UK Snow: The Climate is Still Changing

Monday, 11th January 2010 at 9:00 UTC 6 comments

This is not going to be an in depth scientific analysis of the recent state of Britain’s weather, but I do want to pick out some of the inherent flaws in using Britain’s weather to refute the existence of Climate Change. With a very cold December and probably even colder start to January now behind us, I suspect we’ll hear a lot about Global Warming and very little about Climate Change.

Let us first be clear: Global Warming is not a useful term when discussing everyday experiences, because it refers to annualised global readings. These have little bearing on our lives, so lets forget about them. Climate Change refers to the alterations in weather patterns and ultimate collapse in global eco-systems, of which climate is a huge part.

We must also look at Britain in particular, and what is specific to our Climate, namely the effects of the Atlantic and the “Gulf Stream”. First, we should take a quick look at some geographical facts about Britain. In the most simplistic evaluation, the further from the equator, the colder it should get. But take a look at this list on Wikipedia, displaying cities in order from most Northerly to most Southerly, and you will notice some stark observations. Go to the 50-degree line. Just above is Plymouth, the most southern British city in the list. At 51.3 North is London. Leeds is 53.48N and Edinburgh 55.57N.

Just below Plymouth are Prague and Krakow, both of which get much colder winters. Quebec City is a clear 5 degrees south of London. Moscow is listed just below Edinburgh and Glasgow. In the section of table below the 50degree line you will find everywhere in the United States, some of which are far more used to seeing this kind of weather.

What we are getting is not exceptional for a country in our range of latitudes; on the contrary, we’re getting what we deserve for being this far north. The gulf stream, bringing warm currents from the South, normally protects us during Winters. But like any Climate phenomena, it is based on a precarious balance. [If we have fundamentally damaged the processes by which we stay warmer than comparably Northern places, then] we are getting only what we deserve, because we have altered, through a series of different effects beginning with over-production for over-consumption, [our planet’s climate, and thus eco-systems].

Will the Gulf Stream strengthen towards us in future years? You’d have to ask a climate scientist, a meteorologist or the likes. But you don’t need a weatherman to tell you which way the wind blows, and right now, [across the planet, we are seeing many changes that are out of the ordinary]. We have wrecked the planet. Past tense.

[Edits in square brackets include fixes to some of the comments below].


Entry filed under: Britain, Climate Change, Environment, News, Science.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lois  |  Monday, 11th January 2010 at 11:03 UTC

    While you’re right about the massive effect of the Gulf Stream and the problems caused if it changes, I think you’ve got to be careful about saying that the three weeks of snow (which historically, going back beyond the last 50 years, isn’t as unusual as everyone seems to think) we’ve just had are are definately the result of climate change. I totally agree we’ve messed up the planet. But we can’t just attribute every change in the weather, everything we don’t like to that. A lot of it is, I know. But it’s (historically, anyway) a bit early to know if this is the start of a trend or just a one off. IMO, anyway.

  • 2. Froth  |  Monday, 11th January 2010 at 15:02 UTC

    What’s your source for the North Atlantic Drift having stopped? We’ve had one cold winter, Graham, and that doesn’t mean the Gulf Stream has failed. Cold winters have happened before. In the mid-nineteenth century there was sea ice from Dover to Calais. The Gulf Stream was still flowing at that point, so why assume one cold winter means it’s gone?
    Basically, the Gulf Stream is either on or off. Either it comes north and becomes the North Atlantic Drift and keeps us warm, or it goes straight across to Spain and we get polar bears.

    “right now, the wind is bringing us cold weather, unabated by our natural protection which we have taken for granted all our lives. We have wrecked the planet. Past tense.”
    Unless you actually have a scientific source for the failure of the Gulf Stream, I’m going to assume this is pessimism and paranoia, actively hindering the cause of public understanding of climate science by scaremongering.

    • 3. Graham Martin  |  Monday, 11th January 2010 at 16:45 UTC

      I think its fair to say on reflection that there’s a line and I crossed it. Which, as you point out, hasn’t done me or anyone else any favours. There should be at least one if in there.

      But, this is the second year running that councils across Yorkshire and indeed, much of the country, have broken their records for gritting by tonnage. That said, I suspect it takes three to make a trend, so even with last year, your overall point still stands.

      I have half a mind to email Paul the Weatherman for his views on this. (Paul Hudson, Look North’s famous weather presenter).

      • 4. Froth  |  Monday, 11th January 2010 at 18:26 UTC

        My point isn’t that there isn’t a trend towards colder winters right now. There may well be one.
        My point is that you can have a trend towards colder winters without the Gulf Stream being brought into it. Bonfires on the Thames. Walking to France on the ice. Those things happened while the Gulf Stream was doing exactly what it’s doing now – carrying on as normal.
        The problem with your post is the part where you claim that the Gulf Stream is failing without giving any evidence or even explanation. You’ve seized on the Gulf Stream as the reason Britain is warm and made it answer for every twist in winter weather and that’s just plain wrong.
        This winter wasn’t climate. It was weather. The luck of the draw, the complexity of atmospheric dynamics. Nothing to do with the Gulf Stream.

  • 5.  |  Monday, 11th January 2010 at 15:11 UTC

    A couple of weeks ago when the snow started I was in a shop and noticed a headline in one of the tabloid newspapers that with some sort of pun suggested that the snow showed global warming was nonsence. I thought what a ridiculous headline- and it was.

    I hoped that those concerned with global warming would not jump to the opposite extreme and suggest it as proof. I think it belittles the debate and makes those aware of climatological reasons behind this cold snap suspicious of those claiming about global warming.

    I believe global warming exists and desperatly needs action however this snow has nothing at all to do with the debate. Bringing it into the debate shows that you have analysed the snow already with a desire to make it mean what you want it to mean. I think this blog does more harm to the environmentalists concerns than it does good.

    The reason for the cold snap is that there is an area of high pressure above the UK which is forcing the warm gulf stream air south and allowing easterly winds to prevail. This is unusual eg. every 50 years or so, but is not unexpected and causation cannot be linked directly to pollution.

  • 6. Graham Martin  |  Tuesday, 12th January 2010 at 12:31 UTC

    I felt I had to make a couple of changes based on some of the feedback. As noted, some of what I said wasn’t just wrong, it was actually unhelpful. There were a lack of “If…Then…” statements in here as well.


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