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Joanna Donnelly and illustrator Fuchsia MacAree Ruth Medjber
Met Éireann

'People say things about my hair; it's bananas': Joanna Donnelly on science and our fascination with weather

The Met Éireann forecaster’s new book, The Great Irish Weather Book, explains what weather is and how it happens.

ALTHOUGH SHE ALWAYS had an interest in science, forecaster Joanna Donnelly explains that it was almost by chance how she ended up working for Met Éireann.

“I’ve always loved maths, and studied it at university,” she tells

“And at the end of my degree, I had to produce a thesis, which I did on weather and air pollution. I had to go looking for data on the weather, and I ended up in Met Éireann.

“That’s when I knew that it was the place I wanted to be, so I ended up in meteorology.”

But despite meteorology usually being associated with geography, Donnelly says that predicting the weather is actually more about science.

In fact, she sets out her case at the very beginning of her new book The Great Irish Weather Book, in which she explains what weather is and how it happens.

Complete picture

The book’s design, with colourful illustrations by Fuchsia MacAree, make it appear more suited to children.

But its information about how the weather works is probably just as exciting for adults with a fascination about why it rains.

And Donnelly says that when it comes to asking questions about her job, children and adults aren’t as far apart as one might assume.

“The book actually caters to all ages,” she says. “Although it’s an illustrated work which is accessible to children, the science isn’t dumbed-down: it’s the complete picture.

“I’ve been going into schools to explain meteorology for a long time. But I’ve also been communicating with adults my whole life, and the questions they have are almost exactly the same as the ones kids have!”

If there’s a difference, it’s perhaps that children are more inquisitive about how things work.

Donnelly says she has learned from her own children how interested young people can be in science and getting the right explanation about the world.


“When my sons ask me a question, they get science as the answer. I know that sounds awful and like I’m torturing them, but it’s fun,” she laughs.

“I say this to my kids: every question has a scientific answer. They’ll ask ‘Why is my face upside down in a spoon?’

“And I’ll say it’s because the light is refracted when it hits a curved surface. And my kids love it, and all kids love it, because they love the right scientific answer.

This fascination with the weather may also derive from our instinctive attempt to explain the world around us – as well as helping us about go our day to day lives.

Donnelly points to how the different forces of nature affect our lives at incredibly basic levels, from what we wear out of the house to how we decide to get to work.

And because the weather can’t be controlled, it can put paid to plans made weeks or months in advance. 

“As human beings, we consider ourselves very sophisticated, but at the end of the day we’re just little animals running around on the surface of the earth,” she says.

“And before the gods we have now, we had Thor, or the sun god, or the rain god. This overpowering and all-powerful and all-ruling thing is the weather.

Nice letters

“As science took over we started to realise that Thor wasn’t the god of thunder; that was the noise that was made when the air expanded rapidly around a thunderbolt.

“Science is explaining everything one little bit at a time, and that’s why we’re fascinated with it.”

However, Donnelly also reveals that her role as a meteorologist also creates a unique uncontrollable phenomenon for her: reactions to her appearances on TV.

While many of these are positive, she is often left perplexed by some of the more negative commentary about her.

“There was a complaint from someone I saw asking if somebody would do something about my hair,” she says.

“To think that people believe they have opinions that are valid on my appearance. It’s just bananas.

“Really when you think about it for a minute, how does what they think about what I look like matter?”

But she’s quick to add that the majority of comments she receives – whether in the form of letters or from people in the street – are positive.

“Of course we know that, on the balance of things, people are usually much nicer,” she says. “I’d never take the bad ones personally in any way.”

  • Joanna Donnelly is shortlisted for Best Irish Published Book of the Year category in the An Post Irish Book Awards 2018. You can vote for your favourite author on

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