Freeze kills two ... but it's hottest year ever

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Much of Britain may be freezing in sub-zero temperatures and heavy snowfalls, but the world as a whole is now experiencing the final days of the warmest year since reliable records began.

With 11 months' data gathered from every continent and ocean, British climate experts are confident 1995 will emerge as the hottest in the last 140 years. This adds appreciably to the growing weight of evidence that pollution is detectably altering the earth's climate.

The 10 warmest years since 1860 have been since 1982, and the top four were all in the Nineties, according to the Meteorological Office's Hadley Centre and the University of East Anglia.

But the forecasters were yesterday registering figures at the other end of the scale. In Scotland, Tulloch Bridge in the south-west Highlands was among the coldest places in the world, matching Helsinki and Stockholm at minus 20c, and colder than Moscow, with minus 18C. At minus 8c, temperatures were less extreme in the Western Isles, the Shetland Isles and parts of Aberdeen and Inverness, the areas affected by power cuts which left some people without heat or light for four days. All but 100 of the 1,500 people still without power had been reconnected last night.

John Colquhoun, 16, froze to death while trying to walk less than three miles to his home after a car accident. He collapsed in sub-zero temperatures only a mile from where the car he and a friend were in skidded off the road near Mauchline, Ayre-shire, early on Christmas Day.

His sister, Mandy, 19, said: "He was wearing just a thin jacket and it had started snowing hard when he was trying to walk. As far as we know, he tried to find shelter, fell asleep and just died in the snow."

A second person, Robert Giles, 25, died in a drowning tragedy after he dived into a freezing lake to save his dog which had crashed through the ice as it retrieved a stick.

He was trapped under water at the lake near his home in Andover, Hampshire, for 30 minutes before being rescued by coastguards and police. He died in hospital several hours later. His West Highland terrier, Mickey, scrambled to safety.

But leaving Britain's current cold snap aside, meteorologists have confirmed that from January to November this year, temperatures around the planet were, on average, 0.41 degrees Celsius above the long-term averages for the 30 years between 1961 and 1990.

The current record-holder is 1990, for which the "anomaly" - the departure from the 1961-90 average - is 0.36 degrees. The experts are confident that even if the globe as a whole experiences an unusually cold December in 1995, it will be too late to prevent this year from emerging as the hottest.

"It's very unlikely that 1995 will not be the warmest year," said David Parker, in charge of climate records at the Department of the Environment- funded Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Bracknell, Berkshire.

Government climate scientists from around the world have now advised politicians that man-made climate shifts are already under way. "The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate," they concluded at a United Nations' meeting in Madrid last month.