Mad March has arrived and, as if on cue, Emma and The Beast are on their way to a district near you.
That may sound like a publicity blurb for an execrable fairy-tale production from the studio of Mr. Disney – a sequel, perhaps, to Beauty and the Beast – but in fact it is a weather forecast for the British Isles.
Emma is a cold front fast approaching us from the south. The Beast – a storm dubbed by the press the ‘Beast from the East’ – an even colder front, reaches us from somewhere deep inside Russia. The two are due to converge tonight, over these islands, bringing snow and ice and frigid cold winds. And, of course, chaos.
All of which sounds grim enough to terrify the children out of their wits, and cause grown-ups to dash out to the supermarket to stock up with emergency supplies of food and fuel for a long siege.
Whether such extreme measures would be necessary I will leave the reader to judge. American readers on the eastern seaboard of the United States, accustomed to such inclement winter weather, will be excused if they fail to stifle a chuckle when they read the next sentence, in which I reveal how great a snowfall the weather forecasters are predicting.
Your are invited to take a guess. Three feet? Not even close. Two feet, then? Keep trying.
Give up? Alright. You are so far off the mark that a third guess will not be allowed.
The correct answer: the snowfall we are expecting to descend upon us in these beleaguered islands, is six centimetres. That, for the benefit of those of you still wedded to old imperial systems of measurement, is … please wait a moment while I convert that into inches … is two. Two devastating inches – actually, a little more than two inches. If worst comes to worst, we are warned The Beast might even dump eight centimetres – a catastrophic three inches.
There, I told you there would be chuckles.
This climatic Armageddon has been threatening us for several days now, accompanied by dire warnings about how our lives will be endangered. Two nights ago, my wife and I, defying advice to stay home with the heat turned up full and wrapped in blankets, ventured out to the cinema (to see The Darkest Hour, on which I recently commented). The theatre was eerily deserted. There were, to be precise, eight of us in the audience. One couple left early. Whether they didn’t like the film, or they simply wished to get home to avoided being stranded by the one centimetre of snow that fell that evening, there is no way of knowing.
Meanwhile, we can only struggle on as best we can. Many trains into and out of London have been cancelled today. Most schools have been closed for two days. Heathrow probably shut itself down with the first flurries. (But then Heathrow shuts down after a heavy frost.) Farther north, where conditions may well be worse, as they usually are, public safety services have been placed on Red Alert. I am not entirely sure of the technical definition of a ‘red alert’, but it is at the top end of the danger scale. “It means,” one newspaper warned darkly, “that lives may be lost.”
Further bulletins will be issued in due course – if we survive.