Europe December temperatures in London have been warmer than July’s and Scotland is balmier than Barcelona

December 25, 2015 6:14 pm

Paris has been enjoying an unseasonably warm lead-up to Christmas. Photo / APDecember temperatures in London have been warmer than July’s. Scotland is balmier than Barcelona.
snow covers European ski slopes. Africa faces its worst food crisis in a
generation as floods and droughts strike vulnerable countries.
unusual weather from Britain and France to Australia and New Zealand,
scientists are blaming – but also the natural phenomenon
called El Nino, which is raising temperatures and disrupting weather
A double whammy then, but how disturbed should we be as the records tumble?
Met Office says the exceptional warmth in Britain and northern
continental is linked to the strongest El Nino ever recorded.
we are experiencing is typical of an early winter El Nino effect,” said
Adam Scaife, head of Met Office long-range forecasting.
cyclical event, named after the birth of Christ because it traditionally
occurs in Latin America around Christmas, sees temperatures in the
equatorial Pacific rise several degrees.

The consequences in years like this are dramatic. Monsoons and
trade winds are disrupted, leading to cyclones, droughts, floods and
food shortages across the world.
With the warm spell in Europe set to continue, it is almost certain that more records will be broken.
to Scaife, “we cannot attribute the recent floods [in Britain] to the
El Nino, but in early winter [during El Nino years] we tend to have a
strong jet stream which brings us mild conditions. In late winter,
January and February, we tend to get a weak jet stream which brings more
wintry conditions.”
Roger Brugge, a senior scientist at Reading
University’s atmospheric laboratory, said of Britain’s weather this
month: “The first 17 days of December have been the mildest on record by
a remarkable 1.1C. The average temperature during this period, of
10.6C, is similar to what can be expected around the beginning of May.”
November was the warmest recorded by the US government’s National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the seventh month in a row
where temperatures have been well above the 100-year average; 2015 is on
track to be the warmest year and last week the Met Office forecast that
the global average temperature next year would be a record 1.14C above
pre-industrial temperatures.
So is the current spell of
exceptional heat around the world a foretaste of life in a warmer
climate, or just a temporary blip? Atmospheric scientists believe we are
seeing climate change with an El Nino effect on top. The two combined
are raising temperatures dramatically.
“We expect 2016 to be the
warmest year ever, primarily because of climate change but around 25 per
cent because of El Nino,” said Scaife, who added that El Nino was not
linked directly to climate change but exacerbates its effects.
effects are already being seen worldwide, and nowhere more dramatically
than in east and southern Africa, which is most vulnerable to climate
change and extreme droughts. The El Nino effect has shifted rainfall
patterns and led to severe drought. After years of good harvests and
relative food security, Africa faces one of its biggest food emergencies
in a generation with Ethiopia, Malawi, Eritrea, Somalia, Zimbabwe and
other southern and east African countries all needing emergency food aid
within weeks.
“The projections across Africa are shocking; 39
million people are expected to be affected,” said a spokeswoman for the
UK Department for International Development.
“Around 3.5 million
people in Africa could also be affected by floods and subsequent disease
epidemics. The situation in Ethiopia is particularly worrying, with 18
million people projected to require food assistance in the coming
This month the United Nations World Food Programme said
2.8 million people in Malawi needed urgent food aid as shortages had
more than doubled food prices from 2014 levels. This year, it said,
southern Africa’s cereal harvest fell by almost a quarter, down to 34
million tonnes.
“Serious concerns are mounting that southern
Africa will this coming season face another poor harvest, possibly a
disastrous one,” warned the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of
Humanitarian Affairs. The UN has appealed for US$8.5 billion ($12.6
billion) for humanitarian aid for Africa. A further US$100 million has
been requested for Central America, the Pacific region and northern
South America, where a combination of intense rains and droughts has
devastated crops.
The widespread El Nino effects are being felt
in Latin America as well as Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, where it has
led to some of the worst forest fires in decades. In Central America,
one of the most severe droughts on record has led to 3.5 million people
in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador needing food aid. The UN says
that more than two million people have been affected in Peru and
The warm Pacific temperatures have also led to a record
number of hurricanes and cyclones. According to the US Government’s
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth Observatory,
there were 18 named storms this year, including 13 hurricanes, nine of
which were category three or higher.
This is the greatest number on record since reliable measurements started in 1971.
El Nino is different, but this year is being compared with 1997 and
1998, when 21,000 people died and US$36 billion of damage was caused.
Scientists say that El Ninos can add significantly to climate change.
Because the phenomenon causes less rain to fall in many areas of the
tropics, forests become vulnerable to man-made fires, which accelerate
carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere and reduce air quality.
tens of thousands of fires that engulfed much of Indonesia this year
and led to serious air pollution across the region are believed to have
emitted more greenhouse gases in one day than is generated from all US
economic activity, according to the Washington-based World Resources
Institute. The 1997 fires in Indonesia produced carbon emissions
estimated to be the equivalent of between 13 per cent and 40 per cent of
the world’s annual fossil fuel emissions.
We are nearing “peak
El Nino”. The UN’s World Meteorological Organisation said it expected
the warming of equatorial waters in the Pacific to peak in a few weeks.
But the medium-term consequences are hard to judge. Secretary-general
Michel Jarraud said: “This event is playing out in uncharted territory.
Our planet has altered dramatically because of climate change. So this
El Nino event and human-induced climate change may interact and modify
each other in ways which we have never before experienced. El Nino is
turning up the heat even further.”
In the flow

El Ninos occur every two to seven years, when the waters along the
equator in the eastern Pacific naturally warm up to 3C above average.
• Because this affects air pressure and atmospheric circulation, they can have large-scale impacts on weather around the world.

They typically last for nine to 12 months and are followed by a cool
phase, La Nina, which often affects the weather in North America and
influences the Atlantic hurricane season.
• It was previously
thought that El Ninos did not affect Europe greatly, but it’s now known
that they influence the jet streams and can lead to unusually warm
weather around Christmas.

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