Saturday 21 September 2019

Ireland became both wetter and warmer in course of a generation

Paul Melia & Mick Kerrigan

Ireland has become wetter and warmer over the course of a generation as climate change takes hold. Parts of the country are enduring as many as 18 extra days of rainfall a year while average daily temperatures have increased by as much as 1C, an analysis of more than 50 years of weather data shows.

Experts have warned that average global temperatures are expected to rise above 2C by the end of the century, but could exceed 4.5C unless drastic action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated by burning fossil fuels including oil and gas.

Met Éireann says that all the seasons are warmer today, there are fewer days with frost, and the start of the growing season for some species is beginning up to 10 days earlier.

An analysis of data between 1958 and 2014 by the data science team shows worrying trends emerging across the country.

It suggests that climate change is already having an impact, with Ireland experiencing a marked shift in what constitutes 'typical' weather.

It shows that not only are we experiencing more rainfall, we are seeing it fall more frequently.

In most of the eight weather stations surveyed, there is an additional week of rainy days where more than 0.2mm of rain fell.

In addition, average temperatures are also increasing, by as much as 1C in some places. While maximum temperatures are up, the rises are more significant for average minimum temperatures.

The analysis comes after tens of thousands of ESB customers were left without power and trees were felled this week after Storm Barney swept across the country.

Last winter was the stormiest on record, and experts believe that Ireland will experience more extreme weather events including winter storms and summer droughts as the climate changes.

The data shows:

Rainfall on the west coast has significantly increased, but rises are less pronounced on the east.

The extreme weather stations at the fringes have experienced the sharpest increases - more than 1,600mm of rain falls in Co Kerry, the wettest part of the country.

There has also been a rise in the number of wet days across most stations, but particularly in Cork where rain falls an additional 18 days a year.

Average temperatures are increasing across all stations, between 0.6C and 1C.

The sharpest rise is in Rosslare, Co Wexford, which also enjoys the highest amount of daily sunshine.

Observations from stations at Malin Head, Belmullet, Shannon Airport, Valentia, Cork Airport, Rosslare, Dublin Airport and Mullingar were examined to help illustrate how our weather patterns are changing.

It comes as world leaders prepare to gather in Paris later this month for a climate summit aimed at striking a legal deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport, industry and energy, in a desperate attempt to keep global warming below 2C.

If temperatures rise above this figure, changes could be irreversible and could result in as many as 250,000 people dying as a direct result, most in developing nations.

Writing in today's Irish Independent, Head of Climatology and Observations at Met Éireann, Seamus Walsh, says the changes could have a profound impact, including an increase in death rates during hotter summer months.

"The rate at which these changes are expected to take place may not allow ecosystems time to adapt," he says.

"For example, migrating birds arrive in spring and take advantage of insects emerging after winter. If the insects hatch earlier, fewer chicks will survive.

"Milder winters will lead to a reduction in winter mortality due to fewer cold spells, but the increasing likelihood of heatwaves and hot days - days over 30C - may have the opposite effect in summer."

Almost 200 Governments have made commitments to reduce emissions, but the United Nations has warned they will not be enough to limit warming to 2C or less.

Scientists fear that rises above 2C could be catastrophic, and mean the climate system may never recover.

The World Meteorological Organisation last week warned that greenhouse gas emissions were at their highest level on record. The World Health Organisation predicts that more 250,000 people a year will die from malaria, heat stress and starvation as early as 2030 unless climate change, which it describes as the "defining issue for the 21st century", is tackled.

Environment groups and aid agencies had planned massive demonstrations in Paris to drive a deal, but they have been cancelled following the terror attacks last week.

The Stop Climate Chaos group is planning marches in Dublin, Cork and Belfast on November 29, in an effort to secure a legally-binding agreement.

"A big turnout would show not only show our commitment to tackling climate change, it would also show we are capable of coming together to tackle threats in a unified, democratic, cooperative way - values the attacks on Paris sought to undermine," Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said.

Irish Independent

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