lucky escape as the house had some damage - thankfully as it was very well built, not a disaster for them.

    Can't believe I just watched 13 minutes of Dutch tv!!! Cheers Hilary

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    1. Funnily enough, Hilary, I was just in London temporarily, so I should have been iN SA too. It was a very frightening night. I would never have believed such a storm possible in the UK. But according to the records, the whole 70s decade and then the 80s were marked by frequent heavy storms, many more than in the past few years. My feeling is the impact seems to be worse now, but then I wonder if it really is or whether it just seems that way. That said, it doesn’t make it any better for those affected and such storms nearly always have tragic results as well as horrendous costs.

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  2. I think we ought to be more worried - not only about the events themselves, which are dramatic and can be frightening - but about the way weather patterns are changing generally. Nothing feels predictable - the weather in North India is 6-7 degrees colder than the seasonal average and poor people cannot afford to buy warm clothes and blankets, and the vulnerable are dying. Last year’s monsoon was devastating. Storms are wonderful to write about, once you are safe and dry (as I know, after a memorable cyclone here in Nepal) but the global implication of changing weather patterns is not such a great story.

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    1. You’re right, Jo, but have they ever been predictable? I also feel we have more and worse of everything now, but I wonder if that is really true. It doesn’t negate the tragic and devastating effects...when I think of the awful destruction in the Carribean list year, I cannot get my head round how people are coping, but my question is...haven’t these events always happened? Are they more, and worse? Or is it that we have so much news that it just seems that way? According to the storm records, the seventies in particular were much worse in terms of the frequency of heavy storms, but I don’t remember that and maybe that’s because we had less media coverage.

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  3. I'm totally in agreement with you - social media gives the impression of great catastrophe everywhere. Recently I had an email from a Canadian friend asking me if I'd survived Storm Whatever. I looked out of the window - not a breath of wind.

    I remember the storm of 87 too. I have a photo of Julia in the middle of built up London, holding a blown inside out umbrella :)

    As for the climate change.... well, if everyone stopped buying meat they wouldn't need to chop down the rainforest and f*** up the eco system....

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    1. Thanks, TT! And yes, yes and yes!! Closer to home, when all the farmers cut down the trees in their fields in the west country in the 70s, I remember my parents saying ‘They’ll rue the day. Watch out for floods now’’. Lo and behold, flooding in the west country has become a regular event where it wasn’t anything like as bad before. That, and buidling on flood plains, pulling up hedgerows...shall I go on?

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  4. Not sure if my comment 'took' or not, so trying again.... just wanted to say that I totally agree with you about this. A Canadian online friend got in touch to see if I was okay re Storm Whatever. It wasn't even windy....

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    1. Yes, I’ve had that kind of call from people elsewhere too. When all they see are the ‘highlights’ on social media, it gives a completely skewed impression

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  5. This is a lovely post Val, quite exhilarating in more ways than one!! It was interesting listening to Dutch - is the word ‘stirm’ the same?
    My parents were very shocked by the 1987 storm that happened during the night and the later one which I think was during the day. The beech trees in the woods round their home were reduced to matchsticks.
    I think weather conditions have always been a riveting conversation for us Brits. When my Italian relatives vome to England they spend a lot of time looking up at the clouds, fascinated by how they scud across the sky and we have four seasons in a day.
    The powers of nature, storms, heavy snowfalls,tsunamis, long spells without rain or sun affect our lives in so many ways and so I think we are all fascinated by them.
    My son had a tornado on his campsite near Venice last summer and he said he just bundled his little family inside and watched a dvd to stop them from being frightened. It was only afterwards when he came out and saw the devastation that he realized what danger they’d been in.
    I always loved listening to the wind when in bed as a child, and the poem ‘ The wind in a frolic’ by William Howitt - (1792-1879) captures perfectly your storm xxx

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    1. Isn’t it lovely that other people have such a different perspective of the weather, Angela? I actually hate wind, rain and snow (I miss South African weather...maybe you can tell :)) but I do understand why some people find it exhilarating. I’m just not one of them. Enjoy your Clear Italian skies, dear!

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    2. Blue skies are certainly a joy and lift the spirits.
      When it was windy my mum used ot say , her face alive and bright ‘This wind will blow all the cobwebs away’.
      When I was doing my teacher training an older wiser teacher told me to always have a calming activity after playtime on a windy day because the children would come in like wild horses,
      Lovely post Val

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  6. I had not heard about your storm last week - the Australian media are not very good at international news - but they go on and on about every drop of rain here, as if trying to manufacture a crisis when none exists. I do think we had more storms 30 or more years ago, when there was a clear 'storm season'. Now we are lucky to get five storms in one Summer, however they can often be very severe. Totally agree the social media does play a big part in our perceptions these days.

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    1. That’s quite a change, Patricia. Now hwere’s a thought. I wonder if we would have even noticed such changes without social media. I grew up with parents and grandparents saying ‘when we were young, things were better/worse/more etc’ but we always put that down to perceptions. Maybe our perceptions are ruled by different things now ;)

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  7. I think you are right. Social media and the every present news continuum makes us more apprehensive. Ignorance is bliss, they say. And I think they are right. Living in a constant state of 'startled' is not good for us on any level.

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    1. I like that, Carol! A ‘constant state of startled’ is about what it is. I sometimes think many people have become addicted to that feeling too.

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  8. Fantastic, as always, Val. What a storm! So thankful you're okay...it spite of being blown about. Take care. (Steph)

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  9. Oh, and thanks, Val for switching to moderation. I don't seem to be smart enough to get through the captchas ever!

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    1. Glad to see you’re back online again, Steph! And thank you for both your comments :)

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Apologies for switching on comment moderation, but this is to make sure everyone can comment without jumping through captcha hoops!