Hugh Thomson

Blowing hot and cold | 9 November 2017

Thirty years after the Great Storm, Hurricane Ophelia smashed Ireland. Devastating cyclones look set to become the norm

I spent part of the summer sailing around Ithaca and the Ionian Sea. It was a good reminder of how capricious Homeric weather can be. In the space of a few days the wind shifted dramatically to three different points of the compass — and none of them was the gentle westerly Zephyr that brought Odysseus and his men back to almost spitting distance of their homeland. Almost, because just as they approached, the crew became suspicious of the goatskin bag in which Aeolus had helpfully packed away the other hostile winds and let them all loose.

Nick Hunt tries to track down a few of Europe’s more errant and potent winds. He starts with the homegrown Helm, which blusters across the Pennines. In its day this has been known to blow a countryman off his horse and demolish what had been the only remaining tower of Haresceugh Castle.

He is honest enough to admit that at first he can’t find the Helm, which does not make for the most dynamic of openings — even if the wind turns out later to be a postponed pleasure. Like those in search of surfing waves or fish, when looking for winds you will almost always arrive somewhere to be told you should have been there yesterday.

Only halfway through the book do we finally meet one of his quarry, the enfant terrible of the Adriatic, the Bora. The name comes from Borea, the ice-bearded God of winter. The wind is a dry, frigid one that forms when cold air builds up behind the mountains until the pressure is so high that it is dragged through them, with enormous violence. It covers everything in its path with crystalline ice formations.

One of the mouths from which the Bora emerges is directly above Trieste, and the city has chains slung along its pavements for the inhabitants to cling to when it starts to howl.

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