Shetlanders want £1.5m weather radar

AS FAR as the elders of Shetland are concerned, the "wind dogs" offer a more reliable prediction of the following day's weather than the likes of television forecasters Heather Reid or Sian Lloyd.

Part of the islands' rich weather lore, the phrase denotes a fragment of a rainbow. According to legend, should one appear in front of the sun, tomorrow will be fine. On the other hand, if a wind dog is behind it, islanders should prepare for rain.

"People like me who were born and brought up here are shaped by the weather," said Lawrence Tulloch, a former lighthouse keeper on Muckle Flugga, the most northerly rock of the British Isles, and no stranger to the extremities of weather on Shetland.

He said: "You'll never find a farmer or a fisherman who isn't an amateur weatherman. They tend to look at the television forecasts with derision, because the weather's so unpredictable.

"Tourists sometimes ask me what the summer was like up here. I tell them it was on a Tuesday."

Mr Tulloch, 64, insists the old weather lore is still in vogue. But the credibility of wind dogs and their like may soon be tested by modern science.

Shetland Islands Council is today expected to sanction a campaign it hopes will bring to an end the archipelago's time spent in meteorological limbo.

Encouraged by what it regards as a new political climate in Holyrood, the local authority is pressing for inclusion in the Met Office's 13-strong national weather radar network. At present, Shetland is the only area of the UK not in range of the radars. The devices track volatile, unpredictable weather fronts and are particularly accurate at providing continuous, real-time information on projected rainfall.

The nearest radar, Druim a'Starraig, is on Stornoway, and extends only as far as Fair Isle, 25 miles south-west of Sumburgh Head. Instead, satellite imagery is relied upon.

The council believes the SNP administration will be sympathetic to its cause. Its campaign is rapidly gaining support, with the likes of Tavish Scott, Shetland's MSP, and key members of the business community signed up.

The council's harbour board will first ask the Scottish Government to put pressure on the Met Office to erect a radar at Fitfull Head or Saxa Vord.

Jim Dickson, the council's general manager of ports and harbours, said there was little observable data about weather conditions in Shetland.

"To the north and west of Shetland, there is little in the way of observation sites, and a polar low can descend with little or no warning," he said

Such sudden depressions, Mr Dickson warned, were particularly dangerous for Shetland, given its status as home to Europe's largest oil port, as well as offshore installations and a marine industry upon which the local economy was increasingly reliant.

A spokesman for the Met Office said last night a radar for Shetland was a "possibility", adding that the agency had been liaising with the Ministry of Defence about potential use of the site at Saxa Vord.

But he stressed it "comes down to funding" - putting the sum required at around 1.5 million.

Whatever the future holds, Mr Tulloch said the likes of the wind dog would continue to play a part.

"In a place where one part of the island can be covered in thick fog and heavy rain, and a few miles away, there'll be glorious sunshine, people will still rely on the old ways, or combine them with what the radars say," he said.

"After the First World War, people were putting together the first ever tourist guide to the islands. They asked a local war hero, AT Cluness, to contribute a chapter. But he ended up writing just one brilliantly understated sentence. It said 'The weather in Shetland can be good, and sometimes it is'."


WITH its "maritime climate" - only slightly warmer than the Gulf of Alaska which lies on the same 60th parallel of latitude - boisterous conditions on Shetland are not confined to the dark, wild days in December and January.

The common saying is that the archipelago has "nine months of winter and three months of bad weather".

Even its bright summers are predominantly showery and cool, with fog a regular occurrence on the east side of the islands. Fierce gales are not exclusive to a single season, with wind speeds averaging around Force 4 (15mph) over the entire year.

Yet rainfall on the islands averages just 1,037mm (41in) a year, only half the total for Fort William. Almost three-quarters of the rain falls in winter, with the driest weather usually between April and August.

August is the warmest month, with a daily average maximum of 14C, and February the coldest, with 4.9C.

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