It looks like we’ve had the starting pistol for the biannual ritual of the season’s change justifying a spate of articles predicting the next few months’ weather. It’s always fun for us Brits, though not exactly harmless. Misreporting of a Met Office’s 2009 seasonal forecast – as a ‘barbecue summer’ – somehow led to serious suggestion that it should be sold off, despite its record as one of world’s most accurate forecasting bodies.
Now this autumn, the Guardian has pitched in with a story about the early arrival of some Bewick’s swans to the UK. Apparently their early departure from Siberia, tied with a cold forecast for the week ahead, was enough to justify an article predicting a cold winter ahead.
Without wanting to take the article too seriously (it is, after all, only a well-executed piece of PR by the Slimbridge Wetland Centre), the prospect of a cold winter should be a worry for anyone campaigning on climate change. Last year, we saw the collapse of talks in Copenhagen; Climategate; Glaciergate (the stories don’t need to be true to have been reported as damaging climate science) – and the coldest winter in the UK for 31 years. Of these, the weather may well have done the most to influence public concern about climate change.
The evidence for this is circumstantial because no-one asked the right questions, but seems fairly strong. A poll in December ’09, when the stories about UEA emails were at their peak, showed no significant movement in agreement with climate science. Yet, another poll, in January ’10, when the UEA stories had died down, but the cold weather was at its most severe, showed a significant drop in agreement that climate change was a reality (though I think methodological problems with this latter poll seriously weaken it). In the other direction, we’ve also seen that confidence in climate science increases when heatwaves or storms cause major disruption, and the media attribute this weather to climate change.