Climate Change in the UK

Contribution by Lexrex:

Climate Change cynicism may yet thrive in those regions of the world that still annually reel under the rigours of severe winter weather, but it has fewer and fewer takers amidst the ranks of the traditionally weather-obsessed and increasingly snow-starved British, of whom I alas am one. Nevertheless, there are dissenters in the ranks, but I’ll come to them in due course.

Real winters were a key feature of British life for centuries and became deeply ingrained into British culture. Dickensian novels and Victorian Christmas scenes depict an age of winter long since removed from possible experience but still lingering on in the British psyche. Despite the now annual disappointment, we still dream of a white Christmas in our green, rain-lashed isles.

Older people speak of grim winters when the snow and ice on the ground would turn dark hues through weeks and months of unrelenting cold, smog and churned up road verge. When my grandparents were young (in the 1920s), the lakes and rivers froze over deep and hard in winter (bar the odd freak year when the weather would be less severe) and
became de facto highways for horses and bicycles.

My grandfather used to tell of men cycling seven miles along the ice over a large river each day to work in town and returning again in the dark, and of snow accumulations so deep as to necessitate trenches being dug from the front door of each home all the way to a greater trench that led to the grocer’s shop.

The year my mother was born (1946) ended with the arrival of a particularly brutal winter; the snows began in November and didn’t abate until spring. That was the year the sea around Britain froze over and countless numbers of livestock perished in the Baltic-like cold.

Long periods of lying snow and hard frosts were still common as my parents grew up in the northern regions of Ireland, but the days of driving a horse and cart across a river were gone by then and prolonged incursions of mild weather were becoming more common.

During my own childhood, winters continued to soften, with snowfalls becoming less severe and less frequent, replaced by more lengthy mild periods or stormy but rainy spells, but at least there was the chance of snowball fights and full-sized snowmen each year. My dad made a sleigh for my sister and me – an unthinkable accessory nowadays – but even by then the snow would rarely lie for more than a week before rain would come and wash it all away. The Scots have, for the most part, lost their beloved winter sport of outdoor curling in the late 1970s when the large lochs stopped freezing over for the first time since the game was invented in the 1500s and while the Highlands remain the last region of the UK to still enjoy snowy winters, there too the cold is but a shadow of its former glory, as a faltering ski industry there confirms.

Even as late as my teenage years, extended periods of freezing fog and hoar frost were common in winter, and we would be sure of at least one snowfall of 2-3 inches depth, albeit lasting only a few days, but as the 1990s began, the quality and quantity when it came had very noticeably deteriorated, along with the frequency of it. Dry, powdery snow was replaced with watery, half-hearted, slushy stuff. And then last year was the first winter I can recall where we had no lying snow at all.

Meteorologists are unanimous in explaining the immediate causes of the warmer winters. Simply put, we no longer experience far-reaching high pressure incursions from Scandinavia, which traditionally could be counted on to draw bone-chilling, snow-laden easterly winds. In our snowy past, the Jet Stream used to be diverted southward by these
Siberia-fuelled blasts (or else its otherwise explained diversion allowed the cold air to come westward) whereas now the Jet Stream has gained the upper hand and flows north of our isles, allowing the North Atlantic Drift which draws warm waters from the Gulf of Mexico and dumps them off our west coast, to moderate winter weather systems coming from the west.

The debate among weather geeks doesn’t begin with the admission that this – along with a succession of record-breaking hot summers and freak flood events – constitutes climate change. Not many people deny climate change at all (although some do, bizarrely). But there is a significant number who dispute global warming is the real cause of our hotter summers and milder winters, and perhaps many more who dispute human activity’s role in it, notwithstanding what should be the instinctively obvious folly of pumping vast quantities of industrial gases into the air and innumerable toxins into the earth and sea.

Personally, I am not au fait with the key arguments in the scientific debate – I will leave that for others to comment on. All I know is our winters are mild when once they were cold, and that even in the increasingly unlikely event of a snowstorm (such as that which delivered 2-4 inches to the northern UK in the past two days), it will nearly always be washed away within 24 hours by yet another mild weather front arriving from the over active Atlantic (which, true to form, washed away
our recent most snow).

Of course, it seems everyone has an agenda in all sides in the debate, but the hard facts are there in all their mild, drizzly glory that even the average, unthinking prole can see every time he looks out through the window. Even the birds have noticed, with some species starting nest-building activities in mid winter. Climate change in the British Isles is thus, as in many other regions, very much real and therefore an issue that cannot be derided or ignored.


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8 thoughts on “Climate Change in the UK

  • January 16, 2008 at 12:19 pm
    Same ‘sad story’ here in mountains of Montana.

    Only 5-10 years ago, the Golden and Bald Eagles came thru here in October and November on there way South to winter range (and in May heading back North). Now, they just hang around all winter (and threaten to ‘steal’ my puppy). In past years I’ve have 10+ feet of snow and drifts three times that (or more in places). Over the past two years I’ve not seen more than 6 inches on the ground at any given time. Right now, thanks to 1/2″ last night, I’m up to 1.5 inches. Also, right now, and daily since X-mas, I have active house construction sites on three sides plus a newbie asshole from Florida cutting down all the trees and junipers on his property (and on others), ostensibly in an effort to keep his sorry ass warm. Did I mention that I HATE fucking morons bushing up my entire world?

  • January 16, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    We’re having a real winter here. Tons of snow, then it warmed up, made lots of ice, it’s below zero at night now. Ugly.

    But the winters before were unusual for sure. I don’t expect climate change to be too predictable. The news reported “thunder snow” – a term I had never heard of before (lightning and heavy snow at the same time).

  • January 16, 2008 at 12:42 pm
    Boy, do I remember the dang dirty old snow in Chicago! But I’ve not been there for more than a week at a time during winter in the past 18 years, so can’t say if they still have it. 50 years ago white christmas’s were a rarity there, but within a week of new year (heck, often ON New year) the temperature would be below zero F. One year I moved during a very early January ice storm, what fun THAT was. 20 years ago I’d bundle up my newborn and head to work at the homeless shelter with windchills of 40 below, standard. And I remember thunder snow – but the press never made a big deal of it until recently.

    Here east of DC it’s a different world, of course. I’m now farther south, closer to an ocean than to a lake. Rumors of snow cause folks to buy shovels (what happened to the shovels they bought LAST rumor of show???) and to clean out the stores of bread, milk, and toilet paper. ONE TIME in the 19 years I’ve lived here has there been enough snow that the stores actually couldn’t get milk and eggs in.

    Roofs here aren’t pitched for real snow – after a REAL snowfall back in ’96 many, many houses had roof dams of ice, causing indoor waterfalls. But that was the first time in 30 years that these houses had that problem, so the rarity of heavy snow here isn’t new.

  • January 16, 2008 at 4:50 pm
    Thunder snow seems somewhat new to me as the first time I ever experienced it was January 31, 1982 and it wasn’t announced by the weatherman–well I didn’t hear anyone announce it.
    It was not even supposed to snow that night and my husband was out of town. Sitting there looking out the window I noticed not only had it begun to snow, but the snowflakes looked like those giant white sheets of fishfood that are sold for goldfish and such. (I assume they still sell it like that.) I swear some of those flakes were 4″ and 6″ across. I’ve never seen anything like it. It continued snowing those bizarre flakes/sheets and then it began to thunder, something I’ve only seen once or twice since then.
    That was in St. Louis, MO.
    Now, snow isn’t something we receive nearly as much anymore.
  • January 16, 2008 at 5:06 pm
    My wife and I were in Austria last winter when we met a lady from Pennsylvania. She too complains that snowfall is nothing like what it used to be where she comes from. And of course, the Austrians and Germans were concerned that their lower ski resorts are going to go out of business because banks wouldn’t finance anything unless it was very high altitude.

    @ Lonewolf: Nothing sickens me more than people living near me, trying to find out my business so that they can judge me and thinking the worst of me, etc. It’s not paranoia – I am just sick to the back teeth of people. I truly believe mankind was not meant to live together in groups beyond the size of an immediate family, and even at that, the kids should clear off when they reach adulthood, the way lions do (albeit I draw the line at having a harem – one woman is tough enough, never mind a squad of them).

    You’re lucky you have eagles. In Ireland I think there is only one mating pair left (golden eagles), way in the extreme northwest. No wolves, coyotes, bears or mountain lions though – just hordes of sheep and aggressive people.

  • January 16, 2008 at 11:08 pm
    Don’t you notice that the climate change articles are in the UK papers–the real truth telling articles; not in ours?

    Also, I feel like a bug caught by a spider, watching all of this going down and not a thing I can do about it accept try to prepare for,…who can say for sure, what?

  • January 17, 2008 at 6:38 am
    It has not snowed here in over a decade. By contrast, when I was a boy we would get a couple of inches every few years.

    Bulbs now start shooting up in February. Plants once considered “tropical” (Mexican Heather, Lantana, Oleander, etc) have been introduced and become commonplace. Local nurseries are stocking zone 9 plantings (we’re in zone 8 still….officially).

    Canadian geese, which we used to see fly over on their way south for the winter, now winter HERE, while coyotes, armadillos, and fire ants have all moved into this area from in the last few decades.

    In recent years, we’ve even had a few years where it never fell below freezing….not even once, and 80+ degree days in December or January. Freakishly warm.

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