Cows are more reliable than weather forecasters
We’re famous for moaning about the weather in the UK but sometimes it is infuriating. We were all thrilled to enjoy a heatwave at the beginning of lockdown, but we paid the price with lower than average temperatures a few weeks ago. Surely we could take the rough with the smooth and face a blip on the thermometer? No. We couldn’t. We had our flip-flops on, shorts and T-shirts were de rigueur. Many Brits had tans, even though nobody had been on their holibobs. We were uplifted while the sun smiled on us then it went away and we were left with egg on our faces and goose pimples on our calves.
We’ve had a beautiful summer
But what many of us have found more distressing than chilly nights and stormy skies is the unreliability of weather forecasts. Over the past month it’s become a major headache.
Every year I watch with pride as the grass grows and our fields fill with sweet meadow hay. As the crop matures we start doing our sums and calculating how many bales the ponies will need, taking into account what we have in store. Then there are friends who need some for their ponies, so we make another calculation to ensure we can supply everyone. The remainder is made into enormous bales to be sold to farmers or big livery yards.
Next, Martin (our local farmer) and I start planning when to cut it. And that’s when the forecast becomes crucial. We consult three or four sources until we see five or six dry, warm days in a row. Very low night-time temperatures are no good. They can cause dew so heavy the hay struggles to dry, so baling is delayed. But once the decision to cut has been made, there’s no going back.
A month or so ago many farmers were watching the forecasts and celebrated when they heard reports of a week of blazing sunshine. Tractors raced to harvest hay and Martin was poised for action. But just as he was climbing into his tractor cab, I sent him a message, “The forecast has changed. Aargh!”
Overnight, predicted temperatures had dropped, showers were heading our way and there was only one course of action. Abort mission. We stopped in time but many didn’t and the air turned bluer than the sky in some parts. We waited. Then a glimmer of hope appeared. If we cut on Sunday there was no rain coming until Friday and a minimum temperature of 20 degrees through the week. We took the chance and cut it.
On Tuesday Martin phoned me, “I didn’t want to make this call. Have you seen it?”
“Yup. Rain on Thursday.” Then, in the space of a couple of hours the forecast changed again – the heavens were going to open a day earlier and we were up the hayrick without a ladder. There was an alternative. We could make great haylage, as it needs to be baled earlier than hay, but all of it would have to be sold as it acts like rocket fuel when our ponies eat it.
Martin had cut his own meadow and was happy to swap our haylage for his hay. “Do we believe it is going to rain?” I asked. “I don’t know whether I believe anything anymore. Have you any fir cones you could look at?”
“Nope. How are the cows near you? Standing or lying down?”
Mindy walks her dogs in good weather…
Our weather is predicted with the aid of satellite data and aircraft reports. Far fewer planes are in the sky and the forecasters are struggling to make reliable predictions with a massive reduction in their normal data feed. In the absence of a reliable weather radar I remembered a rhyme:
By the furrowed fields I lie,
Calling to the passers-by:
“If the weather you would tell,
Look at Scarlet Pimpernel.
When the day is warm and fine,
I unfold these flowers of mine;
Ah, but you must look for rain
When I shut them up again!
Weather-glasses on the walls
Hang in wealthy people’s halls:
Though I lie where cart-wheels pass
I’m the Poor Man’s Weather-Glass!
… and bad
I couldn’t find a blessed pimpernel, and we needed a bone-dry guarantee. As the prediction dropped to 30 per cent chance of rain, I started tugging at my hair follicles… flipped a coin, and went for it.
Three hours after the last bale was wrapped, big wet spots began to fall from the sky.
Hallelujah! Crisis averted. Just.