Britain has never been known for its salubrious climate, but the past two months have seen the island nation endure sustained rainfall and flooding virtually without precedent.
A government minister was quoted by AFP as saying that ”the winter was the wettest since King George III was on the throne, from 1760-1820,” with the U.K. Meteorological Office confirming that ”regional statistics suggest that this is one of, if not the most, exceptional periods of winter rainfall in at least 248 years.”
Among other records, also as reported by AFP:
Perhaps inevitably, there has been carping among politicians and government agencies, with one Conservative Party minister blaming the head of the Environment Agency (from the opposition Labor Party) of providing poor advice on flood management, and another politician calling the same agency head “a little git” and threatening to “stick his head down the loo and flush.”
A since-suspended member of the United Kingdom Independence Party blamed it all on the government legalizing same-sex marriages and thus bringing down the wrath of God.
A report published this weekend by the Met Office, however, pointed to more earthly causes.
Noting that the British flooding coincided with the extreme cold spell in parts of Canada and the United States, the report observes that both “were linked to a persistent pattern of perturbations to the jet stream over the Pacific Ocean and North America,” and that this in turn was driven by “enhanced rainfall over Indonesia and the tropical West Pacific associated with higher than normal ocean temperatures in that region.”
This climatalogical context, it observed, is "unusual, with the Atlantic jet stream being more intense and reaching further back into the tropical East Pacific than normal. Those factors in themselves would allow warmer and moister air to enter the storm systems. It is also the case that the sub-tropical Atlantic is now warmer than it was several decades ago and that too would act to enhance the moisture content of the storms."
The report states that not only is there evidence of greater intensity — as a result of such increased temperature and moisture — in Atlantic storms, but that other climate-related changes make Britain more vulnerable to such storms’ impacts:
The natural variability in Britain’s mercurial weather makes it difficult to come to any definitive conclusion about the extent of the role of climate change in this year’s storms, says the Met Office. However, the lessons for the future are clear:
Photo: Residents looking down flooded Bridge Street in Witney, Oxfordshire, England, in 2007. Credit: Y.m.oxon/Wikimedia Commons