Distinguishing between four seasons never been so hard

AS a nation, we don’t ask for that much really. European football that lasts longer than a single match, a tram line that actually goes somewhere useful, a little bit of warm sunshine over summer to bring some colour to our pasty white faces...

Already plunged into depression over the state of Scottish football and our expensive tram line to nowhere, now there’s further reason to wonder why on earth we bother living in this country.

For having plodded through a fairly average summer – in fact, waded through it thanks to those storms and floods of last month – now it seems we’re already staring at the onslaught of autumn.

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You don’t have to look terribly closely to see the trees’ lush green hue is gradually taking on a distinctive yellow tinge. And who in the past few days hasn’t found themselves digging out warmer sweaters or even switching on the heating to take the chill off the room?

Glance at the thermometer and it’s hard to believe this is still officially summer.

Yet back in April when we were shedding our winter coats, spring seemed to have sprung with flowers and trees in blossom weeks early. After winter’s whiteout we found ourselves enjoying the kinds of warm temperatures we’d normally be grateful for at the height of the summer.

Indeed, the month turned out to be the warmest April for over a century, with the added unusual benefit of it being not only quite hot but actually dry and sunny: less than 40 per cent of normal rainfall was recorded and sunshine levels soared to 50 per cent more than would normally be expected.

Of course, it didn’t last and by July we were knee deep in rain water.

So... “summer” comes and goes in April, “autumn” descends in August. And in between what’s supposed to be our warmest season morphs into a long, wet spell of grey wetness. Carry on at this rate, and we’ll be celebrating Christmas in our bikinis and summer will be for coats and scarves.

Does anyone have any idea what is going on?

According to Dr Andy Kerr, chief executive of the Edinburgh Centre on Climate Change, there is a clear explanation.

“It’s the weather,” he shrugs. “Sometimes weather is rubbish and sometimes it’s good. Over the last couple of summers, it’s been pretty bad, no-one knows what it will be like next year.

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“Every time something like this happens, people think it’s all because of climate change,” he adds. “Climate change is happening but it is very slow and over a long period of time. What we all experience day to day is just the weather doing what the weather has been doing for generations.

“Yes, in 50 or 60 years’ time Scotland will be warmer and drier, but that climate change will be well under our day to day radar.”

Instead what’s patently clear from a quick trot through the Met Office statistics for the past few months is that summer was certainly a washout. And, sadly, there’s little likelihood of an Indian summer on the horizon, according to Met Office spokesman Dan Williams.

The best we can hope for is avoiding the worst of the tail end of Hurricane Irene, currently battering the east coast of America and soon to be heading our way.

“It’s too early to say whether we’ll be affected by Hurricane Irene or not,” he confirms. “It will take a week at least for whatever is left of Irene to reach us and if it does by that time it will normally appear as storm-like conditions.

“But, yes, it’s fair to say it’s not been a particularly good summer. June is officially the meteorological start of summer and while temperatures were about average, the rainfall was 30 per cent above average and the sunshine hours were down too, to 90 per cent of what you would normally expect.

“And in July there was more rain than normal – 174 per cent of average July rainfall.”

Those unfortunate souls who found themselves mopping up after floods over the second weekend in July can testify that a large quantity of that extra 74 per cent landed in their front gardens.

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It didn’t get that much better in August. According to Mr Williams, rainfall up to the 15th of the month was already 61 per cent higher than expected for the entire month. “It’s been a very wet August, and a wetter than average summer,” he adds. “And the immediate outlook is for more unsettled weather.”

As for autumn’s sudden arrival, it’s not just us Scots who are noticing a sudden switch in the seasons. Last week experts at the Royal Horticultural Society in England reported many of the trees in their Surrey gardens were already starting to change colour. They’ve put it down to a hangover from spring’s unusually dry spell, which baked the soil there dry and threw the trees into confusion.

Closer to home, Peter Brownless, nursery supervisor at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, says he can see an almost daily change in the colour of the leaves on trees around the park.

“It does seem that autumn has arrived six weeks too early. And summer? Wasn’t that in April or May? It actually feels like we live in the land of perpetual autumn,” he says.

“I think we’re seeing the leaves change now as a result of a combination of factors. Day and night-time temperatures are slightly down plus we’ve had a lot of rain and cloud – light levels during the day are not that great.”

But most plants and trees can weather these seasonal storms and generally correct themselves as the months pass, he adds. “The long term effects are not terribly grave,” says Mr Brownless. “Of course if you have something very exotic in your garden you do risk losing it.

“But generally nature has a way of sorting itself out.”