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Where did Northern Ireland's summer go?

By Amanda Poole and Patrice Dougan

It's been the coldest "summer" since 1987.

While other parts of Europe bask in glorious sunshine and enjoy an outdoor lifestyle, Northern Ireland is buffeted by the wind, rain and hail.

There's no doubt our lush and green pastures are breathtakingly beautiful, but sunbathing on the beach and a barbecue minus the umbrella would be welcome.

Many people carry a coat and umbrella all-year round, with the cheery optimists among us packing their sunglasses - just in case.

Weather seems to be the 'hot' topic of conversation on everyone's lips. But it affects different people in different ways.

Staff at Belfast Zoo cross their fingers every evening in anticipation of what the next day's outlook will be. Manager Mark Challis said sheltered areas, indoor viewing areas and feeding times ensure there's still a lot to do even if it's wet.

However, while the rain does have an impact on daily figures, visitor numbers to the zoo are on a par with previous years.

Mr Challis added that days of bad weather might put some people off but most end up saying, "so what, we'll go out and get wet".

John Shannon, owner of Inver Garden Centre in Larne, has more than 30 years experience in the gardening industry.

He said garden retailing is "very much at the whim of the weather".

Mr Shannon added: "I've always said 'good weather means good business and bad weather means bad business'.

"July sales were good but the last few days have been very quiet.

"Moisture is good if you're sowing a lawn and plants grow well, but they are more likely to get diseases.

"It's not been a very good year for tomatoes growing in glass houses."

Ulster Farmers' Union president John Thompson said farmers have learned to cope with our wild weather.

"We had a cold June, which meant that we had a slow start to the growing season.

"However, a warm July made up for the slow start in June, meaning that for the most part crops recovered and the grass grew well.

"Farmers here are used to unpredictable weather and so while this summer hasn't been easy, farmers have been managing."

Stuart Meredith, agronomist with Wilson's Country Potatoes, said the the humble spud can even be a victim of bad weather.

"We have seen a major split within Northern Ireland between the west and the east.

"The west has experienced a lot more rain than the eastern side of the province.

"It's been a fairly humid, damp summer so there's more of a blight pressure.

"Potatoes have been more susceptible to blight because of the warm, moist climate. But there's been a fairly good growing season.

"As far as blight is concerned, the farmers are spraying regularly to keep it out, but there has been that need to spray every seven days."

Sport in Northern Ireland is often a victim of bad weather.

Richard Parker, the head coach at Cavehill Tennis Club in north Belfast, said players in Northern Ireland have to get used to playing in the rain.

"We missed a couple of days this month, but we usually play in it anyway," Richard said.

"If it gets too bad outside we will use the inside mini courts.

"You have to adjust your game a wee bit for the rain, but wind is our biggest weather problem." The 2011 North West 200 was called off after just one race was completed.

It was dogged by persistent rain, as well as being victim to an oil spill and a hoax security alert that forced police to evacuate the paddock.

Technical director of the course Mervyn White said this year's road racing was "a disaster because of the bad weather".

The NW200 official added: "Bad weather makes it so unsafe for high speed sport.

"Unfortunately it ruins a number of sport events. We feel for the fans."

Alas, there's not much hope on the horizon - the rest of August is set to bring more of the same.

Belfast Telegraph

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