Gordon asks whether our weather is becoming more extreme, plus he gives prospects for the week ahead.
I dreamed that, as I wandered
By the way,
Bare winter suddenly was
Changed to Spring;
And gentle odours led my steps
Mixed with the sounds of waters
Along a shelving bank of turf,
Under a copse, and hardly dared
Its green arms around the bosom
Of the stream . . . . .
The explorative and inspirational mind of Percy Bysse Shelley (1792-1822) picks up the threads of seasonal progress in one single day, when, as the last streak of snow faded, the warming rays of sunlight cast kaleidoscopic variations of brown and russet gold upon the hedgerow traceries of olde worlde England.
He was a wonderful commentator of skies and landscapes around the year, describing the “harmony in autumn and a lustre in its sky, which through the summer is not heard or seen”. How true are all his descriptions, provided we experience anything like a normal year?
In a certain manner of description the English hedgerow has always presented to me some form of creed to the country dwellers’ way of life – the rough parts with the smooth, its meaningless, twisting path, representing the unpredictable course of daily events, knowing that our affinity with the soil, crops and weather can never be exact.
In so many ways the hedge becomes a sheer expression of resolution. We instinctively look to the hedgerow and the bottom of the hedgerow for some forthcoming pronouncement by nature in respect of her next move, or maybe her first move, for every hour of mildness and sunlight in mid- to late-February weakens the hold of winter.
This is the very place where two seasons visibly exchange glances and vie with their respective strengths, sunlight and growthy warmth on the southern side, cold unremitting shadow on the northern side.
Those of you who are acquainted with Richard Jefferies’ classical literary descriptions of February’s great thaw following one of the greatest snowstorms in January 1881 will remember his rejoicing at the discovery of spring’s bright green wild arum leaves beneath the hedge amid the coarse dead grass which had been pressed hard to the ground by the sheer weight of snow.
From the signs of spring beneath the hedgerows of long ago, our attention turns to the present concerns of the fields beyond the hedges, fields of great expectations as we wait at Nature’s pleasure for the on-coming spring.
A chance greeting of one farming friend recently spoke volumes: “Please Gordon, tell us that we’re going to have a good farming year this time around!”
Sadly, though I possess a few meteorological aids to forecasting, a crystal ball is not one of them I reflected. Strangely enough, present day thinking on the weather poses the hackneyed question – the side-kick to the climate change arguments – is our weather becoming more extreme now than it used to be?
The answer to this question is categorically “no”. This is purely a misconstrued concept, nothing more than a figure of the imagination.
Look at the past decade, for example, peppered with weather extremes fair enough, and compare it to the first decade of my own weather records, 1946-56.
Memories lost in time have obliterated the extremes encountered in that period, which in some instances were far more devastating than anything experienced over the past few years.
A brief chronicle from my records more than 60 years ago proves these points, commencing with the harvest floods of September 1946, followed by the paralysing snowstorms of February and March 1947. Then came the hot dry summer of 1947, with 40 consecutive rainless days, August to September. The atrociously wet summer of 1948 climaxed with the devastating floods in August, destroying the Newcastle-Edinburgh railway link.
December 1950 was the coldest of the century, until December 1981. The year 1952 brought the Lynmouth flood disaster in August, followed by the tragic East Coast floods in which more than 300 people lost their lives, January 31 - February 1, 1953.
This event was followed by one of our longest spring droughts, another 40-day rainless period, end of February and March.
Following this, we lurched to the other extreme in terms of rainfall with the record wet summers of 1954 and 1956, the latter one still holds my record of 364mm(14.68in) for the three summer months, June, July and August, which still beats the records of 2007 and 2012.
It may be worthy of mention that the infamous events of 1956 were offset by one of the most severe Siberian outbreaks of the 20th century in February.
With regard to extremes in the historical annals of our climate, February’s contribution to winter weather extremes cannot go unrecognised.
In those winters of two or three centuries ago, severe and well-established frosts which began in December frequently lasted until February or even March – similarities which were echoed in 1963.
I cite the case of 1740 for instances, when exceptional coldness and very thin snow cover desecrated all forms of vegetation.
Ice was stated to be 18in thick in Yorkshire, and 22in thick on the Cumbrian Lakes by February 25, 1740.
This period of severity marked the coldest bi-monthly spell ever recorded, when the mean daily temperature for January and February 1740 was 28F (-2C).
PROSPECTS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD
Never trust an east wind in February! You may have been fooled by the springlike sunshine last weekend, it came behind the frontal system which cleared the snow away so quickly. Sadly, this front gave up the ghost half way across the North Sea, and high pressure has been building up again over Scandinavia to bring another cold, continental flow of easterly winds back to the British Isles by today in the current week. Atlantic lows and fronts will be blocked once again to the south-west, so the general outlook is wintry.
A good deal of dry weather, but some showery outbreaks of sleet or snow are likely to develop at times, especially towards the North York Moors. Sunny spells on some days, but daytime temperatures are expected to remain below normal, 37-45F (3 - 7C). Night frosts are likely to become quite sharp, down to 23F (-5C).