Monday, September 01, 2008

990 falling quickly

The BBC area shipping forecasts I described yesterday end with Weather Reports from Coastal Stations. These go something like the following: Lerwick. West-northwest 3, intermittent rain, 22 miles, 1007 rising slowly.

Lerwick, in the Shetland Islands, is one of 13 weather stations scattered around the coasts of Britain and Ireland. The report gives wind direction, wind speed (on the Beaufort scale), present weather, air pressure in hectopascals (or millibars), and pressure tendency (rising or falling and how fast).

Two of the 13 stations are in the Republic of Ireland: Malin Head, the northernmost point of Ireland, and Valentia, which I can see out of my studio window across Dingle Bay. Valentia was one of the original network of weather observatories established by Robert Fitzroy in 1868, at a time when the Irish Republic was still under British dominion. Valentia Island was the starting point for the first transAtlantic telegraph cable which linked Ireland to Newfoundland in 1858. The cable station was in operation here until 1966, and one of the station buildings is now a museum of sorts, where one can examine cross-sections of the cables and telegraphy equipment from various eras.

Valentia island and the Dingle Peninsula vie for being the westernmost point of Europe: Valentia got the cable, and the Dingle Peninsula was where Lindbergh made his landfall, flying right over our house, then veering south toward the telegraph station, from which news of his successful solo flight was tapped out to the world. Most of the weather in these islands comes from the same direction as did Lindbergh, which is why the Valentia observatory remains one of the most important in the system.