Tuesday, 22 September 2009
Today sees the start of the northern hemisphere's autumn season, as the sun crosses the equator on its way south. The weather, as I already indicated in my previous post, is suitable for the time of year, at least here in the Western Isles. I am noticing the changing of the season also by the fact that the sun gets lower and lower in the sky. In my position, about 4 feet from the window, the sun does not reach me in the summer. It is beginning to do so now, and as the year progresses to its close, I'll have to close the curtains in the latter part of the morning - else I will not be able to read the screen.
Another sign of the changing of the seasons is seen in the behaviour of the starlings. Large groups of them are swirling around the town, but not nearly as large as the massive colonies of hundreds of thousands that are seen in southern England. One day, they'll all have gone south. To be replaced by individuals that have come in from higher latitudes to winter in the relatively mild climes of the Hebrides.
Winters here are not severe in terms of temperature. Your average daytime maximum will be around 7C / 45F, and frosts are not common. The lowest overnight temperature I've seen since 2005 is -6C, and that was in March. Snow too is not common either, with the deepest fall of 10 cm / 4 inches lasting exactly 24 hours on February 2nd, 2008.
What makes winters severe in the Western Isles is the wind. Last winter saw a storm with winds gusting to 110 mph, and January 2005 produced a hurricane with gusts to 135 mph. Even if these extremes are uncommon, gales are common: on average once a week will the wind blow at 40 mph or higher. High winds, and that need not necessarily be at galeforce, can persist for days on end, with low, grey clouds scudding by, with drizzle, rain and hail. Daylight hours are at a premium by December, with the sun rising at 9.15 am and setting at 3.35 pm.
Many people who see these islands in summer, under glorious blue skies see them at their best. Some may elect to come and live here. Not all can live through a Hebridean winter.