Why is Britain Getting Colder?
The last few winters have been some of the coldest in the past 60 years. Is the UK facing a big freeze?
Imagine an elephant walking across a frozen Thames. Little boys playing football on the ice by the South Bank as market stalls sell their wares, and in the distance, Queen Elizabeth I herself sledding across the huge river.
A few hundred years ago, this was a reality. The ‘frost fairs’ of the late 1600s and early 1800s happened during the ‘little ice age’, a time between the 14th century and 19th century where the average temperature of the UK was much lower than normal and the British winter weather was much harsher. This included floods, blizzards and the infamous Thames frost fairs.
The frost fairs, when winters were particularly icy, occurred during two important solar cycles where the sun’s activities slowed down. A solar cycle is 11 years long and charts a period where the sun’s activity follows a pattern, including changes in solar radiation and how much solar material is being ejected. The two ‘frost fair’ cycles are known as the Dalton and Maunder minimums, two 11 year long periods where unusual solar activity caused winters with lower than average temperatures, bringing extreme weather and catastrophic food shortages.
Our current solar cycle (cycle 24, which began on January 4th 2008), though not even halfway through, is proving to be yet another ‘minimum’ cycle. Four of the last five winters have been colder than average, and the coldest April temperatures in over 100 years were recorded in Aberdeenshire in 2013 (-11.2 degrees). Though this may still prove to be a blip (we’ll get a better idea in the winter of 2015/16), this could be one of the reasons why winters have been so harsh recently.
This is just one theory that has been used to explain the harsh winters. Another is linked to the rising temperatures across the globe, which is melting Arctic ice into the oceans. The increased amount of water in the oceans and the heat released from this is affecting the flow of the northern jet stream. This stream, the flow of air that keeps Britain’s weather relatively mild despite its Northern spot on the globe, has a vital influence on our temperatures.
The northern jet stream’s slow down means that Britain’s winters will only get colder, and Yorkshire may one day be a ski resort! Extra evaporation from the oceans will increase snow fall, turning Britain into a winter wonderland, possibly for months at a time.
Climate change is still a sticky subject that involves a lot of guess work, but over the past few years the weather has been evidence enough: so remember to stay prepared, and drive safely.