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When Siberian conditions hit Britain this time last year everyone was caught out, including the weathermen. Global warming, we had been told, meant the snowy conditions we remember from our childhoods would be just that: memories. But following the bitter cold of the past two winters those predictions are beginning to look rather wide of the mark. Now a new book, Frozen Britain by meteorologists Ian McCaskill and Paul Hudson, suggests that rather than facing milder winters we could be in for some more Arctic big freezes.

Certainly, despite everything that the global-warming lobby has suggested, our climate may be dictated by more than just man-made toxins (sic) pumped into the atmosphere. One of the key indicators – which has fallen out of favour with the computer-obsessed meteorologists of today – is the sun.

According to McCaskill and Hudson the clues to our future weather may lie with the sun.

“In the past few years it has been behaving very oddly,” Hudson says.

In the past, when there have been periods of relative inactivity on the surface of the sun they have been followed by years of cold winters.

Research published recently showed that in the early 1800s when activity on the sun was remarkably low for many years there was a dramatic change in the weather.

“Temperatures at our latitudes fell over the period by as much as two degrees celsius,” says Hudson.

“Those who are keen on British history or literature may make the link: it was Dickensian Britain, a time of cold and snowy winters.”

Solar cycles – the changes in activity on the sun – may play as much a part in our weather as global warming.

“The sun goes in cycles, the most common of which is an 11-year cycle; less common is a rather grandly named ‘bicentennial’ cycle,” Hudson says.

Which is more or less what we are due for right now.

Researchers have predicted the solar cycle in the coming years will be similar to that of the early 1800s and that average temperatures will fall as a result; in which case winters at our latitudes are about to get much, much colder.

A similar spell of low solar activity happened during the 1600s bringing with it winters so cold across the UK and Europe that the period was dubbed the “little ice age”.

The idea that the sun can influence our climate is nothing new. “The behaviour of the sun is an old-

winters would be wet and mild while fashioned branch of forecasting which seems to have been largely forgotten by most forecasting organisations,” Hudson says.

But research by the late Professor Hubert Lamb, a respected climatologist from the University of East Anglia, into the solar cycle and its influence on weather, showed that at times of low solar activity more often than not pressure was higher across Greenland and Iceland.

This would cause the jet stream, a narrow ribbon of fierce windshigh up in the atmosphere that usually brings us mild and wet weather from the Atlantic, to assume a more southerly position across Southern europe, causing cold easterly winds to be dragged across the UK from Russia.

Hudson says: “There can be no doubt that the sun has a dominant role to play in the climate patterns we experience here – and has played a dominant role in the past.”

Another twist to this story comes from Russia. During the period of Glasnost in the nineties many thousands of documents which had been kept secret by the Soviet authorities were made public.

They made clear what Russian scientists thought about where the global climate was heading – and it wasn’t becoming warmer.

Similar research from the space research laboratory in Russia focused on the little-known “bicentennial solar cycle” and demonstrated that in the early stages of the 21st century, solar activity is oncemore decreasing.

The conclusion was clear: the sun’s gradual drop in activity over the coming decades is likely to outweigh any increase in temperatures that may result from man-made global warming.

ACCORDING to Hudson and McCaskill, there is a good chance that rather than the past few winters being a blip in a period of increasingly mild and wet winters we need to prepare for more cold winters in the years to come.

It’s unlikely that every winter will be severe but if the solar cycle is affecting our climate in the manner that some scientists believe the UK needs to get used to scenes we saw last winter which many thought had been confined to the climate history books for ever.

Daily Express, 3 December 2011