Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Who stole winter?

North Helsinki in January 2007

I got an email from a friend in the northern Mid-West of the US just before Christmas, the type of place that gets real cold. My friend is an avid cross country skier but hasn't done any this year due to lack of snow. He wrote:
"I spend a lot of time dreaming of snow. Nothing yet and I'm getting worried because we've booked to weekend trips and have registered for a couple of races. Damn's sad to think our kids may never know what a real winter is like."
It's a sentiment I agree with completely. The Finnish Meteorological Institute has just released its figures for December, they make sobering reading. The warmest December since records began across the whole of Finland: 6-8 degrees above the 1971 to 2000 mean, and in Helsinki over a degree warmer than the previously warmest December, but the warm weather is even more noticeable in the North. I've spent 8 winters of the last decade in Finland and being an ice climbers makes you very obsessed with temperatures. I have no illusions and December has been in all of those years an up-and-down month - sometimes cold, sometimes not so. The long periods of stable cold weather don't normally start until the New Year, but I can't remember a winter where December has seen basically no snow in the south even if a thaw swiftly followed. The rivers and lakes that would normally be frozen over by now are still ice free and very high from the large amounts of rain. And the unusual warmth is still effecting most of Europe. The traditional New Years day big ski jumping competition in Austria took place in the rain. And climbing websites are a full of reports of bad or non-existent ice climbing conditions in many places around the continent where there would normally be ice by now (although the Alps is picking up a little it seems).

Oddly climbers and mountaineers are seeing the effects of climate change more starkly than many others: along with poorer winter seasons from the Scottish mountains to Morroccan Atlas, glacial retreat from the Andes, via the Alps, to the Himalayas is clear, whilst the high equatorial mountains of Africa look set to lose all their snow and ice within the next decade or so. But with winters like this I would imagine to anyone who is over twenty the trend is clear. Of course scientists aren't interested in ten year times spans, but basically all the climatological data for much longer periods points the same way.

I read recently a climatologist saying that until the late 1990s, the human-caused climate change sceptics could mount a serious scientific debate challenging the models of the majority of scientists: there were genuine questions about those models that the climate change proposers did not have adequate answers for. But this no longer the case, more work has answered those questions and climate change scepticism is now pretty much a political position rather than a credible scientific one, and even in politics the wind is against the sceptics. As ever, for the wider media the reporting of the climatology has thrown up all the normal problems of reporting science stories, plus some new ones. The political debate on whether we are causing climate change is over in Europe (and the other Kyoto countries), and almost over in the US - particularly in the light of California's recent anti-climate change steps. But a harsh debate remains on what to do about it - nuclear or not, the real costs of air travel etc. If I have seen through my life the debate on whether it is happening or not, perhaps by the time my children are my age there will be a consensus on serious steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile I will be telling my children not to buy a beach house anywhere.

Helsinki in a past January (click for a bigger version)

Update: Helsingin Sanomat runs pretty much the same story in its English edition, with various qoutes from other miserable winter sports enthusiasts. Unfortunately the online translation doesn't have the same picture that they have on the paper's frontpage, showing the huge puddle (lake is more like it) at the bottom of the ski slope mentioned in the story.

Update2: The BBC is reporting similar figures from the the UK Met Office. 2006 was on average the warmest year in the UK since records began in 1914. 2007 is expected to be warmer due to the El Nino effect.


KGS said...

Welcome back to warm and not so snowy Finland :-)

I hate to be the one to bust bubbles, but the jury on global warming is still out:,05678.cfm

Not to say that a warming is not happening, but the cause and any subsequent treatment is far off the table of reasonable discourse. Without condemning many in the third world to remain in a life of misery and shortened life spans, I see little hope nore use for curbing carbon emmisions.

Even if the world were to implement every aspect of the Kyoto treaty, "computer models" still say this would have little to no effect at all. At least that's what the men versed in scientifical facts (on the ground and in the air) are telling us.

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

Thanks for the link - I will dedicate a post specially to it, I promise! You are very much making my point for me. :-)

Is it any snowier up your way? It seems the west and centre of Finland should get some over the next few days, but it seems it will just carry on raining down here.

What happened to the comments on your blog? I was going to note something today, but couldn't leave a comment.

Akinoluna said...

I've been in warm climates for almost four years now and I was actually looking forward to snow, even though my love of cold weather died awhile back. Thanks for nothing, Finland. :-)

Anonymous said...

That climate-change sceptics now need to resort to referring to a bunch of libertarian loons like 'The Competitive Enterprise Institute' ("a non-profit public policy organization dedicated to advancing the principles of free enterprise and limited government"), in order to find people who support their views clearly highlights just how untenable their 'arguments' now are.

It is also no surprise that it those on the political right who are most resistant to accepting the reality of climate change. Apart from their dedication to protecting 'business' interests, most such individuals are classical 'Hierarchists' who not only believe in an inequitable, hierarchical social structure, they also believe in the power of the 'natural order' on a wider scale and so in turn believe that 'the world can take care of itself'. For more on this see 'Divided we stand' by Schwartz and Thompson (1990) or John Adams book 'Risk' (1995).