- Scotland, and in particular NE Scotland where I live, has been battered by winter storms during December 2015 and January 2016 leading to widespread flooding, destruction of property and misery for thousands of people. The Met Office warns that wide-spread frosts are now on the way.
- Government officials, while recognising a range of causes, seek to blame these events on climate change. For example Prof Jenkins, deputy Director of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology writing in the FT:
“We are absolutely convinced that there is weighty scientific evidence that the recent extreme rainfall has been impacted by climate change.”
- Looking at a range of climate drivers, my eye is drawn to the fact that sunspot cycles 17 to 23 (1934 to 2009) all had monthly sunspot numbers much greater than 100. The Sun was more active in this period than any other since records began around 1757. 1934 to 2009 is a major anomaly in solar activity and yet we tend to use this period as our benchmark for normal climate.
- Climate historian, Alastair Dawson recounts how Scotland’s climate was stormy, cold and wet for much of the 18th and 19th Centuries at a time when The Sun was less active than during most of the 20th Century. Sunspot cycle 24 began in 2009 and peaked with 100 sunspots and is now waning. It is the weakest cycle since the 1920s. Is Scotland’s climate reverting to the Hellish conditions that prevailed in centuries gone by? A number of physical mechanisms could explain this, but changes to the spectrum of radiative energy leaving the Sun is a prime underpinning candidate.
- Roger Andrews has looked at precipitation amounts in Scotland and the UK. He has found that December 2015 was in fact the wettest month in Scotland since records began in 1931, but only by a slender margin. Recent average rainfall is neither extreme, nor is it likely to have been caused by Man.
The Recent Past
I have lived in NE Scotland for the greater part of my life. The weather of the recent past certainly seems unprecedented in my lifetime (born 1957). It all began with storm Abigail on 13 November 2015 that affected mainly the west coast of the UK. Storm Desmond then hit northern England and southern Scotland on 5th and 6th of December causing widespread flooding. And then came storm Frank, a massive cyclone, centred on Iceland that straddled the whole Atlantic. Frank brought prolonged heavy rain over central and North Eastern Scotland on 30th December sending the river Dee into a Muckle Spate (big flood). The Dee reached “record levels” flooding homes, wrecking riverside caravan parks, sweeping away bridges, roads and fishing cabins, perhaps drowning one unlucky camper.
But since then it just kept on raining, and sleeting and snowing. On 7th January the Dee was almost back to Frank levels and the River Don, the next catchment to the north reached “record levels” flooding more homes. The railway N and S of Aberdeen was closed because of flooding. The main road south was closed because of flooding. The airport was closed due to storm damage. I can’t recall anything like this before.
In between the named storms, it just kept on raining. I went 3 or 4 weeks without seeing blue sky or the sun. And then on the evening of 7th January is snowed. It is unprecedented and I am tempted to declare that climate change is to blame.
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I’ve grown pretty tired of Met Office Weather girls, BBC news men, the press and politicians declaring that recent weather is unprecedented, breaking records, many of which only began 100 years ago or less. In Scotland, rainfall records begin is 1931. This is far too short a timescale for indiscriminate use of the term, especially if that 84 year period of records is not representative of what went before, as we shall see, is more than likely the case.
I’ve also grown tired of the aforementioned commentators claiming that said unprecedented events are due to climate change. Mostly these media and academic sources mean anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and climate consequences that may flow from that. And so to be accurate and honest they MUST add the prefix manmade. And preferably also mention global warming since our mountains are now covered in snow and flood waters are freezing this will make them look like fools in the eyes of the public.
Who is to blame for this propaganda and deception that the majority of the poorly informed public swallows hook, line and sinker? Newscasters, press and politicians may be excused their ignorance. But Met Office scientists and weather girls and the climate science community as a whole may not be excused. A day or reckoning for them is on the horizon.
The following narrative borrows heavily on the fine book “So Foul and Fair a Day” written by respected climate historian Professor Alastair Dawson. The book chronicles the history of Scotland’s climate since around 1600 based on diaries and press reports. This may be qualitative, but it is information not to be ignored. The narrative applies solely to Scotland and therefore does not have a global context. Dawson is a cautious man and gives detailed cognicance to the role of the jet stream that passes backwards and forwards across the British isles and volcanic eruptions, especially on Iceland, and their role in shaping Scotland’s climate. The exact cause of past climate change, while considered here, is not central to the argument. The argument hinges on whether or not the weather of the recent past as described here is unprecedented. Or has it all happened before in years gone by and caused by forces other than CO2?
In the last 2500 years there have been two notable periods when the climate of Northern Europe and North America was warmer and significantly more congenial for many than today’s climate. Those were the Roman Warm Period and the Medieval Warm Period. But reading Dawson’s book we find that even the Medieval Warm Period could deliver prolonged spells of filthy weather in Scotland. The periods in between were much worse.
1861-1899 A Catalogue of Disasters (p 170)
The first signs of the winds of change came in December of 1862, when a damaging storm swept across the Outer Hebridies. The gale was recorded by John MacDonald of Bernera on the Isle of Lewis and quoted in the Inverness Courier of 8 January 1863:
The gale commenced about noon on the 18th and did not abate til 7 a.m. on the 20th, and exceeded in severity, force and duration anything I have witnessed for at least 20 years. The boisterous raging of the Atlantic was fearful to behold. An Island named the Old Hill, which is several undred feet high and about 3 miles distant from Bernera, was frequently covered entirley with the spary. Fish of various kinds were chocked and driven onshore…
By the start of the 1870s people were beginning to wonder if Scotland’s weather was ever going to change. After all, an entire generation of Scots had lived through a period of calamitous weather that appeared not to have changed much over 50-60 years. From the 1870s onwards winters were either extremely cold, with snow lying for weeks on the ground, or they were incredibly stormy. By and large summers and autumns were wet, with only a few warm, dry summers interrupting the miserable dampness.
The year 1870 was only a few weeks old when a catastrophic storm battered Scotland. The effects of the February storm were most severely felt at Wick, when a severe storm broke out and continued without a break for three days, with the result that part of the pier, measuring 380 feet, was destroyed. At the end of February another storm struck…
Peril at Sea: During 1875, an extremely severe storm off northeast Scotland between 15 and 28 October led to the loss of 15 vessels, mostly between Aberdeen and Peterhead. In his history of shipwrecks in northeast Scotland, D. M. Ferguson relates how, “a south-easterly sprang up on the morning of 14 October and continued with increasing violence till the end of the following week……
The huge seas which hammered the coast caused considerable damage to the harbours at Stonehaven and Aberdeen…. In the latter a 60 ton block of masonry was torn from the North Pier and later discovered 100 yards away in the bed of the navigation channel.
Disaster on the Tay Bridge: Shortly after Christmas, on Saturday 27 December 1879, a bad storm swept across Lewis. It was recorded there as force 12, with winds from the southwest. By the next day, the winds had moved round to the northwest but were still measuring force 10. As the storm swept eastwards across the mainland it did not abate. Reports from Edinburgh also describe a severe storm from the southwest that Saturday, which did not subdue until the Sunday morning. All day the sky continued to have a very dark and threatening appearance, and in the evening the wind again blew to the force of a gale to the southwest.
The Scots Magazine reported how ‘just a few miles to the north on Sunday December 28th, the most terrible railway accident which has ever happened in Scotland occurred when a large portion of the Tay Bridge having been blown down causing the total destruction of the North British train from Edinburgh due in Dundee at 7:20, and the loss of nearly 200 passengers’
More big storms followed in 1883 but something worse was to happen later in the year. The start of the year was snowy. In early March a storm with winds typically around 80-90 knots affected the whole of the North sea, especially the northern and western parts, the Hebrides and the northern part of the Irish Sea. There were also now the characteristic summer storms. For example, on 9 August 1883 the Scots magazine notes in characteristic Edinburgh style:
Yesterday was one of the coldest, stormiest and most disagreeable days which have been experienced in Edinburgh this season. A boisterous wind from the southwest brought with it blinding rains, which lasted during the greater parts of the day.
How many readers have heard on their local news or weather forecast that an unusual sequence of weather events affecting them now may be linked to a change in The Sun? The chart up top is reproduced below. Click the chart to get a large, readable version. It shows the monthly sunspot number since 1757, cyclical fluctuations in sunspot number should be obvious to all. The cycle length is quasi regular with an 11 year period. The vertical axis lines are placed every 11 years, and in the 253 years from 1757 to 2010 there are exactly 23 sunspot cycles of mean 11 year duration. The orbit of Jupiter is 11.86 years and it is widely assumed that Jupiters gravity acting upon the fluid plasma of the Sun is implicated in the processes that give rise to the cyclical appearance and disappearance of sunspots.
Figure 1 Monthly sunspot numbers as downloaded from Wood For Trees. Click chart for a large readable version. The horizontal dashed line marks 100 sunspots per month. Note how cycles 17 to 23 all exceeded 100 with some ease, cycle 19 reaching 250. Three major adverse weather events are marked, 1) the blowing down of the Tay Bridge in 1879, 2) the hurricane that blasted southern Britain in 1987 and 3) the blanketing of Britain by snow in 2010. Each of these events occurred in the minima between cycles.
The Sun, its structure and the gravitational impact of all the planets upon it is a vast science in itself. I am no expert and do not want to delve too deep. The main point I want to make is this. Sunspot cycles 17 to 23 (1934 to 2009) all had cycle peaks with well over 100 sunspots. Cycle 19 reached 250, cycle 22 reached 200. Seven cycles in a row with sunspot numbers exceeding 100 at the peak is unprecedented since sunspot records began. Since cycle 17 began in 1934 until cycle 23 ended in 2009 the Sun had been hyperactive compared with the 177 years that went before. This I believe is a fundamental observation not to be ignored. The instrumental rainfall record in Scotland begins in 1931 and for most of us this is the span of our life experience. What we have observed and may take for granted as normal weather, in fact coincides with the most abnormal portion of the solar record. All climate scientists and climate commentators should take cognisance of this fact. And yet it is to large extent swept under the carpet and ignored.
But everything changed around 2009. The end of solar cycle 23 was marked by the total disappearance of sunspots from the face of The Sun. This would portend what was to come in cycle 24. You have to go back to the beginning of the 20th Century to find examples of The Sun going to sleep. At the beginning of the 19th Century, during the frosty Dalton Minimum, The Sun was blank for years on end between the weak cycles at that time.
Sun watchers have followed cycle 24 with patience as it unfolded keeping an eye on Earth’s climate at the same time. The cycle peaked at around 100 and is now on the wane. The next cycle low is due around 2020. Everyone in Scotland, especially the government and electricity generators, should be prepared for the extreme harsh weather this might bring. The last time we had a solar cycle this weak was cycle 16, 1920 to 1934, before Scotland’s climate records began. In the 18th and 19th Century, weak cycles like cycle 24 were the norm and were associated with harsh climatic conditions, crop failures and hardship as Dawson amply describes.
The Sun and Climate Change
Variations in The Sun can affect Earth’s climate in a number of known ways and perhaps in ways yet to be discovered. But trying to quantify these effects is like trying to scratch an itch that you can’t quite reach. Nothing lines up perfectly to allow definitive conclusions to be reached and that is likely because of multiple influences that amplify and cancel at different times. Inertia and time lags between cause and effect adds further complexity.
Total Solar Irradiance
TSI is the most often cited mechanism for The Sun impacting Earth’s climate. This is a measure of total radiative energy arriving at the top of earth’s atmosphere. Sunspots in fact darken the parts of the affected surface but at the same time the area outside of sunspots shine more brightly and when the Sun is active, i.e. lots of sunspots, it gives off more energy that may warm the Earth. Pause to think about that, in the period 1934 to 2009, the Sun was hyperactive compared with the rest of the period we have records. And this is the period of global warming observed on Earth.
Figure 2 Image of the Sun showing sunspots. Image credit NASA.
1979 likely marks the beginning of satellite era records for TSI. I don’t know why the data stop in 2011. Perhaps the satellite burned up. Or perhaps it began to give the wrong results. PMOD is not raw data but corrected data. Googling around I found this source :
The majority of sceptics recognise that sunspots themselves are a symptom and not the cause of solar variability. The cause lies deep within The Sun and another important symptom is variation in the magnetic field of The Sun that becomes stronger when The Sun is active, covered in sunspots, and weaker when it is quiet as it is now for the first time in three generations. The magnetic field may be important for two reasons. The first is that The Sun’s and Earth’s magnetic field combine to shield Earth from Galactic Cosmic Rays. The second is the observation that Earth’s magnetic field is weakening in concert with the Sun’s and this increases exposure of Earth to the Solar Wind.
Many will be familiar with Svensmark’s cosmic ray theory for the formation of clouds. Simply put, the theory argues that cosmic rays enhance cloud seeding leading to greater cloud cover and cooling of Earth’s surface. As far as I’m concerned the jury is still out on that one.
From a climate history perspective, cosmic rays are important because they create cosmogenic nuclides in the atmosphere – 10Be and 14C – and we can measure these in ice, tree rings and fossil carbonate and observe how cosmic ray variances in the past have impacted climate change on Earth. I show just a couple of examples below.
The first compares the 10Be concentration in the GISP2 ice core corrcted for ice accumulation rate with the temperature record (in blue) where the warm Dansgaard – Oescheger events 2 to 8 are labelled (Figure 4). It can be seen that each of the D-O events correlates with a 10Be anomaly suggesting a link to solar geomagnetic activity. But there are many more 10Be anomaly spikes than there are recorded D-O events. One of these itches you can’t quite scratch. I count 20 10Be anomalies in all from 15,000 to 38,000 years giving a mean anomaly span of 1050 years. This periodicity is very similar to the Bond cycles  recognised during the Holocene of which the Roman Warm Period, Medieval Warm Period and Modern Warm Period represent pinnacles, roughly 1000 years apart. These features of natural climate cyclicity are to large extent ignored by the climate science community who seem happy to attribute warming that may be due to solar variation to CO2 instead.
The second compares reconstructed d14C  with a global multi-proxy temperature reconstruction  (Figure 5). What we see in a general sense is a good negative correlation between these two variables (note d14C scale is inverted). High d14C during the Little Ice Age implies low magnetic field (few sunspots) and cosmic ray bombardment coincides with a dip in global temperatures. And vice versa for the Medieval Warm Period.
But once again the co-variation is far from perfect, especially in the period 1150 to 1250 where the trends go in the wrong direction. Elsewhere there is mismatch between amplitudes and offsets between peaks and troughs. Some of this may be attributed simply to uncertainties and flaws in the model data that are compared. But as a geologist I can say that the imperfect match rings true for how the real Earth works. Changes to The Sun is not the only cause of climate change on Earth and at times it is over ridden or partially overprinted by other processes.
There are multiple examples where climatic / temperature signals show imperfect co-variance with cosmogenic isotope abundances as shown above. The emphasis is on imperfect since, if it was perfect the role of solar variance in modulating Earth’s climate would be a closed case. But this does not provide a physical mechanism. My preferred candidate, although there may be more than one, is variations in the spectral output from the Sun that have relatively recently been observed to be much larger than previously assumed. Changes in spectrum correlate with changes in magnetic activity.
What this means is that over a solar cycle or between strong and weak solar cycles the amount of UV may shift relative to the amount of IR radiation while the total radiation may be relatively more constant. This influences where the radiation is trapped in the atmosphere. UV is trapped in the Stratosphere and a shift towards UV may mean Stratospheric warming at expense of less IR reaching the surface, reducing the greenhouse effect.
These processes have been found to impact the geometry of the jet stream, and there seems little doubt that it is the geometry of the jet stream that lies behind the aberrant climatic behaviour in Scotland in recent years. Largely ignored by weather news for decades, the jet stream is now never out of it.
A few years ago Sarah Ineson  and colleagues from the UK MET office published an intriguing paper on this topic that helped explain the extreme European cold of 2010. But since then I have heard nothing new. Perhaps commenters could update on new developments in this field.
What Caused the Scottish Floods of 2015/16?
The simple answer is a lot of rain. But Roger has shown in the sister post that the amount of rain in Scotland beat prior records by a slender margin. What does matter is that the rainfall was not evenly spread, Weather patterns became established dumping excessive amounts of rainfall first on SW Scotland and then on NE Scotland. I have summarised the various processes that may have combined to give rise to this unusual but not unprecedented event in Figure 6.
For me low solar activity, as exemplified by the waning cycle 24, is likely to be a significant driver, taking us back to the Hellish climate Dawson describes in his book. But in detail, the El Nino, cooling N Atlantic linked to the AMO and a deeply meandering jet stream are the causes we see on the ground. While Man’s activities and CO2 levels my augment these overwhelming natural processes I can see no reason or evidence to implicate Man as a driver for recent floods as official sources have sought to do.
Figure 6 Schematic of various physical Sun-Earth processes that may contribute to cyclical change in Earth’s climate. The role of CO2 and Man overprints these natural processes. Climate Science and the IPCC have tended to create an imaginary world where natural climate change does not exist (hockey sticks) and then attribute all observed change to Man, CO2, aerosols and dust.
It is worth noting that with deep meanders in the jet stream that weather over the UK flips from anomalously mild to anomalously cold in winter time. These register with the population as extreme weather events while their signature on average rainfall and average temperature may be much more muted as the extremes get averaged out.
A Warning From History
During the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries The Sun appears on average to have been much less active than during the 20th Century. In these centuries gone by Scottish climate had rare congenial spells punctuated by Hellish cold, wind, rain and snow and by the Little Ice Age that made the land all but unliveable. Icelandic volcanoes, that have been rather quiet of late, are implicated in this catalogue of climatic catastrophe. These volcanoes will not slumber for ever. To survive a repetition of history, Scotland requires abundant and absolutely reliable supplies of electricity 24:7:365 that can only be provided by nuclear power augmented by natural gas, hydro and coal.
I have this via email from Doug Brodie attributed to Pete Wishart MP, SNP Business Manager in the House of Commons (UK Parliament).
“The Secretary of State is right: we have to invest for the future. I am grateful she has acknowledged that climate change plays a significant part in the problems we are experiencing. So why are the Government stopping the investment in renewable technologies? Will they review the catastrophic decision to stop the support for onshore wind, a technology that will help us and that we desperately need in Scotland?”
Yes, the Scottish climate may be changing back to that mode that went before the 20th Century. It is extraordinary cognitive dissonance on the part of politicians to believe that the Scottish people may be served at all by intermittent on shore wind if confronted with appalling and deteriorating climatic conditions that we can do absolutely nothing about.
Historically, weak sunspot cycles do not occur in isolation but tend to occur in runs of 3 to 5 cycles (33 to 55 years). The extreme, UK-wide cold of 2010, the winter storms of 2014 and the winter storms of 2015/16 may be a rather benign taste of what is to come. The next solar minimum in 2020 could bring severe and widespread frosts, snow and more storms. In these conditions solar PV panels are worth absolutely nothing in Scotland. Wind serves only to destabilise the grid and to undermine the base-load generators upon which our prosperity and ultimately our survival may be dependent upon.
The winter storms and flooding of 2014, 2015/16 and extreme cold of 2010 leave me convinced that Scotland’s winter climate is changing in a way commensurate with our slumbering Sun. The number of permanent snow fields in the Scottish mountains is increasing.
While I have not been directly affected, exposure to events that on the ground appear to be extreme does make an individual receptive to the notions of climate change. I fully expect to be exposed to extreme cold, heavy snow fall and storms in the years ahead and the longer my expectations are fulfilled the more convinced I will become that Scotland’s winter climate is reverting to the harsh conditions of the 17th to 19th centuries described by Alastair Dawson. If, on the other hand we have a decade with no snow or frost I will change my mind.
 Evidence-based Climate Science: By Don J. Easterbrook
 Gerard Bond et al (2001) Persistent Solar Influence on North Atlantic Climate During the Holocene VOL 294 SCIENCE
 NCDC NOAA GISP2 Ice Core Temperature and Accumulation Data
 Richard B. Alley et al (2010) History of the Greenland Ice Sheet: paleoclimatic insights. Quaternary Science Reviews 29 (2010) 1728-1756
 Bard et al: Solar irradiance during the last 1200 years based on cosmogenic nuclides: Tellus (2000), 52B, 985–992
 Craig Loehle, Ph.D. and J. Huston McCulloch: A 2000-YEAR GLOBAL TEMPERATURE RECONSTRUCTION BASED ON NON-TREE RING PROXIES: ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT VOLUME 19 No. 1 2008
 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