UK Winter Storms 2014

I came across a Met Office report on this winter’s exceptional storms today, which not only outlined the reason for the flooding the UK’s been experiencing lately but also linked through to a more detailed briefing report which took me slightly out of my depth but boiled down to, I think…. the UK has had unusually heavy storms and rain, and the USA has had exceptionally heavy snow storms and cold temperatures, because the Pacific Ocean around Indonesia is somewhat warmer than usual.

A better demonstration of how weather systems interlock around the world you couldn’t hope to find!

The immediate question that occured to me is, of course, that as climate change will warm the oceans in the future, are we likely to see this currently-exceptional weather pattern become more common in years to come? It may be that the answer to this question is buried somewhere in the scientific literature and I haven’t come across it yet – which is very likely, since there’s a heck of a lot of scientific literature out there! – or it may be that someone’s working on it at the moment, but as an ordinary person living in the UK, is this a risk that we’re going to have to consider in the future?

How many of these ‘exceptional’ winters does it take to render some of the UK’s richest farmland uneconomic to maintain and use? It’s been estimated that the Somerset Levels, for example, may still be flooded until May – which means there’s not much hope of getting any crops off them this year and even pasture grass will need re-seeding before livestock can graze there again. How many times can a farmer struggle through a winter like this, buying in feed for his livestock until midsummer, before he can’t afford to continue?

Of course, the answer to that is something we can only find out when the situation arises, if it does arise, but I wanted to mention it as an example of one potential problem for future consideration. Weather isn’t climate – weather is something that’s hard to predict and changes from day to day, while climate is the summation of trends measured over years, decades or centuries – but the IPCC’s AR5 does indicate that wet areas will get wetter in the future, while dry areas get drier.

Are more winters like that of 2013/14 on the cards in the future?

One point that’s often made in climate change literature is that, while it’s believed that the climate can ‘flip’ from one relatively steady state to another in relatively short periods of time (which is to say, over a few decades to a century), the amount of climate variability that occurs during that transition can be very high. We should all be expecting a rise in ‘extreme’ weather events – heavy rain will get heavier, for example – and it’s possible, I suspect quite likely, that this winter’s extreme weather in both the UK and the USA will turn out to be a manifestation of this increase in variability.


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