‘The Beast from the East’ bites Ireland

Of course I jinxed the weather with my last article, claiming how nice the weather in Ireland was. Last week the Irish were making a huge deal out of a snowstorm and a cold snap that was headed our way, named Storm Emma or “The Beast from the East.” Amazingly, it had blanketed Rome, Paris and parts of Spain with snow. The citizens of Ireland were bent on preparing for a snowpocalypse: dedicated gardeners had covered their newly budding spring plants, and most grocery stores were cleaned out of bread, butter, eggs and milk — a full two days before the storm was to hit. We Dublin Duhawks thought it was very funny.

By 11 p.m. on Tuesday night, the provinces of Munster and Leinster were put on Red Alert – the highest level weather warning that can be issued in Ireland. There were warnings of extremely cold temperatures (about 19 degrees Fahrenheit, so nothing in comparison to sub-zero Iowan winters). Schools and colleges were shut throughout the country as the nation braced for the storm that was pummeling the United Kingdom. We students and our Irish friends were ecstatic when we found out we had a snow day, but things began to deteriorate. All public transportation was stopped by 2 p.m. on Wednesday, and earlier in some places as seawater had flooded the train tracks along the coast. A fellow student and I made our way into an incredibly busy grocery store and stood agape at the scene before us. There was no produce left, no frozen foods, limited snacks, no bread, about a dozen liters of milk, and quite a few people standing in line. People were rushing about for provisions as Americans do when we have multiple feet of snow forecasted over a few days — not a few inches in two days. By the time we made it home, the wind had picked up, sounding like thunder at times. The residents of areas under Red Alert were advised to be home by 4 p.m. and stay home for at least an entire day. The traffic camera footage shown on the national news revealed that Dublin City, the capital and largest city, was a ghost town. Ireland was overreacting, right?

Well, as Wednesday turned to Thursday, our power went out for a bit while the wind and snow picked up. We woke to a blanket of white outside as the entire country was placed under Red Alert. Two Duhawks took a walk to the beach where the waves came crashing up against the rocks and sidewalk, the intense wind sending spray higher and higher. Back at home I watched An Taoiseach, the Prime Minister, address the nation, advising citizens to stay indoors and telephone elderly neighbors. Often we see state government officials address their people as disaster approaches, but no national leaders.

Friday dawned gray and snowy still, the usual Spotify advertisements were dotted with “icy road” warnings. A walk along the coast that afternoon astounded even us well-weathered Midwesterners, as you could lean well into it without falling over and the icy precipitation stung your skin. Public transportation did not operate all day Friday and only began to get back online Saturday afternoon. The Beast from the East had hit Ireland hard, and we were in Dublin to witness it; this winter storm was the worst that Ireland had seen in 30 years. The Beast was three whole days of a capital city and the main part of the country without public transport, two days of a nation under a Red Alert weather warning, 24,000 homes without power, hundreds without water, empty grocery stores, flooding, and heavy snowfall. We only received several inches where we lived, but farther south some parts of Ireland (a country which usually only gets a couple inches of snow on fewer than 12 days a year on average) got three feet of snow. What was most astounding was the snowdrifts, driven by the incredible wind; south of where we live, drifts covered entire doors and windows of bars and shopfronts.

Looking back, the Irish government will receive criticism from some citizens saying that they had overreacted, but the result of the government’s hard work and media’s concern here is clear: no fatalities. The people’s welfare was the priority of the leaders and media, even if stores ran out of staple foods and all public transportation shut down. Everyone was safe, and we Duhawks have fantastic tales to tell of how we witnessed the worst snowfall in Ireland in a generation.

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