Monday, 11 January 2010

10 years ago, we were promised a snow-free future

I must apologise to the Met Office for taking at face value a comment left on the Daily Mail website by "Tony from Norwich" who claimed to work for the forecasting organisation. "We do not believe 'Tony' is an employee" said the press office. "His comment is not an official statement from the Met Office and does not reflect the views or policies of the Met Office."

It turns out he was as fictional as the warmer-than-average winter they promised us. Lesson (I hope) learned.

But will the Met Office learn any lessons from this year's foul-up? Here's a gem from the online archives of The Independent. It's a piece from 20th March 2000 - almost a decade ago - and should be hung round the necks of those pro-AGW scientists (and their Guardian/BBC cheerleaders) who are now pointing out in finger-wagging fashion that a few bad winters don't detract from the overall warming trend of the past decades.

Britain's winter ends tomorrow with further indications of a striking environmental change: snow is starting to disappear from our lives.

It begins.

Sledges, snowmen, snowballs and the excitement of waking to find that the stuff has settled outside are all a rapidly diminishing part of Britain's culture, as warmer winters - which scientists are attributing to global climate change - produce not only fewer white Christmases, but fewer white Januaries and Februaries.

That's right. Scientists - the same scientists, presumably, who are now telling us that colder winters do not contradict global warming because, dummy, weather ain't the same thing as climate.

The mild start to 2000, we learn, is part of "a trend that has been increasingly visible in the past 15 years". London's last substantial snowfall was as long ago as 1991 (or last week, if you've fallen through a time vortex and are reading this in 2010). Man-made global warming is "now accepted as a reality by the international community" the report continues, citing as evidence that temperatures in Britain were 0.6˚C higher in the Nineties than they had been in the Sixties. Dr David Viner, of the CRU at the University of East Anglia (whatever became of them?) is quoted as predicting that within a few years winter snowfall will become "a very rare and exciting event". "Children just aren't going to know what snow is," he said.

According to the Mail (which is now predicting a new "mini-ice age") Viner - who now leads a British Council push to raise awareness of global warming in other countries - stands by that claim today. "This winter is just a little cooler than average, and I still think that snow will become an increasingly rare event," he says. Well, I wouldn't expect him to recant because of a mere three weeks of bad weather. Is it too much, though, for him to admit that his promise of snow-free winters and snow-ignorant kids has not come to pass? Whether or not he was wrong about the climate, he was wrong about the weather. And it was about the weather that he was happy to make a prediction ten years ago.

The Indy report continues in similar vein: no sledges on display at Hamleys of Regent Street ("a bit of a first" said a spokesperson); no frozen fens to skate on in East Anglia; "pests and plant diseases, usually killed back by sharp frosts, are likely to flourish". Culturally, "our notion of Christmas might have to shift."

David Parker, at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Berkshire, says ultimately, British children could have only virtual experience of snow. Via the internet, they might wonder at polar scenes - or eventually "feel" virtual cold.

(I just love the idea of children huddling round cold-enabled laptops feeling "virtually cold" while they looked at archive footage of long-vanished pack ice. From the perspective of now, it sounds as retro-futuristic as The Jetsons. But how would it work? If, say, they were having sub-zero air blasted towards them by an overactive air-conditioning system, they would feel actually cold. So they would if they placed their hands in temperature-reducing gloves. How - and why - would a computer produce the illusion of cold without any actual coldness?)

The chances are certainly now stacked against the sort of heavy snowfall in cities that inspired Impressionist painters, such as Sisley, and the 19th century poet laureate Robert Bridges, who wrote in "London Snow" of it, "stealthily and perpetually settling and loosely lying".

The Independent report was not an isolated incident of news organisations confusing weather with climate in the cause of global warming alarmism. The BBC are repeat offenders. Here's a report from 2006 highlighting the plight of Alpine ski resorts deprived of their expected levels of snowfall. "Many believe global warming is to blame for the lack of snow," writes James Cove. He does not attempt to contradict such claims.

The 2000 report's predictions weren't entirely inaccurate, though. Dr Viner can claim at least some vindication from this:

Heavy snow will return occasionally, says Dr Viner, but when it does we will be unprepared. "We're really going to get caught out. Snow will probably cause chaos in 20 years time," he said.

In fact, it only took ten. But then, Britain is always unprepared for heavy snowfall. It always causes chaos. It did last year, and the year before that, and it would have done in 2000 had there been any. It's not a consequence of global warming, just the modern British diseases of poor planning, health and safety paranoia and complacency.

UPDATE: On the subject of bad predictions, certainly of the weather and perhaps, who knows, of the climate too, here's a very interesting comment from the mildly heretical BBC weatherman Paul Hudson

The answer may well be quite straight forward. It's likely that the all powerful and dominant Hadley centre supercomputer predicted very little chance of a cold winter, just like it did last winter, and that, as they say, was that.

Which begs other, rather important questions. Could the model, seemingly with an inability to predict colder seasons, have developed a warm bias, after such a long period of milder than average years? Experts I have spoken to tell me that this certainly is possible with such computer models. And if this is the case, what are the implications for the Hadley centre's predictions for future global temperatures? Could they be affected by such a warm bias? If global temperatures were to fall in years to come would the computer model be capable of forecasting this?

One thing we can be sure of. The science may be "settled" - at least, they keep telling us it is, and despite everything I've said recently I haven't gone over to the denialists quite yet - but the future never is.