Claire Gardner: I’m so ready for the winter of our discontent
NEVER mind the winter anti-freeze, writes Claire Gardner, just let’s hope we don’t have a winter anti-climax this year
So here we are again. The clocks have not yet gone back and it’s not even officially winter, but still we are being warned to brace ourselves for bad weather.
According to some reports, the bad old Arctic blast, which shot to fame in December 2010 after making a rather unexpected appearance, is about to strike.
It has also been announced that the Scottish Government has shelled out £36,000 on “weapons of war against winter” – vehicles with cleaver bits that can break through the toughest ice and keep our roads open even after the heaviest snowfall.
On top of this, the annual Ready for Winter? campaign has been launched to make sure everyone races around stocking up cupboards with emergency rations and buying warm clothes and de-icer.
It’s not that I’m against being prepared. On the contrary, I love a well-stocked cupboard and snow boots as much as the next person.
However, this year I am approaching the whole Ready for Winter? question with a weary sense of deja vu. You see, I did it all last year and nothing happened.
Like many people across Scotland, we were ill-prepared when the Arctic blast blasted on to the scene in the winter of 2010. Our sporty little car with its massive wheels went nowhere fast when the snow began to fall. We were snowed in for five days and the schools were shut for what seemed like years.
Our food and wine stocks ran dangerously low, and because the kids and I didn’t have any cold weather kit, frolicking in the inches of freezing white stuff didn’t appeal.
So last year, determined not to be caught short again, we spent a fortune making sure we were ready when Jack Frost came knocking at our door.
First there were the salopettes and the snow boots and the new gloves, hats, scarves and coats. Then the head torches, snow shovels, grit bins and sledges.
And finally the piece de resistance on any snow preparation check-list – a car with a four-wheel drive option guaranteed to climb the steepest snowiest slope in the world.
And by the start of November last year that was it. We were ready for anything Mother Nature cared to throw at us.
Then November turned into December and the excitement began to mount at the thought of battling against the elements with our new winter-proof weapons.
But as December slipped away in a puddle of damp and wet and rain, dismal disappointment set in.
We never had the chance to find out if the car’s snazzy snow-busting button worked. The sledges are still in their plastic wrappers, ditto the snow shovel and salopettes because not a single flake of snow fell where we live.
Nothing – not even a particularly impressive frost.
So it is no wonder that this year, that when folk-in-the-know talk about the Arctic Blast, and vital winter preparations, I stifle a yawn.
Don’t get me wrong, I can totally understand why there is such a fuss about it all.
Rewind to December 2010 when the Scottish Government was caught with its thermal pants down. An unexpected Arctic blast caused heavy snowfall across most of Scotland causing the closure of the M8, the M9 and A80, as well as gridlock on many other routes across Scotland.
Worse were the hundreds of people who were stuck in their cars and forced to endure freezing conditions overnight.
The crisis forced the resignation of then transport minister Stewart Stevenson and ignited a determination by the Scottish Government that they would not be out-manoeuvred by extreme weather conditions again.
And since that day there is no escaping weather warnings which are churned out at the very whisper of a wet weekend.
Take for example the Scottish Government’s website. A quick check shows that the year before the Arctic Blast crisis of 2010, there were just 43 news releases about Scotland’s weather.
Then came the snowy year and an impressive 129 weather-related articles were issued.
Last year, when nothing much happened at all except some flooding and a record-breaking amount of rain, there were 87 different sets of facts and figures and warnings on the subject.
This year, 31 articles have been published on the Scottish Government website under “weather”, and it’s not even officially winter yet.
Of course there is a responsibility to make sure there is enough advice and information available about what lies ahead, but a balance needs to be struck or else there is a danger of weather-fatigue setting in.
In recognition of this were Assistant Chief Constable Allan Moffat’s recent comments when he said it was important that the authorities didn’t “cry wolf” when issuing travel advice if it happened to snow this year.
However, for retailers, the fear-factor of a ferocious forecast has become a very powerful marketing tool.
The threat of extreme weather has turned into a big buck business.
Last year retailers Halfords announced a five-fold increase in demand for snow shovels.
Motorists were also buying up larger-than-ever amounts of snow chains, salt, de-icer and anti-freeze.
Winter tyre companies are also doing rather well out of this, with Dundee-based Michelin reporting sales of 500,000 cold weather tyres in 2011 – a 50 per cent increase on the previous year.
However before we get sucked into spending silly money on snow-beating merchandise, what we have to remember is that the freeze of 2010 was a most unusual phenomenon.
In fact, according to Met Office figures, it was the coldest winter in Scotland in almost 100 years. Compare that to last year, which was one of the mildest on record.
So what actually are the chances of another record-breaking cold winter?
Last week the Met Office said it was too early to say what the weather will hold over the “five to six month” winter period.
Phil Evans, director of government services at the Met Office, added: “There isn’t a basis to say it’s likely to be more or less snowy or more or less wet than previously.”
So that’s that.
No-one really knows what lies that far ahead. Not even, it appears, the weather men.
Myself, I can’t help hoping for a small snowy drama .
Nothing as extreme as the M8 grinding to a halt but enough of the white stuff to make it worth while unwrapping the sledges and ripping the price tag of the snow shovel and to finally put the wretched car through its paces.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east