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Irish Weather goes "viral"

At the old saying goes, "it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good." That's certainly the case in Ireland where winds from the north have reestablished themselves bringing frigid weather and falls of snow to most of the country.

For many people this means another spell of trouble getting to work, dangerous icy roads and sidewalks and loads of cancellations. Given it's Christmas week, the return of the frosty weather has meant another blow to those stores that were hoping a good Christmas might save them.
However, there is a web site for which the snowy weather has been a boon. IrishWeatherOnline.com (Twitter: @iweatheronline, #IWO), a web site and now a viral social phenomenon, has captured a huge audience in a few short weeks.

I've mentioned before how it doesn't snow in Ireland like it snows in Albany, where i grew up, or New York, where I lived as an adult. Snow in Ireland, when we have it, comes in waves off the sea. This is one of the keys to Irish Weather Online's success.

Unlike the national weather service - Met Eireann - IWO provides a localized, "nowcasting" service which has been very popular during the recent spell of cold and snow.

Met Eireann will set the tone for the day with a general forecast telling us there is a chance of snow showers in the East or the North or wherever. IWO provides that as well on the web site, but through Twitter they provide SNOW ALERTS: "Snow in the next 15 minutes in Kilmihil, Doonbeg, Carrigaholt." What I've really enjoyed about this is that so many of the reports are about towns/villages/hamlets that I've never heard of before. I go to Google Maps to find where they are.

The past few weeks my phone has been buzzing with these snow alerts. When I'm at home they're mostly just fun (& annoying to my daughters), but when I'm out I love being told that a heavy snow shower will be heading my way in 15 minutes. That's just enough time to determine whether I should return or carry on with the journey. It only takes about 15 minutes for the roads to go from slushy to impassable.

Oh, and one more point in their favor: IWO has been (maybe only marginally) more accurate in forecasting the two cold spells we've had this month.

As well as the snow alerts, the site has been answering questions and posting pictures from people all over Ireland, basically providing an online forum for Irish people to talk about - share, really - one of their favorite topics: the weather. Blogging, tweeting, Facebooking the weather has really taken off and Irish Weather Online is at the center of the conversation.

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