Freak weather costs a fortune but saves lives

... and it's good for the orange frogs, too
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The freakishly hot year of 1995 cost Britain hundreds of millions of pounds but also prolonged many thousands of lives by reducing deaths in winter, a government-funded study has concluded.

There were heavy costs for building insurers, the water industry and farming from the excess heat, but massive savings in fuel bills. And, overall, the disadvantages appear to outweigh the advantages, said the scientists who carried out the study for John Gummer, the Secretary of State for the Environment.

The research, published yesterday, was intended to weigh up the impacts of 1995's strange weather and consider how permanent man-made global warming may be affecting the country.

Summer that year was the warmest and driest on record. Central England's average temperature for July and August was 3 degrees Celsius above the long-term average for those months, and rainfall a third of the average.

The 12 months from November 1994 to October 1995 were also the warmest on record, 1.6C above average, although rainfall through that year was near normal. That is the kind of temperature rise being forecast for Britain midway through the next century, as a build-up of "greenhouse gases" traps heat in the atmosphere.

The research was done by 14 experts at nine universities and research institutes, led by the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit.

They found that the Christmas shopping rush was boosted by sunny weather and that hot weather seemed to push up inflation. Sex crimes are more frequent when March, August and January are unusually warm.

Tourism: Hot weather makes Britons more inclined to go on holiday in their own country butperversely, also makes people spend less on attractions. In 1995, the heat cut this tourist expenditure by pounds 235m. Visitors spend more time soaking up the sunshine, and less on fairground rides and suchlike.

Health: The baking summer is estimated to have caused more than 1,000 extra deaths. But this was far outweighed by reduced mortality in the mild winter beforehand. The total number of deaths in the hot year was about 15,000 less than it would normally have been. Cases of people made ill by food poisoning were also pushed up as bacteria multiplied.

Energy: Britain saved pounds 355m during the year because of cheaper energy bills. But household electricity consumption rises in a hot summer, as many more homes have freezers than 20 years ago, which use more power in hot spells.

Shopping: Sales of clothes and shoes fell by pounds 383m because of the hot summer weather. Fruit and vegetable sales rose by pounds 25m and beer brewers earned an extra pounds 123m.

Buildings: Clay soils shrunk in the drought, bringing a spate of subsidence claims, which cost the insurance companies at least pounds 300m extra. On the other hand, there were fewer claims from frozen pipes in winter, saving up to pounds 125m.

Farming: British agriculture lost about pounds 180m because of dry weather. The nation's most important crops - wheat, barley and oilseed rape - were boosted by the warmth but there were poor harvests for potatoes.

Livestock was hardest hit, with farmers losing some pounds 210m. Intensively reared animals suffered in the heat.

Forestry: If every year was as warm as 1995, Britain's main commercial forests - conifers planted on the uplands - would be ready for harvesting after 43 years instead of 46.

Water: There were bans on sprinklers, hosepipes and car- washing across much of Britain through the summer, and in Yorkshire Water's area the severe drought carried on into the winter. Water companies had to spend an extra pounds 96m on supplying water, with half of that borne by Yorkshire Water alone.

The number of orange frogs, and other albino varieties, appears to be rising and this may be linked to a warming climate, says the Cornwall Wildlife Trust in a report issued today.

The frogs, which range in colour from orange through yellow, pink and cream to white, lack the dark pigments which allow tadpoles and young frogs to absorb solar warmth, helping them to grow to adulthood.

The report's author, Mark Nicholson, points out that albinos are more common in southern Britain. ''If they do survive better in warmer areas, we might expect their numbers to be increasing if our climate is warming,'' he added.

Fires: Hot, dry weather causes a sharp increase in heath, grassland and crop fires. Numbers of these fires rose by more than 50 per cent between 1994 and 1995, says the study.

t Economic impacts of the hot summer and unusually warm year of 1995, Global Atmosphere Division, Department of Environment, Romney House, Marsham Street, London SW1.