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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

Across Seasons and Time

Snow in winterThere are few things we in Scotland – indeed, people throughout the British islands – like to talk about more than the weather. It is one of the first things we speak about when making conversation. We like to moan about the cold, and the rain, and when the weather becomes warmer we act like we’re in the tropics, throwing off clothing, and then complain if it becomes too sunny!  The weather is, of course, driven by a number of factors, and it goes through cycles that are determined by the rotation of the planet, nearness of the sun, and the region of the planet in which we are located. The Earth turns on its axis once every 24 hours and goes around the sun at 66,000 miles an hour, taking 365 days to complete one whole orbit of the sun. The axis of our planet moves steadily over time and completes a ‘nod’ once every 41,000 years. At the same time, the gravity of the moon, sun and other planets all pull at the Earth. As the world ‘nods’ over time the ice caps grow out and retreat depending on the factors described above. The changes in the position of the Earth, its nodding, and nearness or farness from the sun, are marked through the year by changes in weather we call seasons, or spring, summer, autumn and winter. And to each of these quarters we ascribe characteristic weather. Sun spot activity also has an effect on the weather of the northern regions. When sun spots are few, or even absent, the solar wind – charged particles of radiation – is much less intense. This means that the eastern cold and winds from Siberia are able to spread much further westwards across the British Isles, forcing back warmer winds from the Atlantic. When that happens we experience much more severe winters.

The last few years have seen increasingly erratic weather in the British Isles, alternating between severe winters with heavy snowfall, milder winters with little or no snow, wet summers and autumns, and, most recently, terrible flooding, particularly in England and Wales. In the 1980’s some scientists and researchers began to talk about ‘global warming’, a trend driven by man-made pollution which traps certain harmful chemicals in the atmosphere and causes the planet to warm up. As evidence of this, glaciers around the world have begun to melt and retreat, and large parts of the polar ice caps, such as the Larsen B ice shelf, have begun to break off. The Larsen B, which had been stable for the past 12,000 years, broke up and disintegrated in 2002. All but the most profit-driven organisations now recognise that man is changing the climate of the planet. And with climate change comes weather change. We can no longer rely on the long-established weather systems.

Our ancestors lived and worked according to the changes in weather – the seasons – and gradually developed a great store of wisdom, including weather lore. In the Scots language there are many words to described different kinds of weather – far, far more than the predictable ‘dreich’ permitted by broadcasters on Scottish weather forecasts - and many sayings were used to pass on knowledge about predicting seasonal variations. Many of these are still in use in farming and fishing communities in Scotland, and a few among the general population. Sayings can tell us much about the way a certain community sees the world and how it deals with it. If you would like to find out more about Scotland’s weather, and the Scots language, you will find four articles on the left hand menu describing the weather across the four seasons, together with a variety of recordings of words and sayings in Scots.

In addition to the seasonal articles you will find an article about weather poetry and an article with useful weather related links.