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Is it the weather, or is it the climate?

Charles Miller

edits this blog. Twitter: @chblm

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Snow arrives at the start of a year which the Met Office predicts will be the hottest on record. Its press release of 10 December contained the following startling claims:

- Global temperature for 2010 is expected to be 14.58°C, the warmest on record.


- 2009 is expected to be the fifth-warmest year in the instrumental record that dates back to 1850.


- Our experimental decadal forecast confirms previous indications that about half the years 2010-2019 will be warmer than the warmest year observed so far - 1998.

Is any of this relevant to stories about stranded motorists, gritting and delayed flights? 

If record temperatures are just one sign of climate disruption, then potentially it is. 

Reporting the snow story without making a connection to some bigger picture is unusual: a story about a stabbing in a school is put in the context of knife crime statistics; the closure of a factory is related to economic growth or unemployment; the death of soldiers in Afghanistan is linked to military strategy or foreign policy. 

But British weather still seems to live in a world of its own, its vagaries seen as Acts of God, unrelated to the issues discussed exhaustively in coverage of the Copenhagen Summit only a couple of weeks ago.

Media connections between weather and climate have been sensitive for a while. A few years ago, Dr Heidi Cullen, a well-qualified former presenter for the Weather Channel in the US, got into hot water over her view that meteorologists on television should see their job as putting weather news into the context of climate change.

She wrote in a blog: "If a meteorologist can't speak to the fundamental science of climate change, then maybe the AMS [American Meteorological Society] shouldn't give them a Seal of Approval." To her detractors, making the connection between weather and climate was 'dragging politics into the weather forecast'.

Where do our weather experts stand on this?

The Met Office isn't an independent business: it's a Trading Fund of the Ministry of Defence, whose governing body is chaired by a minister, Kevan Jones. So, on its attitude to the relationship between weather and climate, it is answerable to the government.

On its website, Climate Change gets second billing only to Weather. But the two are still presented in separate, apparently water-tight compartments.

As for the BBC, its online page today (above) includes what looks like it might be an attempt to connect weather stories with climate change - Richard Black's piece 'Why so cold' - but it turns out to be a discussion of something called the Arctic Oscillation Index. On claims by climate researchers that changes in the Index over the past 30 years are attributable to man-made global warming, Black concludes, doubtfully, "you would have to say the jury is definitely still out".

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