It was my third birthday. I was supposed to be having a party, nothing ostentatious, just some fellow 2-3 year olds doing what we did best: passing a parcel, eating jelly and sandwiches and deciding like Caesar and his thumb what presents were keepers and what was bin fodder. But no, instead of being showered with Lego and Ghostbusters figurines I was showered with rain, wind, trees and anything else that wasn’t made of titanium alloy and welded to the floor. It was the great storm of 1987.
It has gone down in history as one the worst storms to batter Britain in recent times. One of the reasons why it was so memorable was that Michael Fish – a prominent stalwart of British weather forecasting – told us all quite clearly that there was nothing coming. A woman rang the BBC meteorological office and claimed that she had heard that something was brewing over the Atlantic, it was dismissed as codswallop. Oh how the BBC blushed as the rain beat down harder and every tree from Penzance to Port Vale became horizontal. Although these days I guess inaccurate weather forecasts are the least of the BBC’s concerns…
It was, however, a turning point. Ever since then the Met office has made considerable efforts to take old ladies more seriously and provide the British public with far more reliable, accurate weather updates. The UK tax payer pays millions each year to ensure that they know when to take a brolly or when to take the sun lotion. Still though, they get it wrong. But it is not wrong in the common sense of the meaning, they are very careful with their syntax and discourse. “And over the south east we expect some clouds and for it to be unsettled.” Unsettled? What the hell is “unsettled?” Unsettled what? Air pressure? Is the ambient temperature going to fluctuate between freezing and 35 Celsius at sporadic intervals? Is it going to start fighting itself? It’s very clever, pretending to be smart by just using vague and general terminology, but you’re not really helping us; Pac-a-mac or factor 15?
The charade that is the British meteorological office however is nothing by comparison to the NCMS; the UAE weatherists. They are without any shadow of a doubt the most incompetent of them all.
I work at an outdoor sporting arena – if you like. Knowing what weather to expect is crucial to my work. If it is raining or there is some “unsettled” weather coming then I need to take precautions and implement procedures. In some cases people’s lives could genuinely be at risk. One pleasant evening back in 2009 I enjoyed a warm, sunny day at work. By mid afternoon and out of nowhere a sandstorm of truly biblical proportions ambushed us. It was joined by perhaps the heaviest and most violent wind/rain combination I have ever experienced in all my life. 1987 seemed like a mild breeze by comparison. I could not see 2 feet out of the window. It felt like a bomb had gone off, or that an articulated lorry had crashed, repeatedly, into the fascia of building.
During the bedlam I hopped onto the internet and to my surprise was being repeatedly told that outside the weather was “sunny”, that there was a 4 M/Ps breeze and that it was 35 Celsius. I looked out the window, between the cars, camels and mountains that were flying past to double check and to make sure that I wasn’t imagining it all. Sure enough, I was right. I relentlessly searched the internet looking at articles or updates that I may have missed warning us about the impending typhoon; nothing.
It lasted only 20-30 minutes and upon its conclusion revealed what I assume the world may have looked like after the Moses and that whole flood/Ark story. It was just total devastation. My entire facility was ruined. Outdoor structures made from both wood and steel that weighed close to a ton had been obliterated, the perimeter fence was gone, windows blown in. Nothing was left.
The next day there were 3 articles across all national media saying that Al Ain had experienced a drop of rain and some “unsettled” weather. What did the NCMS have on their website? It had that bloody sunshine symbol, the word “clear” and a nice balmy temperature printed in a bold Ariel font. Did it say that we were expecting rain again? No. Did it rain again? Yes.
Now I understand that 99% of the year it is indeed very warm and very sunny here in the UAE and it can be easy to get complacent. But when it rains, or indeed when a sandstorm comes, it brings the entire country to a complete standstill. People don’t leave the house, youths go out to power-slide on the roads and children don’t go to school. We need to know what is coming so that we can take precautions.
Although the UAE isn’t as flush with cash as it makes out to be it is still doing a damn sight better than most other countries around the world. Do you think that we could invest a bit more money into the national meteorology office and a little less into water parks and islands shaped like the world? I know that we’ve come a long way since Michael Fish but seriously, how hard can it be to follow some clouds? We the people will only complain if you feed us lies or just don’t bother at all. You can cover yourself and your incompetence by just coming out saying that it is going to be “unsettled”. We can’t complain then because it doesn’t actually mean anything…
In some cases the weatherman can be a hero. But no matter how hard they try sometimes tragedy is unavoidable. The true force of mother nature was realised this week and our thoughts go out to all those who lost their loved ones across the Caribbean and the USA.
I can’t even imagine how devastating it must be.