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'We're victims of our own success': Evelyn Cusack defends Met Éireann over Storm Lorenzo criticism

The head of forecasting at Met Éireann said the storm had been “over-sensationalised” prior to reaching Ireland.

Head of Forecasting at Met Éireann Evelyn Cusack.
Head of Forecasting at Met Éireann Evelyn Cusack.
Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

MET ÉIREANN’S HEAD of forecasting has defended the warnings put in place when Storm Lorenzo hit Ireland earlier this year, but said “we were kind of slow to say there will not be a hurricane”. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie for an upcoming episode of our podcast The Explainer, Evelyn Cusack said that the forecaster was a “victim of our own success” given how sophisticated its models are at identifying potential events more than a week in advance.

Criticism was levelled at Met Éireann after Lorenzo came and went, with one complainant to the forecaster accusing it of “alarmist commentary”

In its defence, the forecaster said the media had over-sensationalised the potential impact of Lorenzo in the run-up to the weather event. 

Speaking earlier this month, Cusack said commentary on social media contributed to the suggestion the storm would be much more severe than it was.

‘Powerful hurricane’

Lorenzo was described a “large and powerful hurricane” as it began to track across the Atlantic towards the end of September. 

As it approached Ireland, a meeting of the National Emergency Coordination Group took place on 1 October as agencies closely monitored Lorenzo’s progress.

Minister Eoghan Murphy said all departments were on standby to attend further meetings at short notice “given the uncertainty associated with the track and evolution of Hurricane Lorenzo”. 

Later that same day, while stressing the severity of the storm when it hit Ireland was “still to be determined”, Murphy said that “very significant storm wave surged” were expected which would be “quite ferocious” and “very dangerous”. 

A number of outlets reported that Met Éireann hadn’t yet ruled out issuing a red alert warning. Red alerts – which are described as “rare and very dangerous weather conditions” that bring a risk to life – have been issued nationwide in the past for Storm Emma in 2018 and Storm Ophelia the year before. 

Met Éireann frequently issues advisories up to a week out for weather events – like in this case – but doesn’t issue warnings until around 48 hours before a weather event is due to hit.

This is because of weather models that track all the possibilities a storm may take. Given the changeability, Met Éireann can be most certain of how severe the effect will be up to two days before it hits. 

In the event of Lorenzo, less severe Status Orange warnings were issued for five counties, with Status Yellow warnings in place for the rest of the country. 

‘There will not be a hurricane, madam’

Cusack said: “It was a hurricane – definitely – when it was down thousands and thousands of miles away. 

“In a way we’re victims of our own success. I’m talking about weather forecasters. So the 10-day track, the nine-day track, the eight-day track – [Lorenzo] was heading towards western Europe,” she said.

But of course, we never know until closer to the time [if] it’s a possibility. In fact, the strike areas five days ahead gave it a probability of the strike being anywhere between Greenland and northern Spain. 

Cusack said that it was difficult for her as head of forecasting and for her forecasters because “all the social media were saying ‘Lorenzo’s going to hit Ireland, winds of 150km per hour in five days”.

“I was saying ‘no, no, no, please’,” she said. “Thinking back to Michael Fish [saying] ‘there will not be a hurricane madam’.”

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Fish is the BBC broadcaster who famously dismissed the chance of a hurricane before the Great Storm of 1987 hit Britain and France. 

Cusack added: “We were kind of slow to say there will not be a hurricane. We didn’t issue warnings until the day before. That’s how uncertain it was. And just then it was yellow and orange [warnings].

Even now people are saying ‘Evelyn, why were you forecasting a hurricane?’ and you know we weren’t. Social media was… and everyone’s getting forecasting online and it’s good in a way but don’t be forecasting hurricanes first.

With reporting from Nicky Ryan

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Sean Murray

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