Storms, floods and sunshine: welcome to global warming

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The Independent Online

Unusual meteorological conditions led to the topsy-turvy weather at the weekend, which saw torrential storms in the North contrast with bright sunshine and high temperatures in the South.

Unusual meteorological conditions led to the topsy-turvy weather at the weekend, which saw torrential storms in the North contrast with bright sunshine and high temperatures in the South.

A mass of very warm air from south of the Azores moved up over Britain late last week, bringing with it intense heat and humidity unusual for the UK in June. But on Sunday this was destabilised in the North by a cold front coming in from the Atlantic, and thunderstorms of an almost tropical intensity resulted.

Many places had more than an inch of rain, while at Hawnby in North Yorkshire, two inches of rain - the normal amount for a month - fell in an hour. Flash flooding was the almost inevitable consequence.

"The conditions were exceptional," said Steve Randall, national forecaster at the Met Office in Exeter. "You might go several summers without seeing them again. But they could become more frequent with global warming."

On Sunday, London had its hottest June day since the blazing summer of 1976, with a high of 33C (92F), while Sunday night was the second hottest ever recorded for the month in the capital; the temperature did not drop below 21.7C.

While not touching these peaks, the hot weather is likely to continue in the South of England for several days, Mr Randall said, but Scotland and Northern Ireland are likely to see much more cloud.

Although the Met Office supercomputers cannot make reliable weather predictions for more than about a week ahead, punters showed no such reservations and are already gambling that 2005 will be another sizzling summer.

Yesterday, the bookmakers Ladbrokes cut the odds on temperatures in the UK exceeding 100F this year from 5/1 to 4/1 after punters flocked to back a repeat of 2003, when the UK temperature record went over the 100F mark. "In 2003, bookmakers paid out over £250,000 and we're not going to make the same mistake again," said Warren Lush, a Ladbrokes spokes-man. "We're hoping the hot weather passes soon as we're feeling the heat of thousands of bets."

The great Western European heatwave of the first two weeks of August 2003, whose unprecedented temperatures claimed the lives of more than 30,000 elderly people, is now attributed by climate scientists directly to global warming.

The previous British record temperature was 37.1C, but it was broken decisively on 10 August when the temperature at Graves-end hit 38.1C. But weeks later it was realised that at Brogdale, near Faversham in Kent, where the thermometer is only checked monthly, the mercury had hit 38.5C - which is now the official British record.

This difference from the previous record of 1.4C is a huge leap, and should give pause for thought to anyone who thinks global warming is not happening.

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