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Yes it's cold... and it's still getting warmer

Susan Watts | 14:51 UK time, Friday, 3 December 2010

For anyone wondering about our early winter, and what it's got to do with El Nino/La Nina, Pacific and Atlantic Ocean temperatures and climate change I thought I'd jot down some notes from a chat I had with Dr Adam Scaife at the Met Office.

He is head of Seasonal to Decadal Prediction, which includes seasonal forecasting, decadal forecasting and modelling of climate variability.

After the barbecue summer fall out, the Met Office has of course stopped giving out seasonal forecasts - at least to the general public. But here's what he had to say about this week's record-breaking weather.

Why is it so cold in northern Europe so early?

"What's happened so far is consistent with El Nino/La Nina signals." Briefly put, in an El Nino year, like that of last winter, the Pacific is warm, and Europe's winters are cold and dry. In a La Nina year, which is where we are now, European winters are warmer and wetter.

But all of that is for LATE winter. In EARLY winter the situation is flipped, so cold and dry in a La Nina year - ie now. But later on this winter, possibly in January (though no one knows for sure), it should start to get warmer than it was last winter. Dr Scaife stressed that it's all very variable, so don't hold him (or me) to that.

The reason it is hard to be sure is that the El Nino/La Nina signal is strong enough only to be seen over a number of years, and not strong enough to use to determine an outcome. "In any individual year, there are lots of other fluctuations that can hide it," Dr Scaife said. Examples would be volcanic activity (strong enough for ash to reach the stratosphere), and what's going on over the Atlantic Ocean.

So what does this all mean for our understanding of climate change?

As the UK and Europe froze over, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) issued its annual global temperature data, posted today - and showing 2010 as almost certain to rank in the top three warmest years since the beginning of instrumental climate records in 1850.

"The feature we're seeing now and last winter, where the UK and most of Northern Europe are cold, are a result of a re-arrangement of the air. So for as many places that are cold, there are places that are anomalously warm. It's like a jigsaw with the pieces in the wrong place. So we have local anomalies, but on average it works out to zero," Dr Scaife said.

"For example, at the moment we have cold over northern Europe and Eastern US, but in Canada and the Mediterranean it's mild, so the heat is sitting in a different place. That kind of shuffling can happen locally, but the global mean temperature doesn't care about that."

And possibly feeling a little bruised by questions about the skills of Met Office seasonal forecasting (after that barbecue summer) Dr Scaife directed me to a paper he published in 2005, looking at trends in winter temperatures from the 1960s to 1990s. This work is beginning to look prescient. It talked about possible changes afoot in European climate.

The winter of 1962/63 was famously bitterly cold, but by the 1990s we had got used to warmer, wetter winters in the UK and Northern Europe. Dr Scaife's paper said that although some of this winter warming was directly attributable to climate change, the majority of European winter warming between the 1960s and 1990s appeared to be due to changes in Atlantic winds (Scaife et al, Geophysical research Letters, 2005).

"We worked out that 70% of the warming in that period was due to the change in the Atlantic winds, rather than a direct radiative effect of greenhouse gases. And in 2008, before the last two cold winters, we wrote in a second paper on that topic that future decades could see a reversal, if those winds changed back - and that is exactly what has happened," Dr Scaife told me.

Here's what he said back then: "Future decades could easily see a reversal of regional trends in European winter climate because North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) effects can dominate the effects of global warming on Europe in winter, even on multi-decadal time scales. Indeed, this may already be underway given the recent decrease of the winter NAO" (Scaife et al, Journal of Climate, 2008)

So a vindication perhaps? Dr Scaife said his team does not yet know what causes those decade to decade natural fluctuations in Atlantic winds. But this is just one example of how a global trend in which the planet is warming, can be masked by local, natural changes.

And finally, he said the key point about recent global temperature change is the rate at which it's happening: "Obviously there were bigger temperature variations in the past, but they took a long time to build up, over many thousands of years*. It's the rate of change in just 50 years (a degree or so of warming) that's different."


* Update on 13/12/2010. Please note there was an error in the reporting of this quote. We initially quoted Dr Scaife as saying: "Obviously there were bigger temperature variations in the past, but they took a long time to build up, over thousands of millions of years." This has now been rectified. Please accept our apologies.


  • Comment number 1.

    "Obviously there were bigger temperature variations in the past, but they took a long time to build up, over thousands of millions of years. It's the rate of change in just 50 years (a degree or so of warming) that's different."

    Sorry that is just plain WRONG and he should know better.

    Ice ages run on 40 to 100,000 year cycles, the last one ended about 10,000 years ago. On top of that all it takes is a large volcanic eruption or two and the temperature can change by a degree or 2 over afew years.

    The climate changed regularly and significantly in response to numerous variable and natural parameters on this planet of ours before we came along, it still changes now and it will carry on changing long after we have gone. We are just one more natural phenomenon thrown into the mix, nothing more.

  • Comment number 2.

    ..showing 2010 as almost certain to rank in the top three warmest years since the beginning of instrumental climate records in 1850..

    given ice age cycles are 100,000 years how 'significant is 150 years data?'

    ..Obviously there were bigger temperature variations in the past, but they took a long time to build up, over thousands of millions of years...

    er when was the last ice age? why was greenland named 'green' land?

    climate 'changes'. we are in ice age 'cycles' .deal with it.

    stop looking for people to blame and so invent taxes that transfer wealth from the poor to the rich like carbon trading. no matter how many taxes you put on you won't stop the ice age cycles.

  • Comment number 3.


    "the Met Office has of course stopped giving out seasonal forecasts - at least to the general public."

    BUT NOT PIERS CORBYN! Why does Susan not include his work?

    "Dr Scaife said his team does not yet know what causes those decade to decade natural fluctuations in Atlantic winds." Must try harder.

  • Comment number 4.

    New book

    Slaying the Sky Dragon

    ..Nine leading international experts methodically expose how willful fakery and outright incompetence were hidden within the politicized realm of government climatology. Applying a thoughtful and sympathetic writing style, the authors help even the untrained mind to navigate the maze of atmospheric thermodynamics. Step-by-step the reader is shown why the so-called greenhouse effect cannot possibly exist in nature.

    By deft statistical analysis the cornerstones of climate equations incorrectly calculated by an incredible factor of three - are exposed then shattered.

    This volume is a scientific tour de force and the game-changer for international environmental policymakers .....

  • Comment number 5.

    the scams of the parasitic carbon trading continue?

    ..One million European carbon permits have gone missing from the Romanian subsidiary of cement company Holcim's (HOLN.VX) emissions registry account due to a computer virus, the EU Commission said on Wednesday.

    Holcim Romania says on its website that its account with the Romanian national registry for greenhouse gases was illegally accessed and 1.6 million carbon permits went missing.

    Subsequently, 600,000 permits have been traced but 1 million permits are still unaccounted for.

    Holcim valued the 1 million remaining missing carbon permits at around 15 million euros.

    ..Italian firm halts CO2 trading over alleged fraud..

    ..The image of the carbon market has suffered a triple blow this week just as climate change negotiations have started to heat up in Cancun, Mexico.

    Emissions allowances worth EUR24m have been stolen from a Swiss cement company, while an Italian trading platform has frozen all deal activity due to suspicions of carbon tax fraud. Meanwhile the United Nations is currently investigating whether it is handing out too many carbon credits to projects cutting industrial pollution...

    and this is just a sample of the weekly headlines. any week you could find new ones.

    nearly all climate babble starts with the concept of 'rich countries' without explaining their assumptions of why they think a country is rich. in what way is the uk a cash rich state?

    carbon trading and its associated offset schemes needs to be seen as an [organised] crime against humanity.

  • Comment number 6.

    If only Pinocchio's nose had been cut for timber then we could have built " Jerusalem " in England's green and pleasant land. ( not the virtual west bank financial apartheid based segregation of the population we now appear to be heading for )

  • Comment number 7.

    HOW APPOSITE! (#4)

    According to the alternative cosmology, Venus, as a destructive comet, was the archetype for dragons.

    Good scientists tend to 'die' young. Thank goodness a few survive.

    I heard Al Gore spoken off and no one laughed. WE still have a long way to go. But then 'folks' are still saying: "Buildng What?"

  • Comment number 8.

    worth putting up again

    ..Why the BBC cannot be trusted on 'Climate Change': the full story ..

    the creation of a propaganda body called The Climate Change Working Group which in turn sought PR advice from a company called Futerra communications.....who advised

    ..To help address the chaotic nature of the climate change discourse in the UK today, interested agencies now need to treat the argument as having been won, at least for popular communications. This means simply behaving as if climate change exists and is real, and that individual actions are effective. The ‘facts’ need to be treated as being so taken-for-granted that they need not be spoken ...

    Jeremy Paxman had this to say about BBC impartiality on Climate Change

    ..I assume that this is why the BBC’s coverage of the issue abandoned the pretence of impartiality long ago....


  • Comment number 9.

    was susan one of 'the 30'?

    if its so 'good' why is the seminar a secret? should we not all read the transcript and be 'convinced'?

  • Comment number 10.

    #9 jaunty

    Perhaps its got something to do with the fact that the BBC often disposes of its women presenters when it considers that they are getting " too long in the tooth ". Unless you fully support the BBC corporate propaganda line you are soon out on your ear ?

  • Comment number 11.


    Marcus Bigotstocke has abandoned humour and gone in for 'climate certainty'. He always struck me as a keen mind - has he gone over to the Dark Side?

    When satirists become evangelists the End Days are truly upon us.

  • Comment number 12.


    yes most people have to give up their noble ideas to keep a job? although what about the bbc'we could earn 3 times as much in the private sector' jibe? hasn't ross come back?

    although one might have thought the bbc corporate line was that which was in the bbc charter which sets out the bbc objectives. Last time i read it there was no reference to propagandising on behalf of a self appointed climate priesthood?

    childrens bbc is awash with climate propaganda.

    but as another bbc worthy said that the bbc was not neutral about 'multiculturalism' either and was no doubt pretending the facts are so true they do not need to be questioned?

    pretending is the same as make believe? living in a tax funded make believe world?

  • Comment number 13.


    its like a dr who plot. a rampant infectious virus turns people into robotic slaves of 'the master' who is out to kill those with the anti climate serum? no one is safe from infection.

  • Comment number 14.

    This reminds me of a report in the Express at the end of Oct.

  • Comment number 15.

    I suspect that Hugh Weldon would have turned in his grave if he had seen the young Patric More pretender warmist high priest Brian Cox hijack the HW memorial lecture the other night. I find his alleged science programmes impossible to take seriously, all computer graphics and laced with the eco-fascist message even though its alleged astronomy. He was on about how good that Scotch idiot ( who over-stresses his accent ) was at pointing out that we could not do nothing about their scam. Perhaps we should make a citizens arrest of all the key warmists and pack them off to St Kilda to fend for themselves.

  • Comment number 16.

    A 'report' that seems pretty much based on one person from one organisation suggests a lot of faith, at best. Is this how things get interpreted in broadcasts to the national audience?

    And as Wikileaks has demonstrated, and some posters above have noted. the famous BBC commitment to 'watertight oversight' and the right of the public to see sealed files seems... erratic, too. - Various threads.

  • Comment number 17.


    So remind me, How do Fridges ans Freezers work?

  • Comment number 18.


    The solid-state Gore 'Hocky Stick Converter', takes hot air in at one end and it comes out cold at the other. The genius lies in it being counter-intuitive.

    It has made Gore a very rich 'inventor'.

  • Comment number 19.

    Is that the Huw Whelden from 'All your Own'? I am an El Nino convert and we are all DOOMED...

  • Comment number 20.


    Doomed indeed stevie. Have you sampled Paul Mason's thread?

    Bindings fall apart - centre pages cannot hold.

  • Comment number 21.

    brossen99, thanks for the RTS reminder (I can never remember to watch out for annual lectures):

    While the depth of material would be hard to make digestible for tv, the complex interplay between all the micro climates and macros climates (and their cycles) is a story that the met office should be telling and I'm glad to have stumbled upon a piece of it here. Now if we could find out a little of what the long term impacts of the Icelandic volcano activity were then all the better.

  • Comment number 22.


    You are recommending a scientific volume (Slaying the Sky Dragon) which is a "tour de force and the game-changer for international environmental policymakers “ written by 9 leading international experts.... Thank you for your advice.
    Experts in what?
    Next time check out the authors of these so-called reputable front-line climatoglogy/environmental books. I have by no means put in extensive research into the authors, but a quick search on the all-seeing google of the three authors which have doctorates (didn't bother looking into the others) tells me this book isn’t quite what you may think it is. It may be 'science', but I'm not sure how game-changing it will be. Here is what I found:

    1. Dr Tim Ball - Only climatologist of the authors... but does not appear to be very 'active' in the academic field of climatology any longer. Sure, he's written hundreds of articles in the last 5 months (how? - about how climate change and biodiversity loss being used as plots by the superpowers to rule the world. Beware. I love the fact that this canadafreepress website on which he is an active contributor has excessive adverts and banners akin to an illegal download website.
    Someone here ( obviously extensively researched Mr Tim Ball, exposed his lunacy and appropriately wrote an article on it. Because people like Tim are poisonous.

    2. "Dr. Hertzberg is an internationally recognized expert on combustion, flames, explosions, and fire research". Ok, so perhaps he contributed with some experiments in a laboratory to try and discredit the greenhouse gas theory? How can he be the second author of a "game changer for environmental policy makers"? -

    3. Finally, we have Dr Claes Johson - professor of applied mathematics....

    I hate it how whenever I read articles related to climate change, the IPCC, environmental degradation etc, a large amount of the people posting their 'honest' opinions are simply muppets attempting to poison lay people into thinking that governments have a hidden agenda which is to 'take money from the poor and place it right into the rich man’s account’.
    Beware of people like Tim or Hertzberg, but be especially wary of those like jauntycyclist.

  • Comment number 23.

    What if weather is being manipulated?
    I know, I know there is a UN ban on Geo-Engineering, but did you know that for whatever reason, this ban does not include the United States. As a neighboir of the United States, I am in the process of becoming a Canadian rager against any & all American evil-doing.
    Here's the latest:
    On December 4, 2010, a number of American military planes were seen dropping chaff over the Juan de Fuca Straight between Sooke (Victoria) British Columbia and Port Angeles WA. (Chaff is otherwise known as a "chemtrail". A chemtrail is used in radar deflecting and GEO-ENGINEERING (WEATHER MODIFICATION).
    (A chemtrail is not the normal vapour from a plane. Chemtrails do not dissipate like contrails; they linger in the sky, slowly spreading.)
    Witnesses said that these military planes circled over the straight. The planes were flying at a higher altitude than commercial airliners; they flew back and forth in a circular motion, leaving long trails behind them that left the blue sky obscurred.
    (Chemtrail spraying had already occurred in Victoria at the Victoria International Airport in December 2000. This was verified in March 2001 by the Air Traffic Control - Federal Aviation Association (FAA). FAA admitted that US AirForce (USAF) was crossing into Canadian air space. The purpose of the mission was stated as WEATHER MODIFICATION.
    Chemtrails are known to contain; barium, titanium, magnesium, aluminum and dibromethane. All of these are carcinogenic; they also have the potential to assault respiration and caise heart problems.
    The UN banned geo-engineering in October 2010 at the UN Convention on Biodiversity in Nagoya, Japan. Delegates from 193 countries agreed to ban all weather modification programs until such time as sufficient evidence existed to validate the risks.
    Silvia Ribeiro, Director of the ETC Group (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration): “Any private or public experimentation or adventurism intended to manipulate the planetary thermostat will be in violation of this carefully crafted UN consensus.”
    But guess what?
    The United States did not, would not, agree to the ban and is not one of the 193 signatories.
    The United States Committee on Science and Technology (The report, October 2010, entitled Engineering the Climate: Research needs and Strategies for International Coordination.
    From the report: "“Climate engineering, also known as geo-engineering, can be described as the deliberate large scale modification of the earth’s climate systems for the purposes of counteracting and mitigating climate change. As this subject becomes the focus of more serious consideration and scrutiny within the scientific and policy communities, it is important to acknowledge that climate engineering carries with it not only possible benefits, but also an enormous range of uncertainties, ethical and political concerns, and the potential for harmful environmental and economic side effects.”
    The United States had been experimenting with Geo-engineering for several years. Yet after all evidence of geo-engineering is in, American Military Officials more likely than not will deny experimental geo-engineering.
    Under the Canadian Charter of rights, it is written “Everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.”
    Isn't it unusually cruel to be sprayed upon with chemicals in a geo-engineering experiment? The fact that chemtrials have persisted in Victoria BC for over ten years is alarming. However, since the UN has now banned geoengineering, the spraying in Canada should be banned.
    So, why isn't it?
    Shouldn't all countries (at the very least) have a record of all experimentation that has gone on and is going on so that they can differentiate
    - natural weather from
    - potentially artificial manipulated weather?
    Today it's Juan de Fuca Straight between Sooke (Victoria) British Columbia and Port Angeles WA. Tomorrow maybe it's the White Cliffs of Dover...

  • Comment number 24.

    Dear Ms. Watts,

    Many thanks for the explanation about cold weather in Europe. Would you please now find out from Dr. Adam Scaife how he explains the cold weather in America:

    Millions of Americans have been digging themselves out after snow covered more than a third of the country. Skip related content
    Related photos / videos
    Major Snowstorm Buries Third Of America Play video

    * Major Snowstorm Buries Third Of America Play video
    * Major Snowstorm Buries Third Of America Enlarge photo

    Related content

    * Video: Major Snowstorm Buries Third Of America

    The storm, one of the largest to hit the US since the 1950s, spread more than 2,000 miles - reaching from Texas to Maine in the North East.

    Chicago was covered by 20 inches of snow, forcing firefighters to use snowmobiles to get around the city. In North Dakota, temperatures of -27C were recorded.

    Officials in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Oklahoma declared a state of emergency and motorists were warned to stay off the roads.


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