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Windy Weather

Yesterday's walk was a little different. A forecast of wind gusts of 42 miles per hour, admittedly under a clear blue sky, suggested choosing a more sheltered route than usual. So a bit shorter, but much harder, my route took me off-road for some of the distance.

Two scarves to keep the wind off my ears, and another day encased on long johns, represented something substantially less than high fashion but provided an effective barrier against the wind.

A route around the edge of Reidside Moss, our local site of Special Scientific Interest, was a wee bit depressing. The state of this SSSI is short of the ideal. It should be a bog and support a diversity of wildlife.

It is rather dry and looks like a scruffy bit of scrub with a near monoculture of whin, broom and grass. But it probably isn't deteriorating because its status at least prevents it being used for anything other than what is. Nature as it once was—a rare patch of land which is not obviously the product of human intervention.

The weather I was walking in was somewhat localised. The photo of the blue sky I was walking under prompted feedback from my Twitter and Facebook posting that dust storms existed a mere five miles away.

It's interesting how this period of social isolation actually seems to have increased my interaction with neighbours, waves over the fence, friendly hellos across the road, and more feedback about relatively inconsequential things via social media.

Somehow it's a bit better to be having a discussion about objective observations of local weather conditions than to be batting down, to no real purpose, the odd lunatic piece of political "fake news". And we don't need to go across the Atlantic to the home of "fake news". We can grow our own. Albeit it seems somewhat less virulent than that which comes off the fingers of the orange one.

A couple of days ago, I was reporting that exceptionally high barometric pressure was being experienced. That's normally associated with a period of calm as the "high" bats off the lows that can bring rain and wind. But in the absence of our having a barometer - should I buy one online to give me another interest during isolation? - I observe that my local observation suggesting that the "high" has yet to reach us is borne out by the online weather maps.

Our forecasters are suggesting a record high temperature of 20 degrees. I look out the window this morning and find a light dusting of snow sitting on the car. It's an old saying that two professions can get it wrong most of the time - weather forecasters and economists - and keep their jobs.

Years ago, I used to have a professional relationship with someone who had spent some years as a weather forecaster - in Antarctica. They have weather like we have grass in the fields. Real weather, everywhere, all the time.

For him, it was a substantial struggle to go outside and cover the 100 metres or so to the Stevenson Screen - like that name - to get weather readings.

The Stevenson Screen was designed by Thomas Stevenson, a Scottish civil engineer who designed many lighthouses and was the father of author Robert Louis Stevenson.

I can, alas, be fairly sure that I ain't related to these Stevensons. They were a relatively well off family. My ancestors were essentially serfs, working in coal mines around Bannockburn. The 1841 Census shows over 300 Stevensons living in the area. So dispensible were people like my Great-Great-Grandfather Robert Stevenson, that his death in a mining accident in 1836 was nowhere recorded. And he was not alone in that.

Only the advent of DNA testing as part of the modern genealogist's array of research tools has finally enabled me to pin down my Stevenson ancestors. A Y-chromosome test, that's the DNA handed down from father to son and absent in females, helped me find a fifth cousin once removed - that's pretty distant - whose family had a written record in a family bible. Our families joined together in the family tree some 280 years ago.

So we're not connected to this Screen in Antarctica. But the account given to me by - let's just call him "Jim" - suggests that his connection was more tenuous than it should have been.

After a month or two, the twice-daily battle to go out and capture the weather readings became just too much for him. He stopped doing it, listened to the Antarctic weather reports on the radio and made up his own by interpolation rather than observation.

If true, and there's a good chance this may have been a "tall tale" provided to entertain over a glass or two, it perfectly illustrates why proper academic research has a rigorous system of peer review built into it. Independent academics read, verify that the processes used are robust, validate the research against others in the relevant field of study, and provide a adequate safety net against rogue science.

That's why if someone puts some unlikely, let's use the word - daft, "scientific" assertion on social media that begs my attention if I engage at all, it is to ask for peer-reviewed research that backs up their claim. Silence is the invariant reply.

We are fortunate in the present health crisis to be able to rely on our Chief Medical Officer and the access she has to widely-verified and peer-reviewed research. Without that, the correct practical and political response would be impossible to determine with any certainty.

So not every tale from Antarctica can be relied upon. But they do illustrate how to survive social isolation.

And today they are the only continent with no COVID-19 Coronovirus.


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