Belfast Telegraph

It's hardly surprising the weather's been so surprising

By Michael McCarthy

In April 1989, when then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher was still in the full flush of her discovery of the threat of climate change, she hosted a seminar on global warming for the Cabinet at Downing Street. They all had to attend. The grumbling must have been memorable.

The seminar was addressed by her favourite scientist, Jim Lovelock, the man who conceived the Gaia theory of the Earth as a self-regulating organism.

I was doorstepping the meeting, as we say in journalism – waiting outside in Downing Street – and eventually Lovelock ambled out.

I went over to speak to him, followed by a posse of TV reporters, one of whom, an American, stuck a microphone in his face and demanded: "Professor Lovelock, waddle be the first signs of global warning?"

Lovelock uttered a single word. He said: "Surprises." The TV reporter was bemused. He said: "Waddya mean, surprises?" Lovelock said: "We had a hurricane here recently. It was a surprise. There'll be more. Good day."

I have grown ever more convinced of the wisdom of Lovelock's brusque response. And I am put in mind of it by the extraordinary weather events.

It is barely a month since a conference at the Met Office suggested that the unbroken succession of wet summers since 2007 meant there was a significant shift in weather patterns towards a damper, cooler summer climate.

But now, after the coldest spring on record, we suddenly have searing heat. This has certainly surprised me; but, then, the recent run of wet summers surprised me even more when it began in 2007.

That was such a shock, because everything in the previous year suggested that 2007 might be the hottest summer ever.

Consider: the previous July was the hottest month ever recorded in Britain and July 19, 2006 was the hottest-ever July day.

Autumn 2006 was the warmest on record and the winter of 2006-7 was the second-warmest.

The 12 months from the end of April 2006 to the end of April 2007 constituted the single hottest 12-month period ever recorded.

I wrote a piece, as April ended, saying that we might expect a record hot summer of, maybe, 40C (104F). Then the heavens opened. I learned my lesson.

It's not that I now feel that global warming will not happen; nothing is more certain – unless the laws of physics are torn up. It's just that I feel it very probably won't happen as anyone has predicted.

The process is non-linear and there are too many intangibles; too many buffers in the ocean- atmosphere system.

It'll come as a surprise. But calling it is a mug's game.

Maybe the temperature record will be broken. Maybe it won't.

Maybe something else will happen with the climate, which is itself a surprise. But if there is a surprise, don't be surprised.

Belfast Telegraph


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