This country has never experienced anything like this before
Jon Snow Channel 4 News 12 Feb 2014 commenting on flooding in England
Like many other climate sceptics, my immediate reaction to this was to think that this was a load of utter rubbish. And I went looking for evidence to refute this poppycock. My first port of call was Alastair Dawson’s book So Foul and Fair a Day that chronicles the history of Scotland’s weather from the year 1600 based on actual records. But first a look at some interesting evidence compiled by Paul Holmwood on his blog notalotofpeopleknowthat. Paul is in overdrive compiling data on historic flooding in England.
Paul has compiled the data for wettest months for the whole of the UK (Figure 1). January 2014 was wet and squeezes in at 16th place. Jon Snow lease take note! The data are displayed in Figure 2. Paul has this to say:
Interestingly, if you plot these months, they appear to be in clusters. Now, maybe that’s something Slingo should be looking at. (But I would not hold my breath).
Dame Julia Slingo is the Met Office’s chief scientist.
Figure 1 The wettest months in the UK since records began. The UK has experienced wetter conditions than January 2014 on 15 prior occasions since 1766.
Figure 2 The data from Figure 1 in graph form shows an interesting clustering of wet months.
So Foul and Fair a Day
And so on to my friend Alastair Dawson’s book which I can warmly recommend to those with an interest in 300 years of climate catastrophe in Scotland followed by the quiescent 20th Century that most alive today assume is normal. Since UK records begin around 1766 I decided to pluck some quotes from chapter 6 of the book that covers the period 1750-1799. This was a period of upheaval in Scotland following the failed Jacobite rebellion of 1745 and the climate situation is made complicated by large volcanic eruptions on Iceland, Mt Hekla in 1765 and Laki in 1783. I have tried to avoid these truly anomalous periods.
Flooding on The Clyde
The Scots Magazine of 14 March 1782 describes how bad weather led to serious flooding in Galsgow. We read that;
On Tuesday last the River Clyde rose to a greater height than the oldest people in this city remember. It has sometimes overflowed that part of the town which lies very low; but upon this occasion, it rose about 20 feet of perpendicular height above the usual course of the river. This remarkable inundation was occasioned by a very heavy fall of rain and snow, which began on Sunday last, about 3 in the afternoon, and continued without intermission, all that night and next day. Upon Monday night, about ten o’clock, some parts of the Bridgegate were underwater, and the flood continued to increase. It was the greatest height upon Tuesday morning about seven o’clock.
At that time Bridgegate, the lower parts of saltmarket, Stokwell, Maxwell Srtreet, Jamaica Street and the populous village of Gorbals, were all underwater. The inundation was sudden and unexpected. Hundreds of families were obliged to leave their beds and their homes.
And on page 148
Across the Highlands and Islands powerful social changes were afoot. The year 1792, known as the Blianthne nan ba (the Year of the Sheep), was a key year in Scottish history, when many people were driven from their land to make way for sheep. The storms continued. December 1792 was one of the worst months, remarkable for the production of many deep depressions moving across the North Atlantic at unusually fast speeds and indicative of a very strong jetstream. A huge storm blew up on 9 December. Ferocious winds blew over the Shetland-Faoroe region, estimated at around Beaufort force 11 and 12.
The Goniel Blast
In 1794 a severe blizzard known as the ‘Goniel Blast’ took place in January. The blizzard was widely recorded in the Southern Uplands and led to the loss of life of many thousand sheep and the death of several shepherds in Dumfriesshire. For several days the snow fell so heavily that in some areas the snow was 50 ft deep. A total of 4000 sheep perished and the parish of Eskdalemuir. An effect of the frost was that many of the sheep that died in Scottish glens at this time were fit to eat, the word ‘goniel’ referring to flesh fit to eat although not killed by a butcher.
Dawson provides an account of relentless bad weather, much worse than today’s, punctuated by fine summers. The hardship brought about by crop failure and famine eventually led to millions leaving these shores for the New World. I have added emphasis to the passage on the jet stream since this seems to suggest that conditions similar to those of today also occurred back in 1792. One thing I believe that sceptics and warmists can agree on is that the current conveyer belt of Atlantic cyclones is linked to a fast moving jetstream that is farther south than we have become accustomed to. The question is what has brought about this “anomalous” behaviour.
The Jet Stream
Professor Dawson sent me a link to Netweather earlier this week, commenting that the polar stratosphere was very cold. Netweather have some neat forecast animations on their site. Figure 3 illustrates the problem we have with a powerful jet stream, orginating off eastern Canada going on a large meander in the Atlantic before turning NE and whacking western Europe including Britain.
Figure 3 The jet stream on 14 February from Netweather.
Netweather also have forecasts and animations of stratosphere temperatures. Figure 4 shows the picture for February 14 and I presume the area of deep blue over Greenland is the polar vortex that recently kissed the northern USA.
Figure 4 Stratosphere temperatures, 14 February 2014 from Netweather. The deep blue area over Greenland I presume to be the polar vortex.
I found the Netweather tutorial on stratospheric temperatures and the polar vortex to be most instructive:
Every winter the stratosphere over the North Pole cools, this begins when the sunlight can no longer provide the energy to heat the ozone. Without this energy, the stratosphere cools rapidly, creating a thermal imbalance with the warmer stratosphere further south. This imbalance creates a large pressure difference and combined with the Coriolis effect, creates a large strong jet stream, circumnavigating the globe in the stratosphere in an eastwards direction. This system is known as the polar night jet, and contained within it is a strong vortex – known as the polar vortex.
The polar vortex increases and decreases in strength depending upon how cold the polar stratospheric atmosphere becomes during winter. The colder the polar stratosphere becomes, the stronger the polar vortex – and vice versa. The strength of the stratospheric polar vortex influences the atmosphere below it in the troposphere.
To explain the enlarged and active polar vortex of 2014 a mechanism is required to cool the polar stratosphere that involves UV radiation and ozone. I once again fall back on the UK Met Office letter to Nature, Inesson et al (2011) that says this :
Satellite observations of solar spectral irradiance in the ultraviolet region have been subject to uncertainty; the Solar Stellar Irradiance Comparison Experiment and Spectral Irradiance Monitor (SIM) instruments aboard the Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment (SORCE) satellite mission (2004–present) are the first designed to achieve accurate long-term measurements of the solar irradiance variations over the entire ultraviolet range. The 200–320nm part of the ultraviolet band contributes strongly to solar heating in the middle atmosphere, largely through ozone absorption. Ozone is itself produced through the interaction between ultraviolet radiation and oxygen, giving rise to potential positive feedback. SORCE observations made during the decline of solar cycle 23 reveal a remarkably strong decrease in mid-ultraviolet flux, some four to six times greater than previous spectral irradiance reconstructions.
These observations are specifically for the decline of solar cycle 23 and we are now approaching the mid point of a very weak cycle 24 which is shaping up to be the weakest cycle for over 100 years and we need to wait for further observations to see if longer time scale variations in spectral output from the Sun may in part explain current behaviour of the polar stratosphere.
And so what about CO2? I have scanned IPCC AR5 Summary for Policy Makers and can find no reference to the jet stream in that report. Nor is there reference to the polar vortex. If the cause of recent events in the UK was so clearly linked to CO2 and global warming I would have expected that report to be provide a detailed explanation of the science that lies behind it.
Running the Netweather stratosphere temperature forecast forward to 27 February produces the picture shown in Figure 5. If that area of deep blue is the polar vortex then it appears to be heading Europe’s way in two weeks time if the forecast is accurate. I don’t know what implications this may have but I imagine that puddles and areas of standing water may freeze over.
Figure 5 The Netweather forecast for 27 February showing deep blue over western Europe.
- Alastair Dawson’s book chronicles 300 years of climate hell in Scotland (1600 – 1900) most probably extending to the whole of the UK, that was followed by the quiescent 20th Century that we have all come to assume is normal.
- Normality for UK weather may in fact be much stormier, wetter and colder weather than we experienced during the 20th Century.
- Jon Snow’s claim
This country has never experienced anything like this before
is nonsense and all the supposed experts lined up by the media to support this untenable view are clearly ignorant about UK climate history.
 Sarah Ineson et al (2011) Solar forcing of winter climate variability in the Northern Hemisphere Nature Geoscience PUBLISHED ONLINE: 9 OCTOBER 2011 | DOI: 10.1038/NGEO1282