Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Are scenes like this the future for us all? Experts warn global warming is making for volatile weather picture

A house near the flooded village of Moorland in Somerset where the owner has built his own flood defence
A house near the flooded village of Moorland in Somerset where the owner has built his own flood defence

The tumultuous winter weather of the past few weeks could well become the "new normal" for us, a climate change expert has warned.

Queen's University academic Dr John Barry said that the "abnormal, more extreme" weather events experienced this winter would become more frequent in the future.

The cluster of storms that has battered Northern Ireland for weeks, along with the rest of the British Isles, has taken everyone by surprise.

"We cannot conclusively say there is a 100% connection between climate change and this extreme weather that we've had," said Dr Barry, who is reader in green political economy at Queen's.

"But these extreme weather events are absolutely consistent with the climate change models and projections for this island and for Britain as well.

"What we have been experiencing over the last couple of weeks used to be one in 100 year events and now they are becoming more frequent. These abnormal, more extreme events will be the new normal."

The academic says scientists predict winter rainfall in Ireland will increase by 10 to 20% between now and 2050, depending on how high greenhouse gas emission levels go. "Climate change projections are consistent with what we have recently experienced in terms of increased danger from storm systems and storm surges coming from the Atlantic and an increase in sea levels," he said. "The reality is Britain and Ireland need to face up to accepting abnormal and extreme weather events such as recent storms, flooding and winds as the 'new normal'.

"We need to invest in flood defences, better drainage and emergency responses, including better advance warning systems. We need to create resilient coastal areas, resilient and protected critical infrastructure such as key roads, raid and telecommunications links. But equally important is to combat the causes of these extreme weather events, climate change and to do that we need to decarbonize the economy, and leave oil and gas before they leave us."

Last night the Met Office issued the latest in a long string of severe weather warnings this winter, saying another storm had developed to the west of the Azores and will run across the west and north of the UK during Friday and into Saturday. The inrush of storms has been averaging at one every two or three days for weeks now and the pattern shows little sign of letting up.

MeteoGroup forecaster John Griffiths says the repeating series of low pressure systems has swept into the UK as a result of an unusually fast jetstream across the Atlantic. The source of the current weather chaos appears to be in the north Pacific Ocean and has also brought plummeting temperatures to North America.

Hylton Road in Worcester was closed to all vehicles and pedestrians as the River Severn reached its highest level
Hylton Road in Worcester was closed to all vehicles and pedestrians as the River Severn reached its highest level

"The jet stream is being bent north east into America and then bends back down and shoots across into the UK where it is modifying the weather," he says.

Climate scientist Prof Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in England, says we can expect to see an increased frequency and increased severity of extreme weather as time progresses if we do not reduce our emissions.

"Our emissions are at a higher atmospheric rate than they have ever been. The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is higher than it's been for a million years. That's three times longer than human beings have been on the planet, so we are moving into territory that we have never experienced before," he said.

"The science is clear, that if we do not radically reduce our emissions then we will reap the repercussions of increasingly dangerous levels of climate change.

"If we've a business as usual scenario, the evidence suggests we're going to be facing a temperature rise of four to six degrees by the end of the century."

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