The UK may be cold, but it's still a warm world, says Met Office chief

Science Editor,Steve Connor
Tuesday 21 December 2010 01:00

She may have been one of the many thousands of people who failed to get to work yesterday because of the snow, but Professor Julia Slingo, the Met Office's chief scientist, is adamant that the current cold weather is merely a natural fluctuation – and does not mean that global warming is all a myth.

Professor Slingo, who is in charge of Britain's biggest research team investigating climate change, insisted that global warming was a reality despite the bitterly cold temperatures and heavy snowfalls that have brought much of the country to a standstill.

"This is not a global event; it is very much confined to the UK and Western Europe and if you look over at Greenland, for example, you see that it's exceptionally warm there," she said.

"Global warming is continuing and we know that from the global trends. There will, of course, be large local and regional variations from year to year. So this event that we're currently experiencing is not unprecedented."

A "blocking" high pressure over the North Atlantic has been a recurring feature of the current cold spell, which has split the path of the high-altitude jetstream, sending warmer weather to Greenland and allowing bitterly cold winds from the Arctic to spread across Britain and Europe. Professor Slingo said other factors may also be affecting the weather, such as the current in the tropical Pacific Ocean, called La Nina, which is disturbing the jetstream over the north Pacific and North America.

At the same time, the diminishing Arctic sea ice may be influencing a change in the weather patterns that are still not understood, she said. A final complication is that a regular pattern of natural climate change over the North Atlantic, called the multi-decadal oscillation, may be about to enter a cooler phase, just as it did in the 1960s, when Britain also experienced colder-than-normal winters.

"We've had a run in the past two decades of relatively mild winters, so our resilience to these kind of events has not really been tested," Professor Slingo said. "And yet during those 20-plus years the way we live has changed, so our vulnerability has changed."

Last October, the Met Office warned the Government that Britain is likely to experience a colder-than-average start to the winter. But long-term forecasts are still notoriously difficult to make with any accuracy, as the Met Office discovered with its "barbecue summer" prediction. Professor Slingo said: "The key message is that global warming continues."

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