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Met Office Summit Meeting To Find Out Why British Weather Is … Normal

David Rose, Mail on Sunday

The truth, revealed by the hard data of temperature and rainfall records, is that neither rainfall nor average temperatures have shown much change in Britain for several centuries.

As of lunchtime yesterday, the Met Office wasn’t at all sure how Britain’s weather would turn out today. According to a spokesman, some of its computer models were predicting ‘a rather miserable day for some southern areas’. Others, however, suggested it would be ‘fine and bright’.

‘Sometimes the atmosphere can provide a real challenge for forecasters,’ the spokesman admitted wearily.

The problem right now, apparently, is a phenomenon known as a ‘trough disruption’, a common type of westerly weather whose course both computers and human beings find hard to predict.

Summer for 350 years

Still, the signs were that by the end of the week, temperatures would be normal for June, at about 20C. Looking further ahead, there were likely to be both some downpours and some nice, sunny days.

‘It’s what you’d term typically British weather and far from a wash-out,’ the spokesman concluded, adding that although summer only began officially on June 1, so far it has been relatively warm, a few cool days last week notwithstanding.

Pinch yourself. This deserves a headline: ‘Met Office shock announcement: Britain’s weather is normal.’

This is, of course, the same Met Office that next week is set to host what some have termed an ‘unprecedented’ meeting of climate scientists, an attempt to ‘brainstorm’ whether the ‘extreme weather’ of the past few years has been caused by ‘climate change’.

The cold winter and spring of 2013, the bitter winter of 2010, the floods of 2012 and the disappointing summers of the past seven years – all are up for discussion, together with their supposed origins.

British summer: Despite the low temperatures and the Met Office's 'weather summit' next week, the weather is in fact normal

British summer: Despite the low temperatures and the Met Office’s ‘weather summit’ next week, the weather is in fact normal

No mention, you may notice, of the droughts and heatwaves we were once told to brace ourselves for as a consequence of what used to be termed global warming.

Then, as an analysis last week demonstrated, the period without a statistically significant increase in global average temperatures has now reached 17 years four months.

Small wonder that the nature of the world’s impending doom has had to be rebranded. At least the Met Office has the intelligence to realise that the forecasts of tropical diseases becoming endemic in England, which used to feature frequently in certain newspapers, currently look wide of the mark. But attributing every kind of weather to climate change can also be unconvincing.

Last week yet another round of UN climate talks broke up without (as usual) an agreement on how to limit emissions of carbon dioxide. They took place in Bonn, which, like Britain, was enduring a chilly spell.

‘Winter has been extended,’ explained a delegate from the Cook Islands. ‘It’s supposed to be really hot, but it’s not, because global warming is happening right now.’

Looking back to one’s childhood, it’s easy to recall a succession of golden summer days and fool oneself into thinking this was then the norm.

Indeed, occasionally they actually happened: the summer of 1976 was pretty hot, with a drought from May to September. But I also remember 1973, when the Snowdonia summer camp I was attending was hit by a six-day deluge, which forced us to strike our flooded tents and seek refuge in a barn.

The truth, revealed by the hard data of temperature and rainfall records, is that hot, golden British summers have always been the exception, and neither rainfall nor average temperatures have shown much change for several centuries.


There are ups and downs, as you would expect with English weather. Wet though last year was, it was not as wet as 1768 or 1872. And dry though 2011 was, it was only the 33rd driest in the series.

Paul Homewood, a retired accountant turned climate historian, is an assiduous student of the Central England Temperature Record, the world’s longest continuous series of accurate readings. His graph, shown here, of the five-year running average going back to 1660 demonstrates that while the summers since 2006 have indeed got cooler, such short-term trends have happened many times before.

In January, the Met Office claimed that 2012 was the second wettest year on record, behind only 2000 – prompting claims that this must surely be evidence of climate change. However, as Mr Homewood points out, while records for the whole UK go back only to 1910, there are England and Wales figures that date from 1766, and they reveal that the wettest year was actually 1872, followed by 1767.

As for long-term trends, there have been many decades as wet or wetter than the supposedly ‘extreme’ conditions experienced recently. It’s just that the period 1965 to 2000 was unusually dry, and so we’re less used to them.

‘This is a part of the world in which climate change is pretty hard to quantify,’ Professor Myles Allen, head of Oxford University’s climate research network, said yesterday.

We are an island between an ocean and a continent, which also benefits from the Gulf Stream. As the Met Office was admitting, the UK’s location means that reliably predicting weather just 24 hours ahead can be impossible.

Centuries ago, when astronomers found it hard to square their observations with the then-orthodox theory that the Earth lay at the centre of the universe, they invented the concept of ‘epicycles’, convoluted wobbles and twists that supposedly accounted for such discrepancies.

Citing some cold British winters and unsettled summers as evidence of climate change has about as much credibility. I suppose we should be thankful that unlike the bogus epicycles, such efforts are not, as yet, being enforced by the Inquisition.

Mail on Sunday, 16 June 2013


see also:  Forget Met Office Hype: UK Weather Is Perfectly Normal