Wednesday 22 November 2017

We've endured coldest start to winter since records began

Kevin Keane

IT has been the coldest start to a winter since records began more than 130 years ago.

The freeze in the first three weeks of the month means that, despite the thaw due from St Stephen's Day, this December will officially be the coldest on record, Met Eireann said.

New lows have been set across the country this month. Last Monday night in Co Mayo -17.2C was measured -- the coldest temperature ever recorded in Ireland during December.

But globally, things have rarely been so warm.

According to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, 2010 is set to be the third warmest year ever, while 2009 came in second place.

This has led many Irish people to ask an obvious question -- if global warming is really happening, why is there half a metre of snow on the ground?

One of the country's leading climatologists, John Sweeney, says the apparent contradiction results from confusing climate with weather.

"What's happening in Europe is a very small proportion of the globe so we shouldn't imagine that there's a contradiction between a global trend that is very substantial and a short-term weather event, which although very severe, is confined to a small part of the globe," Prof Sweeney told the Irish Independent.

"Winters tend to go in cold clusters in Ireland, we had one last winter and we have one this winter. We may have one next winter but it doesn't alter the overall trend of the globe as a whole," he said.

Prof Sweeney, who heads up the Irish Climate Analysis and Research Units at NUI Maynooth, said the freeze was related to changes in the jet stream, the weather system that brings mild and moist Atlantic weather to the country.

Anomalies

"2010 has been characterised by a jet stream which is much more loopy and wave-like and when that happens we tend to get a lot of anomalies so we've been having extremely strange conditions."

But there is a sliver of hope for those who dream of a warm summer to counteract the current ice and snow.

"If current conditions were to be replicated in July or June, with the same kind of wind directions and wind strengths we would have a heat wave," Prof Sweeney said.

Irish Independent

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