For many of us, winter is blooming into spring, or fall hardening into winter. Which season do you most look forward to?
Once upon a time I would happily have approached this prompt with an elegy to Autumn. How I love Autumn – season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. Woodsmoke on the breeze and a nip in the air, heaps of russet leaves to kick up on long walks in dank woods. The absolute beauty of the trees with their leaves turning… blackberry picking trips, gathering windfall apples… Yes, I love Autumn.
Alas, I moved to live in Orkney. Up here we have two seasons – nine months of Winter and the remainder of the year, Not-winter. The weather in both seasons is remarkably similar, at least as far as temperatures go – the Gulf Stream influences our climate significantly, making Orkney warmer than most places at this latitude (59° N) and there is less than 10°C difference between the average winter and average summer temperatures. The warmth of our winters means that we have little snow to look forward to.
The absence of trees means we do not have the seasonal signals that other places have – no spring leaf buds to watch out for, no golden leaves to fall, no hedgerows to scavenge for blackberries or crabapples. The geese come and go, the days have more or less daylight hours. The wind is a little less strong, for the main part, when we have our nominal Summer. That’s it. Basically we have the light half of the year and the dark half and that is how we tell the season.
“[Orkney’s] one outstanding characteristic is wind. No other region in Great Britain can compare with it for the violence and frequency of its winds”
Magnus Spence. “The Climate of Orkney” 1908
To the visitor to Orkney, the wind is perhaps the most commented aspect of the islands’ weather. Even in the summer there is an almost constant breeze (usually a Force three or four on average) and this can give a biting edge to the warmest of days.
Strong winds are common, carrying with them salt from the sea, which in turn affects vegetation. In winter, gales are common with an average of 52 hours of gales recorded annually.
In the dark half of the year, the average wind speed increases to around Force 6, often force 7 or 8. More extreme gales, where the windspeeds are over 90 mph, occur relatively frequently, although usually only in short bursts. The worst of these gales was recorded in 1953 – an event that saw considerable damage through the isles.
I have to quibble with that figure for gale hours! I may contact the site owner and ask him where he is getting his data from. In the 7 years that I have lived on Sanday, our weather stats have shown roughly between 20 and 50 Gale Days per annum. A gale can blow for two or three days at a time, though sometimes we will only touch Gale Force for a couple of hours or so.
It all sounds rather horrible, doesn’t it? It’s not – but I do miss Autumn.
Actually, I miss Spring too – and Winter snow… but I do like living where Summer is but a distant memory. I hate the heat.