(Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)Record-breaking temperatures during winter months usually mean two things:
It’s all but a guarantee that Brits across the country will flock outside to catch some rays in a desperate attempt to collectively pretend they don’t live in the country known for its cold, miserable weather
Concerns about the environment
Although we appreciate 20 degrees in late February as much as the next person, it’s important to explore where this unseasonably toasty weather has come from – and why.
According to the Met Office, this particular temperature shift is likely influenced by something known as the ‘Foehn effect’, which is ‘a change from wet and cold conditions on one side of a mountain, to warmer and drier conditions on the other (leeward) side’.
Scientists have offered up another potential reason: climate change.
‘The question of change in weather is two-fold – are we experiencing this change because of climate change now and what might we expect in the future,’ professor Justin Sheffield, professor of hydrology and remote sensing, geography and environmental science at the University of Southampton, tells Metro.co.uk
‘The expectation is that the weather will change with climate change, because a warmer world means there’s more moisture in the atmosphere and the hydraulic cycle will accelerate, which leads to more intense rainstorms and more longer periods of droughts.
‘There will also be changes in the atmospheric circulation, which leads to changes in weather patterns, too.
‘It’s generally difficult to tell whether the weather is changing because of climate change, because weather in itself is unpredictable, but if you look at enough records of heavy rain and droughts in some places, you can see that it’s getting more intense.
There are scientists who are using climate models to try and attribute those changes to climate change, but you’d need to look at the maps of the current weather to determine the exact links of the past few days.’
(Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)Dr Simon Boxall from the University of Southampton at the National Oceanography Centre, offers similar views, adding that although climate change isn’t the only factor for weather changes, the world is seeing more extremes (such as heatwaves in February) because of it.
‘The weather we have seen over the last few days has been abnormal, but climate change isn’t responsible for every weather event,’ he tells Metro.co.uk.
‘However, we are getting more and more extremes in weather conditions – the strongest winds, the biggest snowfall, the warmest February, the wettest and driest summers.
‘None of these are particularly unique on their own, but the culmination of them all in a short period of years is one of the reasons scientists link them to climate change.
‘It is why they use the phrase rather than global warming, though the planet is warming.
‘This consistent fluctuation can be explained in part by pressure systems changing over the Arctic. We know that the ice caps are melting. I’ve worked up in the Arctic north pole for some years now, and we’ve been looking at the ice cover for 15 years – what you notice is that the ice is getting thinner, the cover less extensive and some winter cover is disappearing.
‘What does this mean?
‘Essentially, we have more open water but water doesn’t reflect energy back as well as snow does, and this accelerating process means the pressure systems change which directly impacts our weather.’
But it’s not just the ice caps that are affecting the weather.
Richard Millar, senior analyst of climate science for the Committee on Climate Change says that unusually hot weather can’t be attributed purely to climate change but we are certainly warming up the planet enough to see more shifts in the future.
‘Human activities have already warmed the climate by around 1C since the Industrial Revolution,’ Millar tells Metro.co.uk.
‘Under the Paris Agreement, governments around the world have agreed to work together to keep total warming to below 2C.
‘Reducing global emissions of carbon dioxide, and trying to eliminate these emissions altogether, is ultimately what’s required to stop our planet warming, and to limit the changes that we’re seeing to weather patterns over the long-term.’
Environmental improvements to help this process can also be made by individuals.
According to Nigel Sizer, chief program officer at the Rainforest Alliance, how to address climate change has been ‘clear for decades’ but one recent development that’s been discussed is food and how it is made. The production of beef in particular has been under increasing scrutiny.
‘It’s a real win-win opportunity for people to be healthier and to protect the planet by reducing the amount of red meat that we eat, particularly beef.
‘Beef is overwhelmingly damaging to the climate because of methane emissions. People can also drive less and look at the type of car they’re driving.’
So what’s next for UK weather – will the heatwave last?
‘You could find that in a couple of weeks we get really cold weather,’ said Dr Boxall.
‘The spring weather may not last and you might get another blast of cold.’
In other words, don’t dig out the summer wardrobe just yet.
Until then, do bask in the sunshine (just remember that it might be part of a bigger problem).
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