Weather: Is the world's climate turning ugly?

In recent weeks we have seen drought in Papua, floods in Poland, unprecedented smog in Indonesia, the lowest temperatures ever recorded in Italy, and the sunniest (and coldest) October in England for a generation. Is there a pattern behind all this freak weather?

A recent report from Friends of the Earth begins with the question: "What's wrong with the weather?" To support its argument that there is indeed something wrong, the writers of the report list an impressive variety of freak weather events over the past few years. To mention just a few: the nine hottest years on record have all occurred in the last 14 years; England had the wettest June this century; the strongest ever hurricane was reported in the Eastern Pacific; the number of blizzards and heavy storms in the US has increased by 20 per cent since 1990.

It all makes an impressive-sounding list, and Friends of the Earth see it all as a warning about the consequences of global warming. "There is no disputing the fact that since the late 19th century global mean surface temperature has increased by between 0.3 and 0.6C and that recent years have been among the warmest since 1860, when the global temperature record began."

The main suspect in this report is, as you may have guessed, greenhouse gases. The droughts, storms and forest fires are only what one would expect from man's ceaseless habit of pumping heat-retaining gases into the air. As the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change says: "small changes in the mean climate or climate variability can produce large changes in the frequency of extreme events." And as El Nino keeps reminding us, you need only a pool of warm water in the Pacific to turn normal weather patterns upside down throughout half (or perhaps more) of the globe.

Since the Friends of the Earth report appeared, we have seen California bracing itself for "the mother of all storms", while Vietnam last weekend was hit by its strongest ever storm. Putting all these events together does indeed make it seem as though something has gone wrong with the world's weather.

There are, however, two equally compelling arguments against the above theories. First, we are, on a geological time-scale, still coming out of the little ice age that lasted from the 17th century to the beginning of the 19th. Temperatures have been rising since then because we're still warming up. Anyway, we're going through a period of relative temperature stability, so we rather overestimate the significance of half a degree or so.

The second argument is more statistical. Precise weather records have been kept only since about 1860. With 12 months in a year, and hundreds of countries in the world, and temperatures, rainfall, wind speeds and other variables all being recorded, and various time-cycles of weather interacting, you really ought to expect new records to be set quite frequently. It's just a question of waiting for an extreme of weather to turn up at a point where one happens to be measuring.

Paradoxically, weather extremes are normal. We just haven't been measuring the weather long enough to know whether the current epidemic of extremes is anything out of the ordinary.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Graduate Media Assistant

    Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an ambitious and adaptable...

    Guru Careers: Solutions Consultant

    £30 - 40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Solutions Consultan...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before