The rain here in Ayrshire over the last few days has been incredible but not as bad as just a little further south in Dumfries and Galloway and the Cumbria area. In Cumbria there are reports on the TV that one of the weather stations recorded 12 ins of rain in a 24 hr period.
In Cumbria the town of Cockermouth was completely inundated and a policeman who was trying to prevent people driving over a bridge was washed away when the bridge collapsed into the raging river. His body was later found washed up on a local beach.
Cumbria is one of the wettest ( and most beautiful) parts of the UK but even a place used to to a good deal of rain could do little to cope with this amount of rain.
Some of the towns in that area such as Carlisle, had their flood defences improved after flooding in recent years but the flood defences in Cockermouth were designed for a once in a fifty year event and this weeks floods are being described as a one in a thousand years event. Such flooding appears to have become a regular feature somewhere in the UK each year recently. At the same time our winters have been very mild for a long time now.
No single weather event or even a run of weather events over a few years provides any evidence for Global warming of course. Still its hard not to note that the predictions for the type of weather change that the UK would experience in the event of Global Warming are exactly the type of change we have all noticed in the weather here.
What is interesting is that there have been suggestions by some scientists that solar sunspot cycles are a greater contributory factor to Global Warming than has been generally accepted
However I was reading that the sun is reaching one of the quietest periods of sunspot activity for hundreds of years. This of course may help to clarify evidence about just how strong the connection is between solar activity and global warming. A fairly widely accepted view is that the relative contribution of solar activity and global warming gas levels to overall warming is 25% to 75%.
El Nino events are known to be a significant contributor to weather patterns in various parts of the world and it seems we are currently building for an EL Nino. According to the World Meteorological Association in a report from August;
El Niño conditions have become established over the tropical Pacific, and it is very likely that these will continue at least through the remainder of 2009 and probably into the first quarter of 2010. The ocean surface and subsurface in the central and eastern Equatorial Pacific has been substantially warmer than normal during June and July, supporting the development of an El Niño event. Atmospheric conditions across the tropical Pacific are increasingly showing patterns typical of a developing El Niño event. The development of a basin-wide El Niño has implications for the expected climate patterns in many parts of the world. This information is therefore relevant to many climate-related risk management systems, and users are encouraged to seek detailed interpretations for their locations and sectors.
This is one of the reasons that short term weather variations are problematic as indicators of long terms trends. We have cycles of things like the El Nino and Solar Cycles most of which operate at very different cyclical frequencies. The short term weather variations are a complex mix of these types of cycles, chaotic features of the system and medium and long term influences.
Interestingly I also read in Scientific American this week that a group has just done an analysis of long term climate temperature changes using a method very different from the approach which has previously demonstrated the "hockeystick" rise in temperature. The new analysis used a very different statistical approach but confirmed this "hockeystick" change.
So what to make of all this? Well it certainly looks as if we are still in the middle of very unusual weather patterns that are consistent with the predictions of global warming. If Global Warming is the main influence over the general trend then we should hope that the solar cycle does indeed have an influence. If it does then the the solar minima while it lasts may moderate the trend. That would be fortunate because it might buy us a few years to move economies towards a much lower CO2 footprint.
The trouble is that we all have a tendancy to want to put off things that will be difficult and changing our economies is unlikely to be an easy process. So there is a good chance that any breathing space we might get from warming will not be taken advantage of and we will simply delay taking the significant decisions needed to move our economies to renewable and sustainable energy sources.
Personally I think the likelihood is that we will continue to see major flooding in the UK in the coming years. It's starting to sound silly when we have these floods year after year yet we still talk about one in a thousand year floods.
As the evacuated folk of Cockermouth go back to what's left of their houses and businesses and the local police mourn a lost colleague, they will all probably be a little more convinced than most of us that Climate Change is a reality.