Global warming means colder winters here

Igloo fun
Originally uploaded by PhylB

I’ve noticed that many people seem to take the severity of recent winters as an indication that global warming might not be happening.

However, meteorology isn’t a simple science, and today I found an article that claims to have found a reason why global warming would lead to colder winters in Europe: “shrinking sea ice in the eastern Arctic has caused some regional warming of lower air levels and could possibly lead to anomalies in atmospheric airstreams, which may trigger an overall cooling of the northern continents. These anomalies could triple the probability of cold winter extremes in Europe and northern Asia”.

This is of course quite separate from the possibility that the Gulf Stream might one day move or slow down, which would give Scotland and Denmark a climate more like Alaska’s.

Update (3/12): Here are two more articles about this topic, one in Danish and one in English.

Under the ash cloud

Anna in Edinburgh airport
Originally uploaded by PhylB

I’m blogging this from Aarhus, which is not how things were supposed to be.

We were supposed to spend a week in Copenhagen, celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday, let Anna play with her first and second cousins (Ursula, Aya, Karl and Olivia), show off Amaia to everybody, and then fly home to Scotland last Friday.

However, Thursday morning Phyllis’s parents contacted us about an ash cloud.

At first, we thought it was a delayed April’s Fool joke, but as soon as we switched on the TV, it became obvious that it was no laughing matter.

By Thursday evening it had become obvious that our flight home would get cancelled.

Friday morning I went to the main railway station to see what they could do.

I was offered a train to Amsterdam with changes in Fredericia, Padborg, Hamburg, Münster, Enschede and Amstetten, and then a ferry to Newcastle. There were only two problems: Firstly, the train was leaving an hour and a half later, which meant that I had to call Phyllis to get her to pack our bags urgently and rush to the station. Secondly, to get the ferry ticket, I had to line up in a separate queue, although they assured me that the ticket should be available.

I then queued for more than an hour, and by the time I got to the front, there were no more ferry tickets left.

I consulted Phyllis, who had already arrived, and we decided to go to Amsterdam anyway in the hope that there would be more ferry tickets available there (and we would be much closer to the English Channel if trains or ferries became available there).

So we rushed off to the train and started working our way down Europe.

However, when we reached Neumünster (north of Hamburg), the train stopped and we were told to change to a replacement bus.

Because we had lots of luggage and two small girls in a damaged buggy, we were the last to get to the bus, so by the time we got to Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, the train was long gone.

I went to another long queue, and then another, and then we were lucky: A nice lady in her fifties had a look at my wee girls and asked whether I really wanted to spend the night in Duisburg Station. I said no, and she then offered us a free hotel room for the night.

Of course I said yes, but I got a shock when I saw our room: A suite with two queen-sized beds in Park Hyatt just round the corner from the main station, with breakfast included! It was the most luxurious hotel room I’ve ever been in!

The next morning we returned to the station to continue our journey to Amsterdam.

However, a technical problem meant the train was suddenly changed to take off from Hamburg Harburg, but again our slow progress with our wee girls meant that we missed the train.

I asked when the next connection was, and I was told that we wouldn’t reach Amsterdam till dinner time.

We concluded that this would be useless, given that the news programmes were claiming that there were no hotel rooms left in Amsterdam because so many people were stranded in Schiphol.

So we asked to get back to Denmark, which they agreed to do.

This time we got onto a direct train, and we got to my parents’ flat in Aarhus just in time for dinner.

In the evening we booked a new flight for Friday (Billund-Edinburgh), which is also when the three big kids are now supposed to return from France, so hopefully the ash cloud will disappear before then.

If it stays in place, we don’t know what we’ll do. Rent a minibus, drive down to France, get the kids, drive up to the Channel, take a ferry and then drive home, perhaps?

Colder than severe

Some weeks ago, when the cold spell was still a snap, I bought some screenwash in Asda to prevent my screenwash from freezing.

Sadly, however, it froze before I got a chance to pour it in.

Yesterday was quite a warm day, however, and after a long drive the scooshers started working again, so I wanted to take the opportunity to fill it up with my precious screenwash, only to find out that it had frozen, just by being in the boot of the car.

Given that the whole purpose of buying screenwash is to prevent it from freezing, that annoyed me a bit.

If you look at the photo, you’ll see that it tells you normally to dilute it with water, but to use it straight in a severe winter.

So this winter must be colder than severe according to Asda.

Laboratory Earth

Originally uploaded by jalalspages

It appears that there are many more scientists who think our civilisation is heating our planet up more than would have been the case otherwise than there are qualified people thinking otherwise, and I therefore do think it’s foolish to avoid taking strong measures to combat global warming.

However, as the recent Copenhagen summit showed, the evidence is not yet so overwhelming that all of humanity can be convinced, and it’s therefore very hard to achieve any meaningful emission cuts.

We therefore need to get more evidence and refute all major competing theories.

One of the alternative favourite theories cited by the opponents of global warming is solar activity.

I therefore found this article (written before the current cold spell began) very interesting:

But how to prove this? During the 20th century, solar activity rose steadily, as did the amount of industrial gases being pumped into the atmosphere. With both quantities rising, it has been impossible to distinguish between them. Now, that has all changed.

In the past 12 months solar activity has fallen to levels unseen since the 1920s. Sunspots have become rare sights and for three quarters of this year the Sun has been spot-free. According to one study if the trend continues at its current rate, the Sun will lose its ability to produce sunspots by 2015. That would take it back to its condition in the latter 17th century, when hardly any sunspots appeared for 70 years — and Northern Europe underwent the worst years of the so-called Little Ice Age.

Winter scenes from this period were romanticised by artists such as Brueghel painting frost fairs and hunting scenes. But was the 17th century sunspot crash responsible for the Little Ice Age or a coincidence? Could we now find ourselves plunged into a similar freeze if the sunspots do not return?

I’m well aware that the current cold spell doesn’t disprove global warming in the slightest. One possible consequence of global warming could be the Gulf Stream moving or stopping completely, and that would make the British Isles even colder than they are at the moment.

It will be interesting to see if the solar activity theory can be complete refuted within a few years, though.

Winds from the east

On an icy trampoline
Originally uploaded by PhylB

There’s been snow on the ground here in Newton Mearns since Anna’s birthday (19th December), and that’s not usual for the west of Scotland. I mean, we have palm trees, and they don’t like these temperatures at all!

There’s a good article in The Telegraph explaining that the unusual weather is due to the winds coming from the north and east instead of from the south and west.

As part of this new wind pattern, parts of Canada have much milder weather than usual.

Although it’s not mention in the article, I can’t help wondering whether something similar was happening during the early summer months of 2009, when we had much warmer and drier weather than we’re used to.

And of course, it would be useful to know whether this is a one-off, or whether easterly winds are going to be a frequent occurrence in future years.

Why are they talking about Gustav?

2005-8-25 Hurricane Katrina
Originally uploaded by tiswango

Hurricane Katrina was an important news story in many ways, not least because it came as a partial surprise.

This time the media seem to have decided not to be surprised again, and they seem all to have placed tons of reporters in Louisiana.

However, Gustav is now only a Category-1 hurricane, and while I would expect that to be reported if it happened in Scotland, I really don’t expect to hear about such minor event if they happen abroad.

However, all the news channels seem to be reporting non-stop from the area, standing upright with hats on their heads, with birds flying in the background, talking about the horrible storm they’re experiencing…