Climate change brings 'extreme winter sunshine' to UK

But major review of effects of global warming also finds fossil fuel emissions are causing deadly heatwaves, droughts, floods and other dangerous weather events

Ian Johnston
Environment Correspondent
Friday 16 December 2016 11:20
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Sunlight during the colder months has become more than 1.5 times more likely in the UK, researchers say
Sunlight during the colder months has become more than 1.5 times more likely in the UK, researchers say

Climate change has been linked conclusively to an increase in devastating storms, droughts, floods and heatwaves capable of killing thousands of people.

But, in a major study of the world’s most extreme weather events last year, scientists have discovered what they say “might be a bright spot for the United Kingdom”.

For Britain is now much more likely to experience a rather pleasant consequence of greenhouse gas emissions – “extreme winter sunshine”.

The benefits of global warming – far outweighed by the negative consequences – have been used for propaganda purposes by climate science deniers in the past.

However the overall message from the research, published in a special edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is that our use of fossil fuels is causing dramatic changes to the Earth’s climate that make our planet a significantly more dangerous place for humans to live.

The team of scientists involved in the research seemed quite pleased to have discovered something new.

“It was also exciting to see that even after five years [of work] and over 100 events examined, investigators are still finding new event types with which to explore the role of climate change,” they wrote.

“This year we had contributions on novel event types including extreme sunshine in the United Kingdom, ‘sunny day’ flooding in the south-eastern United States, and snowpack drought in the US mountain west.

“What might be a bright spot for the United Kingdom is that investigators found that extreme winter sunshine ... as observed in the record high 2014/15 season, has become more than 1.5 times more likely to occur under the influence of human-caused climate change.”

However the flooding in Miami due to sea level rise caused by global warming was a less pleasant effect.

The snowpack drought in the Cascade Mountains – as a result of the “unprecedented warmth” – resulted in rain falling on the area instead of the usual snow of the cold season.

“Investigators found that because of climate change this event could be recurrent in the future,” the paper said.

In India, a heatwave before the arrival of the June monsoon rains killed more than 2,000 people last year.

The researchers said the extreme heat experienced there and in several other parts of the world was made worse by human-induced global warming.

“As observed in years past, all the papers that looked at heat events around the world – from Egypt, Australia, Europe, Indonesia, Asia, India, and Pakistan – all found that climate change played a role in increasing the severity of the event,” they wrote.

Even when other factors should have led to lower temperatures, the pressure from climate change proved too strong.

Climate change: It's "game over" for planet earth

“While El Niño conditions normally have a cooling impact on Japan in July to August, the 2015 summer was still unexpectedly hot,” the researcher said.

“Authors isolated the various influences and showed that intra-seasonal disturbances including tropical cyclones were the main drivers, but that human-caused warming increased the likelihood by 1.5 to 1.7 times.”

But while the researchers, from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and the US Department of Energy, expressed the effects of anthropogenic climate change in terms of chance, they stressed the overall picture was clear.

Their report, called Explaining Extreme Events from a Climate Perspective, said: “Going forward, report authors will continue to clearly state not only the magnitude and nature of the impacts, but the confidence in their conclusions.

“While we have made great strides in communicating the exact role of climate change, we still struggle with ensuring that the confidence in the conclusions is also conveyed.”

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