Oh, to be in England…

yorkEasterSnow1

…now that April’s there.
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,

That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,

While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England – now!

– Robert Browning

Oh, to be in Heathrow Terminal 5,
Now that snow is there

British Airways has cancelled more than 120 flights after snow added to the list of woes at Heathrow’s Terminal 5. With 12 flights scrapped from the schedule because of ongoing problems with the automated baggage system, another 126 were axed because of the cold weather.

The record-breaking cold weather recently afflicting China, the Middle East, and Europe, amongst others, has led some to ask questions about what’s going on when we were expecting global warming. Luckily, the experts are on hand to make sure that we don’t stop panicking.

Adam Scaife, lead scientist for Modelling Climate Variability at the Hadley Centre in Exeter, UK, said their best estimate for 2008 was about 0.4C above the 1961-1990 average, and higher than this if you compared it with further back in the 20th Century. Mr Scaife told the BBC: “What’s happened now is that La Nina has come along and depressed temperatures slightly but these changes are very small compared to the long-term climate change signal, and in a few years time we are confident that the current record temperature of 1998 will be beaten when the La Nina has ended.”

It’s all “natural variability”, and La Nina, apparently, this cold spell. But hang on a minute… Wasn’t there an El Nino in 1998 – the year that we’re supposed to get back to once La Nina is over?

MOHadleyNoElNino

There was indeed. So why are the low temperatures in 2007/8 attributed to “natural variability”, while the 1998 heatwave – which coincided with one of the most significant El Nino events in history – is attributed to global warming?

Back at the beginning of last year, the BBC reported

The world is likely to experience the warmest year on record in 2007, the UK’s Met Office says.
An extended warming period, resulting from an El Nino weather event in the Pacific Ocean, will probably push up global temperatures, experts forecast. [Jan 4 2007.]

The weather is nearly as variable as those trying to predict it. By August that year, and during one of the wettest UK summers ever, the Hadley Centre had dampened their expectations for the immediate future following the revision of their climate models. As the Guardian reported:

The forecast from researchers at the Met Office’s Hadley Centre in Exeter reveals that natural shifts in climate will cancel out warming produced by greenhouse gas emissions and other human activity until 2009, but from then on, temperatures will rise steadily. Temperatures are set to rise over the 10-year period by 0.3C.

And according to the UK’s Met Office:

Team leader, Dr Doug Smith said: “Occurrences of El Nino, for example, have a significant effect on shorter-term predictions. By including such internal variability, we have shown a substantial improvement in predictions of surface temperature.” Dr Smith continues: “Observed relative cooling in the Southern Ocean and tropical Pacific over the last couple of years was correctly predicted by the new system, giving us greater confidence in the model’s performance”.

To re-cap, the new system had, we are told, correctly predicted the last couple of years, but in January 2007, the group were predicting the warmest year on record, and then, following an atrocious “summer”, they have postponed global warming until 2009, set to return in 2010. Here are those events, placed on the NINO graphic…

MOHadleyNoElNino2

 

 

By August 2007, it was apparent that the El Nino was over, and not as significant as Hadley had predicted it would be in January. It was also apparent that La Nina was well underway, and this would have the consequence of driving down temperatures for 2008. From here, it is likely that temperatures will rise after 2010, and that an El Nino event would follow, driving temperatures up again. Safe to say that the MET is on the money when it predicts an increase in 2010. Possibly. Maybe. either way, we have to wait… and remember… until 2010 to see if the gamble pays off.

All of this is not to knock meteorology or anything. We are well aware that an unseasonal cold snap says little about whether global warming is or isn’t happening, or what we should do about it if it is or isn’t. What is well worth knocking, however, is the message provided by meteorologists. They, like Oreskes et al, are increasingly relying on messages of certainty when it suits them, and doubt, or “natural variability” where they can’t provide answers. But this isn’t meteorology; it’s rumour, folklore – the whittling down of complex dynamic systems to simple rules of thumb. And when it comes to folklore, others do it better than the Met.

Back in the olden days, in the days when they had the sort of “stable” climate we are all now expected to aspire to, long before anyone had thunk up global warming or anything, they used to amuse themselves of an evening by singing about how natural variability is always going to happen whether the models be right or wrong. We like to think this one is probably called Climate is a Complex Non-linear Multifactorial System.

Whether the weather be hot,
or whether the weather be not,
we’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not!

yorkEasterSnow2

York University Campus, Spring, 2008.

"I'm Dreamin' of a White Easter"

It’s spring. And you can tell, not by the chirping of birds in the trees, or the frolicking of lambs in the fields, but by the whining and bleating of journalists in the Independent and Guardian newspapers about how spring is coming earlier every year, and how this means a catastrophe is just around the corner.

In ‘How the blurring of the seasons is a harbinger of climate calamity‘, Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor of the Independent, writes,

According to documented observations throughout 2007 and 2008, events in the natural world that used to be key spring indicators, from the blooming of flowers to the appearance of insects, are now increasingly happening in what used to be thought of as mid-winter, as Britain’s temperatures steadily rise. 

The problem for McCarthy is that much of the UK is set to be covered in a blanket of snow this Easter Sunday. Hardly a ‘key indicator’ of spring.

But what is a ‘key indicator’ anyway? And in what sense does Spring ‘exist’, such that it has scientific meaning? Is there an objective measure of spring, so we know that it has sprung in the way that we can know what time sun-rise and sun-set are?

To be fair, Paul Evans in the Guardian is far more circumspect than McCarthy.

Despite its stops and starts and the recent wild and extreme weather, all the signs point to this being one of the earliest springs Britain has had. But can we rely on the traditional harbingers to announcespring’s arrival, or should we be looking for new signs as the seasons become more complicated with the effects of climate change?  

After listing some anomalies of some species behaving in spring-like ways before they are ‘supposed’ to, Evans gives an interesting account of ‘phenology’.

Phenology is the study of such natural first events, and the Nature’s Calendar website, run by the Woodland Trust, is bulging with early sightings of frogspawn, tadpoles, nest-building birds, butterflies, catkins, celandines and snowdrops from 5,000 volunteers around the UK. “The natural world is giving us clear year-on-year indications that things are changing,” says Kate Lewthwaite, phenology manager at the Woodland Trust. “The timing of natural events is one of the most responsive aspects of the natural world to warming, so it is an important indicator of change.” 

McCarthy tells us something similar,

The changes and many others have been monitored in detail because in Britain there has been a renewal of the old discipline of phenology, or the study of the timings of natural events, which was favoured by the Victorians but largely abandoned by the 1950s. It has been revived by an environmental statistician, Dr Tim Sparks from the Monks Wood wildlife research centre nearHuntingdon, part of the Government’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH). Dr Sparks set up the UK Phenology Network, which has been taken over by the Woodland Trust, a charity which runs it in partnership with CEH as Nature’s Calendar, with 40,000 people from all over Britain contributing records.

Thing is, now that there are thousands of volunteers, listing this kind of thing, with more leisure time than ever before, and new forms of communication being opened up by the Internet, it is likely that there are more opportunities for spotting such anomalies. The earliestphenologists would have been rare, eccentric rich people, rather than dog-walking amateur wildlife spotters. And early signs of spring are likely to have been regarded previously as simple anomalies, whereas now, the hunt is on not only for ‘harbinger of climate calamity’, but also attribution to a single causal factor. In other words, when we’re on the lookout for climate change, anything will suffice as evidence.

The razor-sharp John Brignell of Numberwatch has, over the last few years posted some interesting thoughts on Spring madness. He is especially sceptical of phenology as a method of detecting climate change.

BBC: Spring 2006 couldn’t have been more different from 2005. Weather always varies from year to year but with climate change it is the long-term trend that is it important. What this year’s “cold” weather allows us to do is show very clearly how timing of events closely reflect temperature. Given that the average temperature for January – April was 1.5 C lower than last year, all events (average dates) were later than the same events in 2005.

Brignell: What would have been the opening paragraph if events had been earlier? It is inevitable that these embarrassing moments for the phenologists will keep recurring. Will even their media allies eventually lose patience?

The assumption made by phenologists is that spring is an ‘event’ that happens to, or in the world that we can establish by better and better measurement. But is there really a definitive measure of spring? An old English proverb tells us,

Cast not a clout till May be out. 

Spring has always been variable. And, let’s face it, so is the UK’s summer. Environmentalists look for order which has been upset, without testing the idea that order ever existed in the first place.

McCarthy continues his doom-saying.

Although many people may see the changes as quaint or charming – butterflies certainly brighten up a January day – they are actually among the first concrete signs that the world is indeed set on a global warming course which is likely to prove disastrous if not checked.

In fact, the blurring of the seasons in Britain is now as serious a piece of evidence of climate change as the rapidly increasing melting of ice across the globe, in glaciers and in the land-based and marine ice sheets of the Arctic and the Antarctic.

The phenomenon shows that a whole range of organisms is already responding actively to the greatest environmental change in human history, in a way that people – and especially politicians – are not

It is undeniable confirmation that a profound alteration in the environment, the consequences of which are likely to prove catastrophic, is already under way.

It is happening so quickly, and without people realising its true significance, because, in Britain, the major effects of climate change are initially being felt as less cold winters, rather than as hotter summers.

Did you get that? In case you missed it AN EARLY SPRING MEANS WE’RE DOOMED, AND WE’RE GOING TO DIE! Yet McCarthy can’t even get his facts straight…

Last month, that shift produced its most remarkable image yet – a photograph, taken in Dorset, of a red admiral, an archetypal British summer butterfly, feeding on a snowdrop, an archetypal British winter flower.

The Snowdrop is not an archetypal winter flower, but a spring flower, as Evans in the Guardian points out, quoting botanist Ray Woods:

The cues that trigger bloom in spring flowers are complex. “Snowdrops this year are not particularly early,” Woods says. “The reason for this is that the cue for snowdrop flowering is the temperature of the previous autumn, not the current spring. If autumn is mild, snowdrops flower later in the following spring; if it’s cold, they flower earlier. 

And the red admiral is not a summer butterfly, but in fact famous for being the last butterfly of the autumn, and earliest in the year. As the Wikipedia article on the Red Admiral tells us:

In northern Europe, it is one of the last butterflies to be seen before winter sets in, often feeding on the pale fire of ivy flowers on sunny days. The Red Admiral is also known to hibernate, re-emerging individuals showing prominently darker colourings than first brood subjects. The butterfly also flies on sunny winter days, especially in southern Europe.

Being on the Southwest coast, in the path of the warm currents, the Dorset climate itself is especially mild, and the sunniest region of the UK.

What McCarthy believes to be a harbinger of death is in fact barely even an anomaly. But why let facts get in the way of good climate change story? Butterflies and snowdrops aren’t ‘archetypes’ of a confused climate on the brink of catastrophe, but McCarthy’s article is an archetype of poorly-researched, ignorant, opportunistic and alarmist climate activism, dressed up as journalism.

Climate Extreme Same As 100 Years Ago – Due to Climate Change. Part II.

We reported last month how the weather in Iraq was the same as it was 100 years ago, due to climate change.

According to Planet Ark – “your daily guide to helping the planet” – people in China are also suffering from harsh winter weather, the likes of which have not been seen for 100 years, also because of climate change.

The China Meteorological Administration said the weather was the coldest in 100 years in central Hubei and Hunan provinces, going by the total number of consecutive days of average temperature less than 1 degree Celsius (33.8 degrees Fahrenheit). But it expected brighter weather ahead, though fog could become a problem and temperatures at night would likely still be below freezing, slowing the thaw. “It is still necessary to remain alert for possible low temperatures, frozen rain, snow, freezing and heavy fog,” said administration head Zheng Guoguang. He added the cold snap had caught the country off guard, in an area unprepared for such heavy snow. But climate change could see more extremes in weather in China, Zheng warned. 

When will the world sit up and listen? If climate change isn’t stopped soon, we’ll see more extremes of weather like there were 100 years ago, possibly even 200 years. Possibly even 300 years ago. Maybe even 500 or 600 years ago.

People who deny that the climate is changing, in spite of the clear evidence emerging that it is the same as it was 100 years ago, are either probably sponsored by oil companies, or have been deliberately misinformed by twisted science from people who probably have been. Now, the evidence is mounting up bigger than a snowdrift. This very cold weather proves that the planet is getting hotter than it ever has been before, once and for all.

H/T: Benny Peiser.