View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Friday, 1 June 2012

View of an island

I found this posting from my old Northern Trip blog among my files in Google Drive. It summarises what kept me in Lewis, after arriving there in November 2004. This revised text dates back to late December 2005. Before you ask, the same reasons still apply. 

I was amazed at the colours at sunset these past days. And at sunrise as well. Normally, I expect light to start to fail 25 minutes after sunset, but at this latitude this is extended to 40 minutes. I am not a native of the islands, but one of the reasons I have come here is the natural beauty. Whether it is in the images shown above, at a time of good weather - or in bad weather, as I showed in a much earlier posting about the November 11th [2005] hurricane.

Being caught up in a thunder, hail, snow, sleet (and kitchensink) shower back in January, whilst going down the Lochs Road at Leurbost, with the bus driver being forced to reduce speed to a crawl. No snow or ice at the next village, Keose.

The many rainbows in the spring.

The joy at seeing the first green shoots, in April.

Hearing the first bleating of lambs in a pasture at Breascleit late in March. Walking the island in the bitter winds of February, and seeing the sad remains of the sheep that did not make it through the winter. Or the sheep that was knocked down at the Marybank cattlegrid in April, and was slowly decomposing in peace in the ditch that it was dumped in over a period of 6 months.

Seeing the days lengthen to an incredible extent, sunset at 22.30, with the light lingering to the nadir of the night at 01.30, then returning fully at 03.30. But also shortening of the days, with the present daylight hours of 09.15 to 15.35.

The howling of the gales, 4 in one week in November. Clattering of hail and thumping of the wind against the window at night - waking up in the middle of the night because there is no noise.

Watching the breathtaking coastal scenery at Filiscleitir, or the stunning mountain scenery from Rapaire, Teileasbhal, Mullach an Langa. Or beautiful Glen Langadale, where I'm forever fording that river under the frowning face of Stulabhal. The little mouse on the slopes of that mountain, the one that allowed me to stroke it. The yellow grasses on the moors of South Lochs, finding your way in amongst a myriad of lochs, streams and bogs. Loch nan Eilean, south of Garyvard.

Place seems to have gotten under my skin.

Friday 1 June

Another day of the bright and sunny variety, with some cloud out and about. The northeasterly wind continues to make it feel cold outside, although in the lee and in the sun it does feel quite pleasant.

The news is dominated by the Jubilee Weekend. Here in Stornoway, bunting has been strung along the railings along South Beach, the main street on the seafront. I'm not aware of anything major being organised here (I stand to be corrected), although a streetparty has been organised in Laxdale. On Monday, beacons will be lit on the Arnish Point peninsula as well as in Ness and on the Clisham, our highest hill. Her nibs is having a do, it would seem. Unfortunately, the temperature in London looks set to take a nosedive, with rain and 10C forecast for Sunday. Think I'll watch it all on the box.

Although I did not attend, this week saw the Local Mod. As you may recall from my blog postings in October of last year, the Mod is a showcase for Gaelic culture in this part of the world, and I found a large group of small children outside the Town Hall, where they had been performing. The performances include singing, dancing, declamation and instrumental performances, e.g. the melodeon, clarsach and others. Five years ago, I attended some of the prelims and recorded the results. You can hear some of those recordings from this page. I never cease to be amazed by the gusto and confidence with which the tiniest tots (as young as 5) strut their stuff on the stage, in front of an audience of more than 100 at times.

Hurricane season 2012

Today, June 1st, is the start of the North Atlantic hurricane season. However, we have already seen two named tropical storms. Beryl dissipated two days ago; Chris is the next one on the list. As regular readers of Atlantic Lines know, I take an active interest in the subject of hurricanes and blog summaries warnings and advisories on a separate blog, Tropical Cyclones. 

Hurricanes, typhoons and tropical cyclones are all one and the same thing. It is a phenomenon which, on a planetary scale, serves as a safety valve to vent excess heat from the tropics to temperate latitudes (above 30 degrees north or south). Simply put, the processes of evaporating and condensating water transfer energy from the ocean to the atmosphere. When the circumstances are right, this can give rise to an area of low pressure, accompanied by intense thunderstorms which reach up to 10 miles up into the atmosphere. A tropical cyclone needs water temperatures of at least 26C / 80F to form, and uniform windspeeds and wind direction throughout the atmosphere. The rotation of the earth spins the system and also propels it to higher latitudes. Wind speeds near its centre can go as high as 150 knots (170 mph), with gusts to 180 knots or 200 mph. Both path and central windspeed are not easy to forecast.

For reference, storms are named once their windspeeds reaches or exceeds galeforce, 35 knots or 39 mph. Names of storms that have been particularly devastating are usually retired, never to be used again. Katrina is an example of a retired name.

Around the world, several specialised meteorological centres have been set up to monitor tropical cyclones. The main ones are at Miami (North Atlantic and East Pacific Oceans), Honolulu (Central Pacific), Tokyo (Northwestern Pacific), three in Australia, La Reunion (Southwestern Indian Ocean), New Delhi (Northern Indian Ocean) and Nadi, Fiji (Southwestern Pacific Ocean). The Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Honolulu monitors the Northwestern, Southern and Southwestern Pacific Ocean as well as the whole of the Indian Ocean basin. Tropical cyclones rarely form in the southern Atlantic or southeastern Pacific Ocean.

Personally, I frown at descriptions of hurricanes as "killers" or "monsters". The effects of these natural phenomena are certainly devastating, and sometimes claim many lives. However, the advent of the above mentioned monitoring centres has served to increase warning times to those that live in the paths of hurricanes, preventing more damage and loss of life than in the past.

Stay safe.