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Michael McCarthy: Have we seen our final big freeze?

Nature Notebook

A curious thought keeps nagging at me and will not go away: have we just seen the last cold winter?

Here we are in full daffodil mode, lilacs winding themselves up and getting ready to burst open, the blackthorn blossom already out and the official start of spring only four days away, and although I am as elated as you are at the prospect of life being colour and warmth and light once more, and happily kiss goodbye the freezing winter just gone, still the thought intrudes: was it the last one?

It was certainly properly cold, the coldest for 13 years and maybe longer. All my skiing friends and colleagues came back from the Alps saying the snow was fabulous. Even in London, for a day or so in mid-February, the snow was fabulous. But I wonder how much more fabulous snow there will be.

Some time ago the Met Office's Hadley Centre, Britain's premier climate prediction and research institute, prepared a climate change forecast which instead of the normal century-long timescale, was for a decade: the years 2004-2014. This showed global warming on a plateau for the years 2007-2009, and then resuming strongly from 2010 on. The last two summers have indeed been wet and cool and we have just had our extra-nippy winter months, so it is entirely natural for the average citizen to conclude that all this climate change stuff is a lot of malarkey. But the Hadley forecast predicts that "at least half" the years between 2009 and 2014 will be hotter than the hottest year so far recorded (1998). The British summer of 40C (104F) – is on its way. And even with the natural variability of the climate, although some winters will be colder than others, I have a nagging conviction that there will never be another one as cold as the one just gone. So I have weirdly ambivalent feelings about it, and its end. A sense of relief. But also a looming sense of loss.

Cold comfort in Copenhagen

Spending last week in a conference in Copenhagen with 2,000 climate scientists certainly encourages such thoughts. The meeting, in the city's Bella Centre, where the major UN global warming conference will be held at the year's end, was a scientific precursor to December's vital diplomatic gathering. At times it felt like being in a parallel universe, as the climate scientists, the ones I talked to entirely reasonable men and women, have a quite different view of the future from the man or woman in the street. From where they're sitting, they don't see any fabulous snow on the way. None whatsoever.