Leaving aside the human element, the biggest factor affecting profitability is the weather – to most farmers a fickle “phenomenon” that just has to be lived with.
But for one Tyrone farmer the weather is much more than a conversational gambit. He finds recording its progress a fascinating part-time occupation. And into the bargain is he paid for it!
On his farm at Tattynure, Knockmoyle, Omagh, Mr R J McConnell runs a meteorological synoptic and climatogical station and six times daily he telephones the readings from various instruments to the meterological centre at Aldergrove.
“This station was started in 1963. I became interested in meteorology when I did several courses on the subject when I was in the RAF. Later, I saw an article in a paper which mentioned that there was a shortage of observers. I wrote and the Met people, being very pleased to find somebody in this area, came down practically the next day to set up the station,” said Mr McConnell.
Mr McConnell sends his first instrument readings to Aldergrove at seven o’clock in the morning before milking the cows, and the sixth and final report is made at 10pm in the evening.
The reports include wind speed and direction, extremes of temperature, type of cloud, degree of visibility, and barometric tendencies. All are sent, precoded in a series of figures convenient for plotting and teleprinting, by a fixed time telephone call to Aldergrove and hence via teleprinter to the meteorological centre at Bracknell in England where all the reports are fed into the European weather forecasting system.
Similar reports, all observed at the same hour, come in from weather ships, aerodromes and weather stations up and down the country. Tattynure is one of eight stations out of 20 odd in Northern Ireland that makes six reports daily.
“One reason why the forecast can go astray is that it is five hours old by the time we hear it and often the weather is balanced on a knife edge; a change of one degree in temperature can mean rain,” said Mr McConnell.
“It is fascinating to watch the weather and wait for a front which has been forecast to build up. If it doesn’t the forecast has gone wrong. Condensation trails from airline jets in the transatlantic air corridor above this station followed by cirrostratus can be an indication of a warm front coming in from the west,” he added.
Clouds are an important part of weather observation. There are 24 different forms – from the low, grey, rainy nimbostratus, the white rounded cumulus in fair weather to the high fleecy altocumulus.