Scotland's arctic conditions may last for a bit longer - about a decade
DESPITE a thaw after some of the most extreme winter weather in half a century, Scotland was warned yesterday that Arctic conditions are set to return, and could become a winter feature for a decade.
Some meteorologists believe that this winter's epic snowfall and the January and February freeze mark the start of a prolonged series of bad winters.
"What tends to happen is that bad winters come in clusters," said meteorologist Brian Gaze, founder of The Weather Outlook and the long-range forecaster who first predicted the Big Freeze last month. "Between the early 1990s and 2008 we had very unusual mild winters and a lot less snow than you could expect.
"Late 2008 brought a significant change in winter with a lot of snow, then we had heavy snow at the beginning of this year and now the heavy snowfalls we've had recently. So I would suggest that in the next five to ten years we can expect a number of cold winters."
Gaze, who issued a severe weather warning on 16 November, five days before the Met Office warned of snow and below-average temperatures across the UK, said that the climate could be following a historic pattern.
"It's speculative, but you tend to find that in the 1940s there was a series of cold winters, it happened again in the 1960s, and again in the 1980s. Given that, it's possible that in the next five to ten years we can expect more colder winters, and there will be some fairly fierce weather with heavy snowfalls."
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Jim Dale, senior risk meteorologist at British Weather Services, agreed. "The statistics point to a cold run," he said. "At one point in the early part of the 2000s the weather was so mild that the Scottish ski resorts were thinking that was it, and there was nothing that would make the mild weather reverse, but the weather has a knack of doing exactly that.
"Winters like this tend to come in sets. Generally speaking it's a bit like waiting for a bus - you get three or four arriving at once."
Theories over why the weather behaves like this vary. "Some people say it's the activity on the sun, that the angle from the Earth to the sun in the atmosphere is slightly more favourable towards getting colder rather than warmer weather, but it's marginal stuff and much of it is in contention," Dale said.
Climatologists believe changes to a phenomenon called the North Atlantic oscillation (NAO) - involving fluctuations in atmospheric pressure at sea level between the Icelandic low and the Azores high - may be having an effect on Scotland's winters. The NAO controls the strength and direction of westerly winds and storm tracks across the North Atlantic. When the NAO effect is weak, cold air repeatedly pours down from the Arctic, bringing bitterly cold weather.When the two meet, heavy snow results.
"The NAO means more warm air over Greenland and Iceland, which in turn means that the American Eastern seaboard and ourselves tend to get the other side of the situation," Dale said.
"I think it's important that we look at this in context with what is happening elsewhere in the world. We can't be isolationists, you've got to look at the global occurrence of climactic cycles."
Last winter was the coldest in Britain for 30 years. So could it be that this prolonged extreme weather is the fault of man? "I think the answer is that nobody knows yet," said Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland.
"There is some work that suggests there may be less ice at the North Pole now, which means that in the summer when the Sun is shining on open water instead of ice, the water gets warmer than it would normally and that may be affecting the circulation patterns coming down from the Pole and Siberia. And if that is the case, we may see more winters like this.
"We'll need to wait and see how things develop over the next few years, but by putting all these (harmful carbon] emissions into the atmosphere we are carrying out a huge experiment with the global weather system which we don't really understand very well. The best thing to do would be to stop carrying out the experiment before it gets even worse."
Intriguingly, a study carried out by French climate scientists last year, in which they analysed Europe's winter weather on a daily basis and compared it with similar days at similar times of year in records back to 1948, demonstrated that cold winter days in 2010 were less cold than in comparable years.
As for the short term, Gaze said to expect more snow this week, more low temperatures and further snow up to Christmas. "I wouldn't like to say for sure, but the chances of Scotland having a White Christmas this year are certainly a lot better than in previous years," he added.
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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