There aren’t many things in life you can take for granted as easily as British rain. In Durham, in Northern England, all of us international students have learned that just because it’s clear skies one minute, doesn’t mean you should get excited and plan for a stroll in the park, or at least do so armed with a rainjacke, because it will all change within twenty minutes and rain is an inevitability.
So even as temperatures soared to a record 37 degrees last summer in Durham, and a parched United Kingdom was facing the rare prospect of severe drought, I wasn’t too concerned – I had no doubt that my planned wet-weather sampling was going to go through at some point. All I needed were a few days of rain so that I could get the appropriate conditions for samples that I could compare to the ones I had taken in April 2022. The rationale has to do with how different pathways for pharmaceuticals ultimately reaching river systems are turned on or off depending on rain inputs: for instance, combined sewer overflows only discharge untreated sewage when overwhelmed by rain water and overland flows only carry manure-enriched soil after a heavy rain. Besides, I had a generous time window, between November and February, to find an appropriate date to take my 8+ gracious volunteers for the 100 mile daytrip to the Aire catchment to collect my precious river water samples.
But one week passed, and then another. False alarm after false alarm as forecasted rains never came and I started to get antsy. But while on winter break, I was happy to see the river much higher and flood alerts finally coming into my inbox. I double checked all my preparations and was a woman on a mission – I was going to get my samples as soon as I was back from holiday.
I was so close, painfully close, but just as everything came together, the rains stopped. Just as fast as they came, they were gone again. I was never so sad to wake up to a sun shining day, and colleagues rejoicing at the unexpected fair weather only soured my mood. As march rolled around, new forecasts came in – just 10% chance of a wet spring, after what turned out to have been the driest February in 30 years. Defeated, I started to consider contingency plans – maybe push back my thesis submission timeline, or scrub the sampling altogether, all sorts of unpleasant scenarios, but that’s the way research works somehow and you have to prepared to be flexible.
Just as I was about to give up, out of habit I opened the 5 day forecast, just to check. And behold, the gods of fieldwork smiled down and a cold front appeared out of nowhere, and just like that, we were back in business!
It is still a gamble with the weather, as all the logistics need to be in place at least 2-3 days in advance but the weather seldom gives that generous amount of notice. But I felt like this time I had luck on my side so I surged forward with the preparations and never looked back. And if the universe was conspiring to help me get my perfect field conditions, the snows came as forecast, the snow melt came through just when I had hoped and a day of heavy rain sealed the deal. As another minor miracle, the day we went out into the field was even sunny and bright for the most part – couldn’t have asked for more.
Stay tuned for more details on how the day actually played out but needless to say, after all the trepidation and anticipation, I am as pleased as punch with how it unfolded and can’t be more grateful to all my volunteers for sticking through it all.
But if I can leave you with one lesson that, to be fair, I could have anticipated: never plan anything that depends on the weather!
And if I can leave you with two, I would add: don’t lose faith, even if things look dire, you never know when the wind will turn in your favor.