07-10-2010 14:18 | Daniela Lazarová
In recent days Italian and Polish forecasters have released reports suggesting that this winter could be the coldest Europe has seen in the last 1,000 years. The change is reportedly connected with the speed of the Gulf Stream which has allegedly slowed down in connection with the oil spill off the coast of Florida. Some scientists claim the stream will not be able to compensate the cold from Arctic winds –and according to their theory as the Gulf Stream wanes and eventually disappears Europe will have to brace for Arctic winters. Czech meteorologist Jan Pretel says this is utter nonsense:
“I am quite convinced that such forecasts do not have any scientific background. The Gulf Stream is only a small part of the world’s Thermohaline Circulation and if we look at the Atlantic Ocean we see that the Gulf Stream is relatively speaking a very small “river” in the ocean because the width of the Gulf Stream is on average 100 kilometers while the width of the ocean is between seven and four thousand kilometers in places. The winter weather in Europe is influenced in equal measure by the release of heat which the ocean has absorbed during the summer and by the wind flow over the Atlantic Ocean and as the Gulf Stream is only a small part of the huge Atlantic Ocean I am completely convinced that winter in Europe cannot be affected only –or to such an extent – by the Gulf Stream.”
So you are ruling out an exceptionally cold winter at this point –of the kind forecast?
Jan Pretel: “I’d say the chances of a very cold winter are fifty percent and those of a very mild one are also fifty percent. I am convinced that at this time – the beginning of October – it is impossible to give a serious, scientifically based forecast for the winter. Because meteorologists can give you a very good forecast for three days, a good forecast for five days, and a reasonable forecast for two weeks but we do not have the instruments to give you a reliable forecast for the winter.”
Well this is a nice easy one to resolve. We will only need to wait for a few months, and we will know the answer. By that time, one of these two sides in the debate will clearly have been shown to be wrong, but the article will, by that time, have disappeared from the portals carrying it, as they are all news portals with a high turnover. It will still be here though, and I can add comments later on and so can you, dear reader.
What Jan Pretel says about people simply not knowing what the weather will be seems wise enough, on the face of it. Meteorologists never seem to be able to get things right beyond about two weeks into the future and here Mr Pretel blames this on a lack of “instruments”, by which I assume knowledge is also classed as an “instrument”.
However, when he says that the Gulf stream is a small part of the thermohaline economy, I think that his argument stretches credulity. Even given the fact that it’s about 100 km wide and the sea is much wider, when you stop one moving part, is causes the whole to stop moving or move differently. That’s a very basic idea on which even clockwork rests, and liquid is not that vastly different. The Gulf stream is and always has been (as we can infer from the lifecycle of the eels in Europe – not only freshwater eels but congers in the sea also) with the exceptions of relatively short periods when it has switched off for a few years or a few hundred, a major climatic and zoogeographical driver. If there are concrete measurements that show it consistently slowing down and weakening, then of course it means that the winters will be colder.
Moreover, let’s take a very simple analogy – maybe like me you sometimes like to sit in the bath for a long time. When the bath gets too cold, you add warm water from the hot tap. The stream of water in from the hot tap is also nowhere near the width of the bath, just as the Gulf stream is not as wide as the Atlantic, and the relationship of the water flow from the hot tap in terms of width to the bath’s width is even less impressive than that of the Gulf Stream to the Atlantic, but nevertheless it does the job of warming the bath up to comfortable levels again, until of course it cools down again. I’m not saying that Jan Pretel’s odd comments about the width of the Gulfstream betray anything about his hygiene habits, but do think about that one next time you are re-warming a bath.
If there are observable statistics now that show – whether caused by the recent man made events or not – that the Gulf stream is weaker this year, then I’m sorry, but the logical corollary of this is that we could be in for a record cold winter in Europe. My skepticism for that comes in where they state that the current has actually slowed because of the oil spill.
In fact, the slowing and possible impending shutdown of the Gulf stream has been observed since 2004. You can read all about the measurements that were taken and the noted and projected effects here .
There’s a fairly observable fact that the Gulf stream is currently changing. What isn’t observable fact is why it is changing – whether human agency is behind it and whether we can do anything about it.
Another thing is where the researchers say it could be the coldest winter in 1000 years. Why this period? From what I can gather, the year 1011 already 61 years into the Medieval Warm Period. Colder winters than these occurred in Europe in the years 1500 through to 1700, and we have not only writings but images showing what life was like in Europe during this period. Pieter Brueghel the Elder painted numerous winter scenes showing levels of snow utterly unlike what the low countries experience these days, with people skating around on the lakes.
Prior to the warm period, that is prior to AD 950 there were indeed even colder winters that in Brueghel’s time. So in general 1010/1011 was not itself in the period noted for the coldest general temperature.
However, Hubert Lamb, the world’s earliest climate historian, records that in the winter of 1010/1011 the Bosphorus and the Nile were covered in ice. The Thames has last frozen over two years before that.
Now last year, we know – and this was January 2010, the West Greenland Current – normally a less potent force than the Gulf stream, met the Gulf stream current and effectively blocked it for two weeks.
What happened after that – and you can decide for yourself the degree of causation involved – was a record cold winter in the UK and west of Europe (the areas usually most kept warm by the Gulf stream) and London for the space of two weeks in February reporting colder temperatures than Warsaw and Moscow.
What happened after that was a spring and summer in which Poland reported the worst floods in 120 years, Slovakia and Czech Republic also had repeated floods which are still happening every few weeks, and Poland, having been already reported being flooded the worst in 120 years then gets two further bouts of serious flooding, leaving the margin between now and the worst since records began quite sizeable indeed.
If this was part of an ongoing switch-off of the Gulf stream, then all sorts of things can result in it. Poland never used to get tornados – twisters like the ones in the US dustbowl. Now we seem to get serious tornados that destroy forests and villages every few years.
So, the answer is we will know in six months which was right – Jan Pretel or the Polish and Italian side. But if Jan Pretel is right, then I would venture to suggest that 2011/2012 will be all the worse for it.
What’s my prediction? My gut tells me that this year’s winter may have nature compensating a bit for the colder one that Europe had last year, and it will possibly be quite a mild winter just for the evening-up effect. This is due to the fact that the amount of water there is slopping around this planet is relatively constant, it’s only a question of where it is and what form it is, and as we all know water goes through cycles and always finds its own level. Hence nature does even itself up a bit on a three or four year cyclical basis. But there does seem to be an underlying trend which is leading us into ever more extreme climatic territory. That’s why I really worry more about the winter that’s coming in 2011/2012. That’s the big one, I expect.
We’ll see later on who’s right, but remember on my YouTube videos way back in February, months before the record-breaking floods happened, I was warning about flooding. Two months before the collapse of the world economy was announced I was predicting it, and unlike this blog, those films can’t be amended retrospectively as they have the dates up on which they are sent to YT and then they are fixed and final. So far, I haven’t made a prediction or a warning which hasn’t come true in my YT films. Unless you can find one, in which case do tell me.
I don’t claim to be a prophet of the Lord, or if I am I don’t know it, but I will say this – my records on predictions, including a bunch of fine business models that I’ve done, seem better than those of quite a few self-styled gurus and prophets who don’t mind putting their views out for all to see.
So, we shall see what happens.