Have our summers gone forever?
The experts warned that global warming would lead to climate change and leave Scotland with wetter summers. Gina Davidson asks wether the dire predictions have already come true.
As the holiday season shapes up to be the worst in 40 years, is this the sort of weather we’ll have to get used to?
DO you remember the summer? The days which seemed to last forever, a sun which burned so hot that paddling pools were set up in back gardens and hoses sprayed over the kids to cool them down, and when school holidays meant trips to the beach and sand in your sandwiches.
Given the weather of the past few days it may seem as if those days were mythical events, as this year’s summer continues to be a complete washout.
But this is exactly the kind of weather we were warned about when the scientists first made their dire predictions of global warming, holes in the ozone layer and the effect emissions from aerosols were having on the environment and the climate. Yet we were also told that it was all years away, decades even, and that if we acted soon enough, the worst could be avoided.
This summer is shaping up to be Britain’s worst in 40 years, and it is the third poor summer we have had in a row. Could it be that the far-off future of constant warm but wet weather is already with us? Has our climate already changed and these the summers we can expect from now on?
With severe weather warnings and flood watches becoming a constant on the forecasts, lightning, thunder and constant rain - ranging from drizzle to downpour - it’s more than easy to believe the answer is yes.
For Scotland, last month was the wettest June ever, with the least number of dry days since records began in 1914 - in Edinburgh only two days escaped a deluge.
And this week there have been monsoon-like conditions, with the rainfall in parts of the Central Belt on Tuesday alone being as much as normally falls in a month. Much of Edinburgh was brought to a halt, with rail services cancelled due to landslides, roads flooded out and yesterday a lightning strike setting fire to a pylon and knocking out the electricity for 50,000 homes. The forecasts for the rest of the summer are not much better - there’s unlikely to be any Indian summer this year.
But according to the weather experts although the cause of this summer’s misery is a mystery they know exactly where it is coming from. Meteorologists put the blame on the Azores, the small group of islands in the South Atlantic. Scotland’s latitude and longitude mean we are almost completely unprotected from the Atlantic. Westerly winds pick up water as they blow across the ocean, depositing it on us.
Dr Gareth Jones, a climate expert at Strathclyde University, says: "The problem is a result of low pressure coming down from the Atlantic. That is usually met by high pressure coming from the Azores on the Gulf Stream, which counters its effects, but that hasn’t happened. This means the pressure coming from the north contains much more moisture and rain, which then hits Scotland.
"There is no apparent reason for the performance of the Azores High Pressure System, but it does not appear to be related to global warming. It has been a very wet summer but there’s no link to any extraordinary conditions."
Sean Clarke of the Met Office adds: "The best thing we can hope for is for the Azores High to extend over Britain and even join up with high pressures over central and north-east Europe. Then we can expect prolonged glorious weather. Unfortunately the Azores High cannot be relied on and we don’t fully understand what makes it move."
And Graham Leitch, manager of the Glasgow Met Office says: "The problem is we’re a small country that faces on to a huge expanse of water. We are always going to receive a fair amount of rain and nothing is going to change that."
But he also believes that global warming is playing a part. "Eventually global warming will increase the likelihood of rain, albeit in shorter more intense bursts. Warm air can hold more water and, for every ten degree rise in temperature, the capacity for the air to hold water vapour doubles."
He adds: "People ask why the weather is so bad this summer? The question is really: why not? It’s just the variability of the weather, some summer has to be the wettest on record. There are millions of variables that can affect our weather."
Stephen Robert, managing director of Weathernet agrees. "June has always experienced wild swings in the weather. Heatwaves and snow, floods and drought, seem to occur with about equal regularity.
"But there has been a rapid decline in the frequency of northerly winds, which often dominate during spring, and a resurgence of rain-bearing westerlies.
"This transition to wetter, more unsettled weather normally occurs around June and coincides with a number of global events including the disappearance of snow from northern Canada and Alaska and the shift in the northern hemisphere jet stream."
The scientists are also predicting another El Nino weather disturbance in the southern hemisphere next year, where freakishly high temperatures disrupt the climate.
Then there’s a new disturbance, only recently discovered, called the North Atlantic Oscillation which could mean we get the same disturbances here.
With such unpredictable weather for the future it’s hardly surprising then that thousands of Scots are emigrating to warmer climes every year - particularly Australia and America, where they can at least be assured of some sun.
A spokeswoman for the Australian embassy says that in the last year 8235 people left the UK for a new life Down Under, adding: "The main reasons are the lifestyle and the weather, which are obviously interlinked." But while the majority of meteorologists admit that the climate is changing, Malcolm Walker, education officer at the Royal Meteorological Society, also blames the disappointing summer on our high expectations.
"Forty years ago, only the wealthy went swanning off to the Med, but in the age of the package holiday everybody does it. People come back tanned and forget what a British summer is really like."
According to Dr Richard Dixon, head of research with Friends of the Earth Scotland, the future of our summers is very bleak indeed.
"This is definitely the kind of weather that is being predicted for Scotland in the future - it’s a real taste of what’s to come.
"While this summer has been unusually warm and wet going by past summers, in 20 or 30 years’ time, this will be an average summer and sunny summers will be extremely rare.
"The predictions are for an increase in flooding, which means more disruption to transport systems, such as we have seen happening this week.
"Next year will probably be a different kind of summer, and records might show this as an unusual year, but this is what summer will become. And it shouldn’t be a surprise that things are changing.
"The world is half a degree warmer than it was 150 years ago, and there’s more carbon dioxide in the air than there was 150 year ago.
"Some spring flowers are flowering in autumn because it’s so mild, farmers are growing their crops earlier in the year, butterflies which were once only found in England are now in Scotland and a group of swifts which usually live in the Med have been seen in Fife.
"The weather is set to get warmer, stormier and more and more unpredictable. Floods which might have happened once in 100 years might happen every ten years - but we could also end up having periods of drought, especially in the east.
"But we can try and stave off the worst of it by getting serious on emissions now."
Right now it feels a little late.
But Dr Gareth Jones remains optimistic and says we could soon be in for prolonged hot weather.
"It’s very hard to predict what’s happening this year but I’ve heard that all the records and historical data for this kind of weather could mean we are in for a change.
"You can never guarantee anything but that could mean we are in for a long period of sunshine maybe in August and September."
It looks as though we will have our sunscreen at the ready - and a brolly just in case.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 21 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North west
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 10 mph
Wind direction: North west