It seems that it is time to start girding our loins for the next series of winters, because the brutally cold temperatures the country has suffered through for the last couple of years may become much more common occurrences. The average temperature for the last three winters has been colder than the winter average taken over the last 20 years, and now a new study says the trend looks set to continue.
The study ‘The solar influence on the probability of relatively cold UK winters in the future’, was co-authored by Mike Lockwood professor of space environment physics at the University of Reading, and looked at the Central England Temperature (CET) record, the world's longest instrumental data series that stretches back to 1659.
“We could get to the point where one-in-seven winters are very cold, such as we had at the start of last winter and all through the winter before,” Prof. Lockwood explained. The team showed that average temperatures during recent winters had been markedly lower than the longer-term average. “The mean CET for December, January and February for the recent relatively cold winters of 2008/09 and 2009/10 were 3.50C and 2.53C respectively… Whereas the mean value for the previous 20 winters had been 5.04C.” Prof. Lockwood continued. The study suggests that the cluster of lower UK winter temperatures in the last three years had raised questions about the probability of more similar, or even colder, winters occurring in the future.
Last year, (in a separate study), Prof. Lockwood and colleagues published a paper that identified a link between fewer sunspots and the occurrence of atmospheric conditions that ‘blocked’ warm westerly winds reaching Europe during winter months, opening the way for cold easterlies from the Arctic and Russia to sweep across the region, a situation that has become familiar on weather forecasts over the last couple of years. He said the latest work had moved things forward as it showed that there was an improvement in predictive skills when solar activity fluxuations were studied alongside meteorological data.
However the professor was keen to point out that his team's paper did not suggest that Europe was about to be plunged into a mini ice age as a result of this low solar activity. "Looking at satellite data, we found that when solar activity was low, there was an increase in the number of blocking events of the jet stream over the Atlantic. These blocking events are definitely a regional redistribution, and not like a global ice age.”
So while it seems that the days of the wooly mammoth are gone forever -despite the attempts of the occasional scientist- ear muffs and snow boots may be about to become far more familiar items to us all for some years to come.