Drought to deluge: what is up with our weather?

Wellingborough School weather station. Pictured are Peter Lowe, teacher, with Natasha Hornby, 14, Rebecca Giles, 14, Shane Parmar, 14, Ross Herbert, 13
Wellingborough School weather station. Pictured are Peter Lowe, teacher, with Natasha Hornby, 14, Rebecca Giles, 14, Shane Parmar, 14, Ross Herbert, 13

That old stereotype that summer months mean sunshine and warmth seems to have been far from true based on the weather seen in recent years.

That fateful tale of a 2012 hosepipe ban which was followed by one of the wettest years on record has gone down in history and this year weather experts have kept a watchful eye on the skies to find out if we should expect more of the same.

Recently a gathering of scientists and meteorologists was held at the Met Office in Exeter to work out the causes for Europe’s unusual seasonal weather.

Disappointingly they came to the conclusion that the UK could be in the middle of a 10-20 year cycle of wet summers.

The subject of climate change now plays an important part in the education curriculum and several schools in Northamptonshire now have their own weather stations to give pupils data to fuel the ongoing debate about what exactly is causing this country’s strange and variable weather.

One station is located at Wellingborough School. Set up in March 2011, the facility helps teach youngsters more about weather patterns and assists head of geography Peter Lowe, in putting together a monthly weather blog for the school’s website.

But what does Peter believe is happening to our weather patterns?

He said: “The environment is so incredibly complex. We are looking at a jet stream which, in the way it shifts its position north or south of the UK, we know that affects weather in the UK. But the reasons for the changes in the jet stream are anyone’s guess.

“As geography teachers, we are told we need to talk about global warming being a reason for climate change but a lot of geographers are sceptical on the impact of greenhouse gases in causing these changes. “There are a lot of things that impact on our climate. There is scepticism and people pick on the fact we have had some colder winters and a colder spring as evidence that the argument behind global warming isn’t as strong as some scientists say it is. I’m not totally sceptical about it,

“I think probably many things are to do with C02 and greenhouse gases.”

But he added: “We study volcanoes in geography and eruptions can have a huge impact on the earth’s atmosphere. One big eruption can cancel out any positive heating effects. We try to give balanced views to our pupils, we look at both sides of the argument.”

It was 1998 when Pitsford School set up its weather station and its forecasts have since been used to inform both local and national bulletins. Run by teacher Mike Lewis, the station uses “standard, classical instruments” such as the kind of sunshine recorders which have been used for 100 years.

According to Mike, a gradual warming trend over the last century has changed to evidence of cooling in more recent years.

Mike said: “Although we have a relatively short period of records here, we have also got records from other stations in the county, so we can go back to 1880. One of the interesting things is for students to look back on things. Going back to 1920, we see a change in climate. Students learn about global warming and can see a 0.1 degree change [increase] in temperature.

“The trend is for a warm decade followed by a cool decade. Since 2002 we have been seeing a change in trend so temperatures have gradually started to fall and the Met Office have revised their climate change model. Since 2007 we have been seeing a definite cooling trend.”

But what is the reason behind it? The problem seems to be that no-one is sure.

Mike said: “One thing we have also seen is a change in the jet stream. Normally the jet stream tracks north and south of Britain, but its strength has changed and there has been a change in the general path it tracks.”

“Last year was the wettest year on record and we have lurched from having the wettest year to having one of the coolest springs on record.

“We are lurching from one extreme to the other. You have the Environment Agency declaring a drought and then it all changes. There is something clearly amiss with the jet stream, but why is that? It may be that the North Atlantic is warmer than it should be, so it comes down to global warming. All we can do is put the data in and see what the computers come up with.”

Figures for Northampton area, from Pitsford:

-The maximum monthly rainfall total (since 1880) was recorded in July 1880 as 186.9mm.

-The highest temperature recorded (since 1880) was 36.7 C on August 9, 1911 (Raunds).

-The highest temperature recorded at Pitsford School (since 1998) was 35.5C, on July 19, 2006.

-The lowest recorded since 1880 was -18.3C on February 8, 1895.

-The lowest recorded at Pitsford School (since 1998) was -13C on February 11, 2012.

-The lowest anywhere in England, since 1880, was -26.1C at Newport in Shropshire on January 10, 1982.