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Summer's been a washout so far. Does that tell us anything about climate change?

  • 15 May 2012, 12:33
  • Verity Payne

It was clearly raining on Louise Mensch MP this morning. So much so that she  tweeted:

Mensch tweet 150512

This prompted 'outrage,' she tweeted a bit later, from "sandalistas in my timeline completely incapable of detecting a joke".

Well, as people who love joking about the difference between weather and climate, we certainly emitted an appreciative snort. In a similar vein, basically everything you need to know about weather and climate is contained in this video:

 

However, why not take the opportunity to head off any potential confusion between a rainy day and long term climate change?

In the past climate skeptics have made statements, seemingly in all earnestness, perpetuating the myth that the weather outside your window on a particular day means that long-term climate change is not happening.

This was particularly apparent during the cold winters experienced by parts of Europe and North America in 2009 and 2010. Take, for example, Benny Peiser, director of the climate skeptic lobby group the Global Warming Policy Foundation, who was quoted in the Times in December 2009:

"We look out of the window and it's very cold, it doesn't seem to be warming."

Of course, a couple of cold winters in certain parts of the world (or even just, you know, winter) don't derail global warming theory, and doesn't mean that climate change isn't happening. Indeed, some research suggests that cold European winters may become more prevalent as the world warms and we lose more Arctic sea ice - although the jury is still out on that one.

Overall, the climate in Britain is likely to become warmer and wetter as the planet warms up. Here's the Met Office, on observations over the past half century:

"[H]eavy rainfall and peak river flows [...] have been increasing in frequency and magnitude over the past 50 years. This pattern is consistent with model predictions of how human-induced climate change affects rainfall.

It is, of course, worth pointing out that we cannot attribute a single precipitation event to climate change. Getting soaked coming out of Westminster tube, (or wandering the Pennines, Appalachians or outback, for our non-London readers) doesn't really tell you anything about how the climate is changing.

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