Weather swings and see-saws

The contrast of the current March weather to Spring last year could hardly be a greater swing (Daily Mail: What a difference a year makes: Mother’s Day daffodils delayed by the cold weather…) to the coldest March in 50 years in the UK. This year has certainly bucked the supposed climate change-induced trend towards warmer and earlier Springs.

In the final week of his tenure as the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir John Beddington perpetuated the extreme weather meme:

“The [current] variation we are seeing in temperature or rainfall is double the rate of the average.”

Well, he might like to consider a graph posted last week by The Telegraph showing March temperatures (HADCET) over the last 100 years. Does anything strike you about it?

Look at the period from the early 1960s to the mid-80s.  Isn’t the relative stability of the [cooler] temperatures noticeable? Observe the see-saw year-to-year swings in temperature from the late 1930s to the early 60s – what did Britain experience in those years and would it count as ‘extreme weather’ now?

Climate science of course has an explanation (from The Guardian interviewing Jennifer Francis a research professor at Rutgers):

“…the Arctic ice loss adds heat to the ocean and atmosphere which shifts the position of the jet stream – the high-altitude river of air that steers storm systems and governs most weather in northern hemisphere.

“This is what is affecting the jet stream and leading to the extreme weather we are seeing in mid-latitudes,” she said. “It allows the cold air from the Arctic to plunge much further south. The pattern can be slow to change because the [southern] wave of the jet stream is getting bigger. It’s now at a near record position, so whatever weather you have now is going to stick around,” she said.

The heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures which have marked March 2013 across the northern hemisphere are in stark contrast to March 2012 when many countries experienced their warmest ever springs. The hypothesis that wind patterns are being changed because melting Arctic sea ice has exposed huge swaths of normally frozen ocean to the atmosphere would explain both the extremes of heat and cold, say the scientists.

But hang on, what about that earlier period of swings and see-sawing March temperatures? Didn’t we have less ice in the Arctic in the 1930s/40s (although in this period it was less well quantified).  This does tend to be glossed over, but perhaps, just perhaps, it could be related to the temperature swings then.

Here’s the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, plotted with March CET (source: Met Office HADCET) overlaid:


Although the fit is hardly perfect, the highlighted AMO positive anomalies do coincide with warmer March average temperatures and periods of greater extremes.  I looked at other months; none show this pattern of temperature variation, except perhaps November.

Oh I do hate the tendency of climate science to forget the past and view changes as irreversible and in one direction.

Looking out my window, forlorn snowmen and small heaps snow from path clearing still sit in neighbourhood gardens ten days after the recent snowfall; icy dirt clings by the roadsides, and lifting my eyes to the hills I have every sympathy for the farmers struggling in the glittering whiteness.

They say ‘what you lose on the swings, you gain on the roundabouts’.  Here’s hoping the passage round the sun this year brings us a warmer drier summer than last year. It wouldn’t be hard.

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13 Responses to Weather swings and see-saws

  1. kim2ooo says:

    Reblogged this on Climate Ponderings and commented:

  2. AJ says:

    Neat graphs (I know they’re not yours), and discussion of temps. My birthday is at the beginning of April, and it usually snows that week, and sometimes also is warm enough for t-shirts. I decided spring was finally here today when a front passed through that took the temp down from 40 to 25 and started spitting snow at 30 mph, and then 20 minutes later it was sunny again (but still cold). We’re just getting the “lion” a little late this year… here’s hoping the “lamb” comes along soon!

    • Verity Jones says:

      Good to know you think so! The second graph is mine (overlaying the AMO), but only plotting readily available data.

      I had thought that, on the basis of wind, March came in like a lion this year and has gone out like a lamb, since we’re now in the middle of high pressure (in the UK) – cold but calm. Granted a high in March usually brings better weather – warmer than this.

  3. Bloke down the pub says:

    From the early days, the agw argument has been between those who saw the changes as cyclical and those who didn’t want to look back further than the seventies. I always believed that the problem of agw would disappear with the benefit of hind-sight. Unfortunately, I didn’t cater for the stupidity of politicians who would lock us into decades of economic decline because they couldn’t see the changes in temperature trend, and opinion, that were happening before their eyes.

    • Verity Jones says:

      The argument of data in the 40s being less complete I accept, but when it is simply overlooked it is a grave mistake IMHO.

      • Bloke down the pub says:

        Point taken about early data being less complete, but how can they argue against cycles of 30, 60,or 90 years when looking at periods of less than one cycle?

  4. Hi Verity

    I know you have seen this graph from my article ‘The long slow thaw’ where I extended CET back to 1538

    In the accompanying article I Wrote;

    “In his book ‘The Little Ice Age’ Professor Brian Fagan notes;

    “The little ice age of 1300 to about 1850 is part of a much longer sequence of short term changes from colder to warmer and back again which began millennia earlier. The harsh cold of the LIA winters live on in artistic masterpieces….(such as) Peter Breughel the elders ‘hunters in the snow’ (see Figure 9) painted during the first great winter of the LIA but there was much more to the LIA than freezing cold and it was framed by two distinctly warmer periods. A modern day European transported to the heights of the LIA would not find the climate very different even if winters were sometimes colder than today and summers very warm on occasion too. There was never a monolithic deep freeze rather a climatic see saw that swung constantly back and forwards in volatile and sometimes disastrous shifts. There were arctic winters, blazing summers, serious droughts, torrential rain years, often bountiful harvests and long periods of mild winters and warm summers. Cycles of excessive cold and unusual rainfall could last a decade a few years or just a single season. The pendulum of climate change rarely paused for more than a generation.”

    Having now looked at thousands of contemporary observations back to 1000AD it is perfectly obvious that we currently live in a highly benign climatic period. The extremes of weather I noted in the past were far worse than today, with extended periods of violent rain being the most notable feature.

    The evidence of this extreme weather lies in many archives but unless it has been digitised-which the overwhelming majority hasn’t-it doesn’t exist for modern desk bound researchers.


    [Reply – sigh – tough times ahead unless we do warm (which is not likely) – V.]

  5. Caleb says:

    The “in like a lion-out like a lamb” saying is very old, and may have more to do with conditions in the MWP than the Little Ice Age. Also a reporter named Mark Johnson in Cleveland Ohio suggests the saying comes from the stars, “…March begins as the Constellation Leo is crossing toward the meridian. Leo is the Lion. As Leo marches away, the Constellation Aries begins to rise toward the end of the month. Aries is the ram: What many lambs will become someday!”

    Thanks for the post. I’ve been trying to email friends in England to learn how tough your March has been, but so far the only reply is from an old school teacher, and he is so tough he won’t admit he has a hair out of place: “The cold winter? What a lot of nonsense. The British Isles is strategically and geographically placed to provide a climate which is completely impossibe to predict, but on the whole rather pleasant.” He concluded, ” Yes, the prolonged and untimely and very cold east wind has done nasty things to shoots on my rose-bushes, and has caused my nose to compete with Bardolph’s in “Henry IV”, but no, there is nothing very unusual about this winter, except that, in your words, it just won’t quit!”

    (I did get a good tale of how, “…the winter of 1962 -1963 saw me shivering in my Cambridge garret as the milk froze in bottles on the inside window sill and condensation froze in the gas pipes extinguishing all hope of warmth….”)

    Over here Across the Pond in New England our winter was not bad until about half way through, and then we got buried. Some snow-lovers down in the coastal area between Philadelphia and Washington DC complain they got short-changed, but up here, in the hills sixty miles northeast of Boston, we still have over a foot hanging around in the shade and on north slopes, and are sick of it.

    Summer will be welcome, but here’s a word to the wise: The way one winter ends often gives you a hint of how the following winter will begin.

    • Verity Jones says:

      March in the UK has been cold and very tough for some. We may be on ‘British Summer Time’ now but it feels more like January or February than March. I was thinking of doing a round of the harder-hot areas, and I think now I will.

      I’m not sure it is as cold as 62-63, but perhaps that’s due to better insulation and heating nowadays.

      I was in the environs of Boston during the February blizzard and it was wild. I didn’t write about it on the blog here as I was in the US working and by the time I had time the subject seemed a bit tired.

  6. Caleb

    Your final comment is especially interesting. March 2013 has been the coldest since 1962 and 1962/3 was our famously cold winter that everyone of a certain age remembers. Watch this space…

  7. ArndB says:

    Stefan Rahmstorf (28/29 March 2013; at: Rabett Run Blog → assumes that: Freezing cold in Siberia, reaching across northwestern Europe, which may be a very superficial claim when reviewing a number of T°C forecasts and temperature maps from N-Europe and Asia since Febary 2013, compiled here:
    IMO the crux is that too little attention is given to the status of the North- and Baltic Sea.

  8. sirgeogy says:

    The 1930’s were an icy time in the Arctic; sea ice in 1938 extended to Icelandic waters.

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