(The Guardian) What's happened to winter?
- What's happened to winter?
We're supposed to be deep in January gloom, but across the country
lambs are gambolling and daffodils are blooming. Is it El Ni�o? Global
Warming? By Patrick Barkham
Tuesday January 9, 2007
Hedgehogs shun hibernation to gambol amongst blooming daffodils.
Cherry trees blossom and red admiral butterflies soar in the balmy
breeze. From sheep to parrots, creatures pop out unseasonal sprogs.
January is the new March, and not just in Britain: as Arctic ice
retreats, ice rinks are closed across the pond; New Yorkers bask in
And it seems that things are only going to get hotter. In England,
2006 was the warmest year since records began in 1659. The Met Office
is predicting that 2007 will be the hottest ever year with a global
average temperature of 14.54C, beating the average of 14C and the
previous highest of 14.52C in 1998. So what happened to our winter?
In the US, this unseasonal heat has been blamed by some weather
experts on El Ni�o, the natural warming of the surface water in the
tropical eastern Pacific which happens every three to 10 years or so
and changes winds and rainfall patterns. Extra heat comes out of the
ocean into the air, causing a temporary global warming.
El Ni�o's legacy tends to be pronounced in the Americas and is also
linked to more typhoons in the Pacific and droughts in Australia. In
Europe, however, its effects are harder to unpick from other
phenomena, such as the recent warming of the Atlantic Ocean, according
to David Parker of the Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Change.
"El Ni�o may have contributed to there being more south-westerly winds
[bringing mild weather] at this stage of the winter, but El Ni�o has a
tendency to make cold snaps more likely in the second half of the
winter," he says.
Cold snaps? Eh? When? Well, according to a spokesman for the Met
Office, they may be coming: El Ni�o "may lead to an increased
frequency of cold snaps" in Britain in late January and February, he
Piers Corbyn of Weather Action, the long-range forecast service that
challenges many forecasting orthodoxies, agrees. "Our long-range
forecast for this month was: starting mild, wet and windy, like it is,
turning much colder certainly in eastern parts by the middle of the
month with mild, wet and windy weather at the end," he says. Next week
he predicts a flurry of snow or rain in the east and south - bringing
death to many unseasonal plants and insects.
If you are startled by spring in the city, don't read too much into
it, Corbyn cautions. "There's now so much central heating that
observations about global warming made in cities are not very
So what about global warming? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change estimates that increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in
the atmosphere will lead to a man-made warming of 1.5C to 5.8C above
1990 levels by the end of this century. One warm British winter does
not herald global climate change, but it is probably not a good
sign. "If it carries on like this, we could experience a year without
a winter for the first time," says Dr David Viner of the University of
East Anglia's climatic research unit.
He agrees that there could still be a cold snap but argues that what
we are experiencing fits the pattern of warming and us hitting the
upper end of the 1.5C to 5.8C temperature range forecast by the
IPCC. "The pathway we're following is the high end [of that range],"
says Dr Viner. "It's very bad news".