WHAT'S HAPPENING TO OUR WEATHER? ; This Summer Is Set to Be the Wettest Ever. It's the Latest in a Series of Broken Records Which Suggest Climate Change Is Here Already. by Michael McCarthy ++ Extreme Conditions

By McCarthy, Michael | The Independent (London, England), August 28, 2007 | Go to article overview
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WHAT'S HAPPENING TO OUR WEATHER? ; This Summer Is Set to Be the Wettest Ever. It's the Latest in a Series of Broken Records Which Suggest Climate Change Is Here Already. by Michael McCarthy ++ Extreme Conditions


McCarthy, Michael, The Independent (London, England)


Britain is just a few showers away from recording a record wet summer, at the climax of the most remarkable period of broken weather records in the country's history. All of the smashed records are to do with temperature and rainfall - the two aspects of the climate most likely to be intensified by the advent of global warming.

While no specific event can be ascribed directly to climate change, the sequence of events is strongly suggestive of a climate that is now unmistakably altering before our eyes.

Furthermore, the pattern of increasing heat and wet weather has been visible in the same period all around the globe, with temperature and rainfall records broken in many other countries, from Australia (record drought) and India (record monsoon rains) to Greece (record forest fires).

Yet in the UK alone, in the past 14 months we have experienced the hottest July, the hottest April and the wettest June since records began. We have seen the hottest autumn and the hottest spring, and the second-hottest winter. We have also seen the hottest single month, and - by a considerable margin - the hottest single 12- month period.

Now we are on the brink of seeing the soggiest British summer as a whole - defined as June, July and August - since records were first kept for the United Kingdom in 1914. By Friday morning of last week, the average rainfall in Britain since the beginning of June was 356.6mm - just over 14 inches - and nudging up to the record of 358.4mm, set in 1956. It is increasingly likely a new record will be set if there is any significant rainfall between now and Saturday.

Even if there is none, summer 2007 has already passed the second- wettest summer mark (which previously was 1985, with a rainfall of 342.7mm). And the three months from May to July have easily broken the record for rainfall for that period.

The significance of these records is that they are actually occurring in the real world - rather than in the forecasts generated by computer mathematical models of the global climate.

That marks a major shift. For the initial decade of the climate change problem (from the first report of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1990), the effects of global warming, such as extreme heatwaves and downpours, were seen as future events which the climate models predicted. They were thus much easier for sceptics to dismiss.

But, in recent years, extreme and record-breaking real events, entirely consistent with global warming predictions, have started to mount up - beginning with the remarkable heatwave of August 2003, which caused 35,000 excess deaths in France and northern central Europe.

That episode, the first event whose severity was ascribed by scientists directly to climate change, only just caught Britain with its edge.

But even so, it broke the UK's air temperature record on 10 August 2003, pushing it for the first-time ever over 100F, to 101.3F, or 38.5C. The previous record (set in 1990) was 98.8F or 37.1C. Thus the jump to the new record was 2.5F, or 1.4C - an absolutely enormous leap.

Some of the records of the past 14 months which we detail today are of similar astonishing dimensions. In particular, April 2007 and the summer just ended produced quite unprecedented weather for Britain - with quite unprecedented effects.

April was so warm (contributing to the warmest spring on record) that the natural world was put completely out of sync: swifts arrived (from Africa) a month early, as did the hawthorn flowers - known as May - which prompted suggestions they should be renamed April blossom.

And summer was so wet that it produced the worst flooding Britain has ever seen - with the two catastrophic "extreme rainfall events" of 24 June and 24 and 20 July, which did the damage, each being of a severity likely only once in 200 years, or even longer.

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WHAT'S HAPPENING TO OUR WEATHER? ; This Summer Is Set to Be the Wettest Ever. It's the Latest in a Series of Broken Records Which Suggest Climate Change Is Here Already. by Michael McCarthy ++ Extreme Conditions
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