Simon Kelner: The jet stream nearly did for the Morris dancers

Kelner's view


I come from Manchester, so I'm no stranger to rain.

But even I'm finding this a little hard to take. Apparently, the cold, wet weather that has turned June into November has been caused by the stubborn refusal of the jet stream to disappear from our weather patterns. But that wasn't much of a consolation to those who participated in the summer carnival in an Oxfordshire town I watched at the weekend.

The sodden procession of girl guides, a junior drum band, primary school gymnasts, care-home workers pushing wheelchairs, and even the samba dancers for Alzheimer's (I kid you not) was in many ways a quintessentially English scene, down to the spiteful wind, the crowd dressed in overcoats and the determination that the show must go on. Even the Queen couldn't arrange the weather, I heard someone say, so what chance have we got?

Perhaps we're getting it all out of the way before the Olympics. I sincerely hope so, because if the wind is anywhere near as pernicious as it was at the weekend, javelin throwers might find the spears coming back towards them.

I don't want to depress you unnecessarily as we start a new working week, but the Met men say there's more to come. As I said, it's all the jet stream's fault. If I understand this correctly, this is the band of wind that flows high in the atmosphere and which determines much of the weather in these isles.

By this time of the year, the jet stream should have moved further north, enabling warmer air to be predominate in Britain. But the jet stream has resolutely remained in a southerly position, bringing the wind and rain that almost did for the Duke of Edinburgh, never mind the Morris dancers. And there's not much sign of it shifting.

I have written in this column before about the qualitative improvements of modern life, and one of those is definitely the accuracy of weather forecasting.

Time was when you couldn't believe a thing you heard or read about the weather. In fact, I know of a newspaper which had a one-word summary on its front page and, because the front page for Monday had to be sent early to the printers, it had the same forecast every single Monday morning: changeable. This being Britain, more often than not it was uncannily accurate.

Forecasting is more reliable today. It has to be. When the experts tell you that the dull, cold, miserable weather is likely to continue, you know there's no point in making any barbecue plans just yet.

Extreme weather events are increasing in their frequency, and, even if you don't believe humankind is to blame for this, the chances are that you take more interest in climate change (in the narrowest sense) than you once did. The joke is that the British are obsessed with the weather. Sadly, we have good reason to be.

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