Freak Weather Intensifies Climate Change Debate

Global warming seen as intensifying weather extremes from droughts to deluges experienced in the UK and elsewhere.

Published: 12-Jan-2005

align=justify>The devastating floods and gale force winds that swept parts of Britain and killed at least three people have intensified the global warming debate.

With more horrendous weather on the horizon people are left wondering what is causing the atrocious conditions with forecasters warning that more bad weather could again hit the affected areas later this week

As residents of the Cumbrian city of Carlisle, where three people died, surveyed the damage, scientists and environmentalists are divided on what is causing the atrocious weather.

Chris Kilsby, a senior lecturer in hydrology at Newcastle University, said it was impossible to say statistically whether the recent weather was due to climate change.

He said: “Climate change is here to stay and there’s good scientific reasons to be sure it will happen over the next 50 years but I’m undecided as to whether you can prove statistically we have climate change affecting flooding.

“We have been looking at rainfall over the last 40 years and it shows there has been some change in extreme rainfall.

“My gut instinct is that the recent events are part of a consistent picture but, scientifically, to prove that is not currently possible.”

Dr Mark Saunders, senior lecturer in climate physics at University College, London, believes it is time to “calm down the hype” about climate change.

“You expect these freak weather events,” he said. “They have been happening since records began and there have been far worse ones in the last 50 to 100 years.

“It is not indicative of anything more lasting or of similar events happening more in the future.”

He added that predictions showed rainfall would be 10% higher in 100 years time and that as a consequence flooding would probably increase.”

Dr David Viner, of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, believes such flooding could be attributed, at least in part, to climate change.

He has warned that changing rainfall patterns meant rapid, unpredictable, flash floods would become much more common.

“When rainfall happens it will be a lot more intense, a lot heavier,” he said. “These very extreme rainfall events are going to become more common over the coming decades.

“The world is warming up and this is having an impact on the way rainfall happens. We have altered the climate so much that this is no longer just a natural phenomenon.”

The European Environment Agency (EEA) has also issued a stark warning about the future of our weather.

The agency fears that the world could see floods, storms, droughts and other extreme weather becoming more common in years to come.

Professor Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director, said that throughout the 1990s, the agency “had been detecting increasing global warming but what is new is the speed of change”.

Friends of the Earth campaigns director Mike Childs warned: “The consequences of climate change are a very real and dangerous threat, yet international leaders seem to pay little heed to the warning bells. Climate change is as big a threat to people and the planet as international terrorism.”

Serious flooding in 11 countries in August 2002 killed about 80 people and caused economic losses of at least 15 billion euros (£10 billion).

The year after, a heatwave in western and southern Europe was responsible for more than 20,000 excess deaths, particularly among elderly people.

Two weeks ago an estimated 150,000 people died in the Asia tsunami disaster caused by freak waves.

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