Colder than average temperatures

By the Science and Environmental Policy Project
September 26, 1998

Newspapers have been giving a lot of page space to claims that such and such a locale is experiencing the "hottest ever" summer. What isn't being mentioned is that some areas have been experiencing colder than average temperatures, and that all this really illustrates is the folly of claiming global warming based on local, short-term readings.

Here's a sensible assessment from one of those cold spots.

Copyright 1998 Associated Newspapers Ltd. DAILY MAIL (London) September 22, 1998

"Cold comfort after we get the wind up"
by Paul Simons

SO just what's going on with the weather? Only a few weeks ago we had one of the coldest, wettest summers on record. Now autumn has arrived and we're basking in glorious sunshine and temperatures nudging the 80s.

One very dramatic answer for the seemingly confused seasons is Hurricane Bonnie. She struck North Carolina at the end of August with gusts up to 140mph, then drifted back into the Atlantic Ocean and ran north, roughly parallel to the coast. Places like New York and Boston escaped the worst of its wrath but what's this got to do with Scotland?

Unfortunately, the remnants of Bonnie were then swept back across the Atlantic, pounding Scotland with heavy rain and driving winds. Close on the heels of Bonnie came her sister Hurricane Danielle, which followed a similar path and again drove up storm conditions across Britain.

But two hurricanes don't explain a whole summer of wet weather.

Many people blamed El Nino, the freak warming in the Pacific Ocean, but we're too far away for it to have had any discernible influence. Others say it's something to do with global warming, but you can only tell that by looking at the weather over decades and centuries, not months.

No, the awful truth is that if you look over the history books, this summer wasn't unusual. June 1971 and June 1972 were so cold across Britain that even Kew Gardens in London suffered six ground frosts. In June and July 1980 people put on their coats as cold winds swept the country and June 1991 saw temperatures rarely above 50F in much of Scotland colder than many days in January.

Maybe after a decade or so of relatively fine weather, we've simply forgotten what a good old-fashioned cold and wet Scottish summer was like.

Indeed, the climate is so fickle, you need to follow its moods over decades to fully appreciate it.

One of the factors behind it all is the jet stream, a fast snake of wind several miles up in the atmosphere, running at up to 200mph. Its path roughly follows the battlefront where cold air from the Arctic clashes head on with warm tropic air. The jet always blows from west to east, but it can also swoop northwards and southwards, tracing a serpentine route across the Northern hemisphere. It was first discovered by the Japanese who used it in the last war to float balloon bombs over to America.

The jet stream can also guide storms towards Europe which you can blame for much of this year's appalling weather. But worst of all is when the jet stream gets a kick of extra fast gusts and turns a depression into a raging storm, which helps explain the ferocity of Scottish storms.

In summer, the jet lies further north, letting warm air push up from the tropics, whilst in winter cold air from the Arctic shoves the jet further south, bringing cold weather in its wake.

Now some experts speculate that this pattern may have been broken as the jet stream meanders back to a more southerly track, giving us the 'traditional' British cold, wet summers.

Until we understand why it meanders like this over the years, we can't say what the next decade's jet steam is going to bring.

Paul Simons is the author of Weird Weather from Warner Books.

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