Monday afternoon had everybody talking. It was that same old topic that British folk are famously obsessed with – the weather. When it comes to weather, the ability of our island’s maritime climate to bring four seasons in one day means we tend to think nothing can surprise us.
I’m not sure where I first read it, but I once saw a phrase that said; “we lived right on the seafront, so life is a constant conversation with the weather.” I think this is true of anywhere, whether on the coast, up in the hills, or tucked away in a deep valley, the weather gives character to each day. The ever changing nature of weather brings variety that stimulates and entertains. It reminds us regularly that there is an element of the world which we cannot govern or control.
Monday started out for us grey and soft, whilst further west, gale force winds and heavy rain battered the coast of Wales and swept over Ireland. Autumn storms are not unusual, but Storm Ophelia started out as a hurricane over the warm oceans to the south and seemed to rage in fierce defiance of her weakening strength.
In Sussex the day grew blustery, but we were well out of Ophelia’s path. It was unexpected therefore to find the sky dark and glowering by mid afternoon. The darkness drew in deeper and increasingly sinister. The birds began a flurry of evening chorus then fell eerily silent. Streetlights flickered on at just 2.30 in the afternoon. Thick with cloud, the sky took on an unusual autumn-brown hue, a strange sepia light that held all suspended in its timeless glow. We braced for rain but nothing came. Gradually, a cloud edge crossed the sky and the sun appeared behind a curtain of haze. But this was not our sun, not the blinding fire-shine that fills the sky with glare. This was a sun we could gaze at, a faded shadow-sun, a cloaked red disc. I had seen a sun like this before, just once, on the day we left Canada at the end of our summer holiday. On that occasion, wild fire smoke drifting many miles from the neighbouring province formed a diffusing lens filter, subduing the sun’s ferocity.
We discovered later that Monday’s effect was the result of similar factors. Storm Ophelia had not travelled alone; the storms trajectory had dragged a current of tropical air heavy with particles. Dust from the sahara and smoke from wildfires in Portugal and Spain formed layers of cloud that travelled slowly across the UK, following their storm captor.
In ancient times an unusual weather experience like the Ophelia dust cloud that was strong enough to have such impressive effects as blocking out the sun would surely have been interpreted as an omen, a sign from the Gods. Now it was simply greeted with the comment, “Here, did you see how dark it got on Monday with that odd cloud? Wasn’t it weird?” Sometimes it seems there is little space for magic in our modern world.