White & Windy

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It is white and windy out there tonight, much like all the television and newspaper reporters who insist on reporting on arctic armageddon at every turn, mostly when there are kids in the background of shot, laughing and having fun while the reporters drone on about the end of civilisation as we know it. They need to get out more. 

While cold conditions present an obvious threat to the old or infirm most of the old have been around long enough to laugh 'a bit of weather,' off and to treat the squealing dramatists with sneering contempt. They deserve it. 

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My mother for one thinks people have gone soft. She would know. She's the one who turfed my sister and I out, once we got the big door open, and into a wall of snowdrift and said 'right, hurry up, you'll be late for school.' It was the morning of the 11th February 1969. Sorry, it was a bloody cold morning of the 11th February 1969. We didn't so much walk as tunnel our way to the lane and then down the long hill to the village primary school a mile away. Now Mrs Ross at Culrain Village Primary School was a kindly lady and as much as she cared for her charges in the one classroom in the school there was a limit to how long she was prepared to let me hug the radiator at the end of the school day. Reluctantly, we began the long trek home. The snow though had not eased any and we quickly became disorientated. Some might say lost. Not surprising really given the drifts were taller than we were and the landscape was just a white blur. 

Help came with the arrival of a snow-plough which was unusual in our remote corner of Easter Ross. More unusual was the fact that it was heading straight up the hill to home. That made for an easier return journey. It was a day of unusual events in my young life. The plough was clearing the way for a mid-wife to tend to my mother who much to my surprise I subsequently discovered was 9 months pregnant. By the time I spilled through the front door my youngest brother had arrived. Wasn't expecting that. 'But what's for tea Mum?'

As a postscript to this, many years later I presented myself to the Regular Commissions Board at Westbury for officer selection. On the last day of four I was called forward for a President's interview. We knew that typically, a Presidents interview meant you were a 50/50 candidate so seeing the President of the Board was not a welcome call. I strode in, firm handshake and sat down. 'Now Crumble,' he said, 'I see you went to Culrain Primary school. I sent my boy there.' That knocked me sideways. Who would have expected that? So I chatted about Culrain with the General for 10 minutes and off I went. Two days later the little brown envelope arrived. I was in. Perhaps I won them over with my erudite involvement in the discussion groups, my Olympian performance on the individual assault course or even perhaps my Churchillian grasp of world affairs. Perhaps though, it was the Old School Tie from Culrain Primary School. Who knew that was a thing?

Hot!

The summer of '76

Crumble in another hot place, far away and a long time ago.

Crumble in another hot place, far away and a long time ago.

One of the more eclectic items on my CV is that of Jungle Warfare Instructor. This was quite useful in the jungles of Belize and Brunei and the memories of those happy days were front and centre in my mind when I started working outside earlier. I’ve stopped now. It’s hot, very hot; 1976 hot. 1976 was, at the time and since, the longest and sunniest summer in memory. The good news was beer was 25p a pint and it cost a fiver to fill the car up. The bad news was record unemployment, a sick economy without cure, riots in Notting Hill and the England cricket team getting hit out of the ground all summer by the storming West Indians. The major revelation that summer was that girls, in fact everyone, started to wear much, much less than we were ever used to in this country. It was quite an eye opener really and a great time to be a teenage boy. Perhaps that’s why, despite all the bad things during that period, we mostly look back on it with misty eyed fond nostalgia.

Today's forecast

Weather; Changable.

I rather miss the days when the weather presenter looked and talked like your Geography teacher

I note the BBC have binned the Met Office as it's provider of weather forecasting services and will instead, be using the Dutch company MeteoGroup. None of this is actually news, we knew about the impending change a year ago and it is unlikely to lead to an improvement in the veracity of forecasts given the Dutch company will largely still be using Met Office data. 

Personally, I use the Norwegian forecaster which can be found at yr.no and find them, somewhat perversely, to be the best at forecasting local conditions in the UK.

Whoever is responsible for forecasting on television I am confident that the graphics/pretty girl arms race between broadcasters will continue unabated, except on local stations in the UK which tend to focus on a pretty girl / pretty boy arms race all of their own. 

They do great weather in Argentina...

For those who care not about tomorrows weather but nonetheless enjoy the forecasts I can happily direct you to weathergirlstv.com, a site devoted to weather girls from around the world (but with no Anne Lundon I have to say it is less than comprehensive). No prizes for spotting the common theme and here's a clue, it's not the weather.

“This has come as a complete surprise.”

The Met Office have issued their quarterly contingency outlook, advice which is designed for long term planners such as councils rather than the general public, with an outlook for above average rainfall for November to January. That in itself is bad news for those with waterlogged gardens and trees standing in increasingly weak soggy soil. Anyway, that’s theirs, this is mine.

There is a theory out there that early snowfall accumulation in Siberia signals a cold winter for the rest of us. Unfortunately, about 14.1 million square kilometres of snow covered Siberia at the end of October. According to the boffins at Rutgers University Snow Lab that’s the second most since 1967. Ominously, the snow has fallen at the fastest rate since 1998. Moreover, this year’s Atlantic sea ice maximum was 1.54m square km’s above the 1981-2010 average; that’s 4 standard deviations off the mean. That’s a lot of cold air.

Another snow guru, a Mr Judah Cohen who is the director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research in Lexington, Massachusetts, who developed the theory linking Siberian snow with winter weather said, “A rapid advance of Eurasian snow cover during the month of October favours that the upcoming winter will be cold across the Northern Hemisphere...... this past October the signal was quite robust.”

So what exactly happens?

Cold air builds over the expanse of snow, strengthening the pressure system known as a Siberian high. The high weakens the winds that circle the North Pole, allowing the cold air to leak into the lower latitudes. The term Polar Vortex actually refers to those winds, not the frigid weather. When the winds are extremely strong, they can lock down all the Arctic cold in the po­lar regions, allowing most of the North­ern Hemisphere to have a warm winter and spring. When they are weak, the cold plunges south. In 2012, they were very strong and spring arrived six weeks ear­ly. They have shown no sign of being very strong this year. That’s a bad thing.

 

Something else out there to watch is the North Atlantic Oscillation, which often acts in tandem the Arctic one. The oscillation is a shift of high and low pressure systems over the ocean that can influence storm tracks and the location of the jet stream, and affect the weather over the eastern U.S. and western Europe. Just for fun and giggles our Mr Cohen has started a blog to track these changes.

In the here and now, the different systems, (Arctic and Atlantic), are likely to bring cold weather to the Eastern US and warm weather to Europe. Problem for us is that Eurasian snow covering may turn the Atlantic oscillation from it’s current positive to a negative state. That’s when we start complaining about the roads not being gritted and cue relevant government minister on News at Ten to say, “This has come as a complete surprise.”

Just to add some spice and intrigue to the mix, and not to be left out, the Pacific is likely to toss in an El Nino event this winter, (well, a 60-65% probability). Whilst no certainty it would have implications for regional planting and harvests. As a very rough rule of thumb, California and Southern Brazil could expect much needed rainfall while Australian farmers would face drought conditions.  El Nino impacts the tropics much more than the northern hemisphere which have the weakest geographical correlation but again, as a rule of thumb is usually leads to colder and wetter conditions in Europe. Certain conditions still need to be met for an El Nino event to be declared and the event usually has a shelf life of about seven months.

 

The wild card for us is the eruption in Iceland. The eruption is vast but has stayed off the front pages because it hasn’t been particularly explosive. The eruption though has haemorrhaged lava and gas emitting some 20,000-60,000 tons of SO2 a day compared to the whole of Europe that emits 14,000 tons a day.  Historically, large eruptions, and this is the largest in centuries, add to cooling and acid rain as far south as the UK. If this puppy became more kinetic, the impact on us would immediately intensify.

So what?

It may transpire that nothing much happens except an unusually wet and muddy winter. Indeed, we have Big Rain this week with more flood warnings being issued by the hour. That pretty much was the view of my cab driver yesterday. The conditions exist though, and are growing, for a pretty chilly outlook. Snow Zero is likely to come in January.  At the minimum, expect more volatility in temperatures and wind. For us in the UK whatever happens we can guarantee that central government and local councils will be blissfully unaware of the consequences of perpetual inaction until its too late which is pretty much why Mrs Flashbang has been dispatched to the Cash & Carry. That is, prior preparation, (emergency fuel, light, food), may stand you in good stead, especially in rural areas.

Am I being a drama Queen?

Perhaps.  The European Energy Markets Observatory though recently warned that the risk of blackouts in Europe is growing as thermal generating capacity has been hosed in favour of renewables, (23.5%) which, we’ve seen before, don’t work well, if at all, in extremes. The Icelandic volcanic activity won’t help here either given the acidic moisture in the air can damage the exposed elements of wind generators. Part of the issue here is that the generating industry’s capacity to meet surges in demand is degraded with a greater dependence on renewables. Problems with Russia won’t help one wee bit, (think we all see this one coming), and a number of nuclear reactors in Europe, (3 in Belgium), have recently been shut down because of safety or engineering concerns. Indeed, the National Grid has already told us that their winter capacity will be at a 7 year low with spare capacity at 4% compared to 17% three years ago, (we’ve shut 15 plants since then).

The energy secretary, A Mr Davey, told us last month that "there will be no blackouts. Period." Well, Mr Ed Davey obviously believes he has the powers of the Almighty. His civil servants don't though. They quickly moderated the comments by telling Channel 4 news that what he meant was the "UK was not going to run out of energy this winter." Mr Davey will now endure a sleepless winter because blackouts are likely to = "minister fired for being a stupid person." Obviously, you get to make your own choice here, believe the minister or listen to Crumble; your call.


One last point to ponder because we mostly like to cover all the bases. May I direct your attention to the letter to the Telegraph above from a Mrs Margaret Higgs. (I spotted ladybirds last weekend in the corner of my bedroom by the window. How spooky is that Margaret?).

 

In summary, the bad news has arrived for the mid west of the US already, (today in fact). We’re most likely in the clear in respect of heavy snow until after Christmas but at Crumble Towers, I’m taking no chances.In the meantime expect rain, and lots of it.

Blue Skies?

The view this morning from outside the office was nothing but uplifting. I think it’s the first blue sky I’ve seen this year!

Unlike some other parts of the country which continue to suffer although real perspective from the media was long since flushed away. Now though, that the pastures of South Western England are more easily identifiable with the paddy fields of South East Asia, and talk on the 06:00hrs from Haslemere is reminiscent of the Blitz, “I see Somerset was hit again last night,” “and they got the Rose & Crown in Chertsey,” it is reassuring that the governmental machine has at last rolled into action. Unfortunately, it again took a media storm and growing political embarrassment to force action to acknowledge the situation that the stoic citizens of the South West and elsewhere find themselves in and past errors of judgement which have exacerbated the problem.

Are not the floods though, another pressing indictment on short duration politics which constantly strive for immediate electoral favour without regard to long term unintended consequences? The paucity of multi decade planning is being laid bare across every part of our society and embrace energy, transport, defence, education and the vexatious issues of long term health and elderly care. We’ll have another opportunity to witness “last safe moment crisis management,” with the next financial crisis which is trundling down the tracks with an arrival time of later this year.

The political establishment would gather much more support if they focused more on doing the right thing, rather than always lurching for the politically expedient path. We’re not as stupid as they evidently think we are. 

A politician trying to look windswept & interesting (click)

Would it be too cynical to reflect that Berkshire and Surrey have been sacrificed to manage the water flow through London? As a plan it does have an economic logic although not for the citizens west of London. The flaw in the plan of course is that such is the weight of water, it’s displaying the temerity to go around the upstream weirs and is now encroaching as far as Richmond. Londoners may be phlegmatic but the floods are worsening, as evidenced by the Navy appearing upstream and not just the Army!  While politicians stare at the floods trying to look windswept and interesting, enquiring minds are left to ponder, what about the moles and is there any truth in the rumour that Somalian pirates have been spotted on the Somerset levels?

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The drafting in of servicemen, if only to reassure citizens, is woefully overdue, even if they don't have the kit, (we sold it all), or training to make a significant difference. As Think Defence points out, using servicemen as general labour to fill sandbags, (probably because it fulfills some hearty belief in that's what soldiers do), is "pure tokenisim." 

There have been some suggestions of remustering the Civil Defence Corp. I think it's a great idea and long advocated here. Call it what you will, but a series of CDC detachments and or TA Royal Engineers stationed up and across the country with dedicated long term depots of food, fuel, light, shelter, pumps, earth moving kit, snow moving kit and so on to support the civil community in times of urgent need is an obvious good. It doesn't matter if they're young reserve soldiers or civilian middle aged and retired specialists, (perhaps a mixture of both), but the poverty of our preparations to deal with disaster is becoming a national embarrassment and a dereliction of duty by HMG. The Americans have FEMA , we've got a bunch of clowns in wellies. Mind you, in the US the Corp of Engineers look after the waterways but then they are almost half the size of the whole British Army.

Why doesn't it happen now? I suspect a mixture of self entitlement, self importance and self preservation from all currently involved. The whole structure, where one exists, needs a shake down.

For the moment, there are no winners. The Environment Agency has let itself and the country down, (even though many planning departments ignore their advice on developing on flood plains), the media are turning the whole thing into a hysterical circus with not even a crumb of scientific analysis, (Charles Glover's piece in the ST about farmers in Somerset putting their topsoil at risk in flooding by over planting with maize is an exception), Westminster have been shown to be the comedy act that they are and some householders have seen a lifetimes endeavor floating away toward the English Channel. All the rest of us, well we'll end up with the bill because we keep electing people with no vision, foresight or appreciation of risk.

Market watchers meanwhile are left to consider the weather impact on food prices. From the drought in California, the snowstorms across southern and eastern US, the hottest December on record in Brazil and our own floods there will be an inflationary impact to come on the High Street. 

Unpublished Letter to the Telegraph (2)

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I'm in a bit of a letters trough here, not many getting through the net,

Sir,

While we all wait in weary bemusement for the inevitable hose pipe ban announcement, it may yet dawn on members of Her Majesty's Government that citizens might welcome capital expenditure that protects their life's work and investment in their homes and communities, rather than the planned profligate and wanton expense on a high speed railway which is about as welcome in most counties through which it will travel as is the next flood.

Say Hi To Karen

Say hi to Tropical Storm Karen. It’s too soon to accurately predict but it’s intensity and the effects are likely to be heavy rain, high winds and potential for a storm surge. It could though weaken as it approaches the coast over the weekend.  Non essential workers are being evacuated from rigs in the Gulf. Let’s hope she doesn’t get angry.

Not what they need with a government shutdown.

Scotland in the Fast Lane to Darkness

"I am confident that by 2025 we will produce at least 100 per cent of our electricity needs from renewables alone, with the aim of increasing exports of clean, green energy to many times our domestic needs by the middle of the century" Alex Salmond

No it won't ya dunderheid. Confirmation comes to us courtesy of The Scotsman which suggests that Scottish wind farms are unable to cope with freezing conditions. Yes, they stop working just when power generation is needed most which meant that Scotland had to recently import power from French nuclear stations.

Apparently, plants like the 140 turbine Whitelee wind farm in Lanarkshire generate as little as 2.5% of capacity when it gets a wee bit hill billy and people put their kettles on.

So, not content with a technology which is inoperable in harsh winter it also doesn't work, as the Australians have discovered, in the high heat of summer when not only is there precious little wind but the turbines can't function in high temperatures either. Always at the forefront of blowing things up, the Germans too have discovered early on that the technology is not without it's flaws.

So Mr Salmond, if you believe in climate change claptrap good luck but it looks like you've picked a loser in wind and done so while ruining the natural beauty and calm of the Highlands. Time for another rebellion perhaps given the number of Highlanders you've alienated and we can see you off on a bonny boat, over the sea to Skye and then exile in France.

The Scottish National Party, Making Medieval Living a Reality.

plus ça change

German Bombers Over London

The Mill Tavern; December 1940

Old Tom: It were nasty last night Fred, Kent and the Channel ports all the way to Plymouth copped it.

Old Fred: Aye, right nasty. Looks like Birmingham's in for it today. Lord when will it ever stop?

Old Tom: Garage is low on fuel again, and there's no bread in the shops.

Old Fred: Aye, right you are there Tom, there's no one driving on the roads tha' night.

Old Tom: Evacuated the schools too. Still the Missus stocked up with tinned food and candles before it started so we'll see our way through all right......

Old Fred: Long as there's beer in the barrel Tom, we'll be just fine.

Old Tom: Oh lumme....... not the beer, please.........

Snow dump, December 2010

 The Mill Tavern; December 2010

Old Tom: It were nasty last night Fred, Kent and the Channel ports all the way to Plymouth copped it.

Old Fred: Aye, right nasty. Looks like Birmingham's in for it today. Lord when will it ever stop?

Old Tom: Garage is low on fuel again, and there's no bread in the shops.

Old Fred: Aye, right you are there Tom, there's no one driving on the roads tha' night.

Old Tom: Evacuated the schools too. Still the Missus stocked up with tinned food and candles before it started so we'll see our way through all right......

Old Fred: Long as there's beer in the barrel Tom, we'll be just fine.

Old Tom: Oh lumme....... not the beer, please.........

 

It's Gonna Get A Wee Bit Hill Billy.....

 

In, "Coldest Winter For 1000 Years," I quoted a weather guru called Vadim Zavodchenkov who is suggesting that Europe may be facing a long and distinctly chilly winter.

Now I don't want to drive everyone to despair but no sooner does one of these weather  Johnnies pop up with doom laden forecasts but another one steps up to do the same. A lady called Evelyn Browning Gariss of the Browning Newsletter is telling her subscribers that life is going to get very difficult in North America over the next few months. Given their weather usually becomes our weather within a week or two, "I'm listening Evelyn."

The Gartman letter quotes her as saying that the La Nina in the Pacific Ocean has taken the ocean temperatures there down quite sharply. 

Apparently, "Temperatures between 0.5°C – 1.0°C (0.9° - 1.8°F) below normal are considered a “weak” La Nina. When the chill is more than 1.0°C (1.8°F) below normal, the event is “moderate.” Now temperatures range from 1.4°C (2.5°F) below normal in the central Pacific around Fiji to 2.0°C (3.6°F) off the coast of Peru."

She notes further that although the temperatures in the central Pacific are holding steady at the current rather archly low levels, they are continuing to fall in the eastern Pacific off the coast of S. America. She also notes that it is not just cool water temperatures that she finds worrisome. There are other global weather effects in place that serve to make the current La Nina material and worrisome. She summarises her findings with the following rather ominous statement:

If all of these are combined, then the current La Nina is the strongest in over 70 years. It is almost as intense as the La Nina in the winters of 1955-1956. It is currently almost two standard deviations below normal and most models expect the phenomenon to intensify over the next three months.

 At least Evelyn isn't quite the pessimistic figure of doom that young Vadim is............... nonetheless, as soon as Mrs Flashbang gets wind of this you can expect panic buying to be in full swing in the candles and loo rolls aisle of Sainsbury's in Liphook. I think I may put an order into Majestic for an industrial quantity of wine............. just in case.

Coldest Winter for a 1000 Years?

   

So, no sooner do we embark on the first week of October than the weathermen are arguing about just how bad this winter will be. Not our own lads from the Met Office of course; they're still hiding under their desks after the beating they got following last years fiasco. No, the Polish and Russians are the ones who can't agree and there's nothing new there.

According to the RT News Service, The Harbinger of Doom this time is one Vadim Zavodchenkov, a leading specialist at the Fobos weather center, apparently. His predictions are based on a view that suggests the Gulf Stream is cooling fast and indeed, the rate is accelerating.

“Although the forecast for the next month is only 70 percent accurate, I find the cold winter scenario quite likely,” he told RT. “We will be able to judge with more certainty come November. As for last summer's heat, the statistical models that meteorologists use to draw up long-term forecasts aren't able to predict an anomaly like that.”

The Russians though, disagree and expect a normal Russian winter which by any standards, can be described as bloody freezing.

Time to dust down the Tilley lamps then and dispatch Mrs Flashbang off to the cash & carry to stock up with tinned food, candles and loo paper......... I'm not getting caught short.

In Moscow, they're preparing for a harsh winter, as I expect they do every year. Obviously, over here we can expect the Government and Local Councils to be caught completely unaware and for the whole country to come to a complete standstill a few hours after the first snow dump. Look out for that first television interview, with snow ploughs in the background, as some bewildered official effects the, "All necessary steps are being taken, we are not surprised that it snowed," approach to public reassurance.

Meanwhile some hapless junior minister will be hauled out of bed and sent to explain the governments usual "bugger me!" approach to planning for civil disruption with the, "a full investigation will be launched, we'll get to the bottom of this," line.