Spring it here! or is it…?

It’s been a really rough winter for me, which is why the blog has been neglected.  While I’m referring more to work than weather, it looks like the latter is going to give us quite a ride over the next week.  I’m currently sitting in Nottingham watching precipitation fall that can’t quite decide if it’s frozen or not.  After some lovely days interspersed with plenty of grim, grey ones over the last couple of weeks, I do not welcome this uncertain rain/sleet/snow mix and am not thrilled to hear that it’s due to get colder again.

On the 1st of March, the spring climate treatments at the DIRECT experiment began for this year.  This means roofs have been put on the plots to collect rainfall so the plots only receive a proportion of the precipitation that falls naturally, in accordance with our ‘extreme’ cliDIRECT roofmate experimental design.  Unfortunately, these roofs have not been tested in snowy conditions.  Despite the experiment running since 2008, I believe this is the first time there was a risk of snow that might stay on the roofs rather than melting on contact and draining away.  This could cause me some real problems, including finding a way to remove and collect the snow without damaging the roofs.  Oh the fun of field experiments!

Of course this isn’t the first time the UK has had a cold snap in early March.  March is always a variable month for weather, and just last week we saw temperatures range from -5.5oC to 14.9oC in just two days at Silwood.  However, it is a good excuse to start discussing extreme weather.

While we never could predict seasonal weather patterns for a given year with enormous accuracy (remember the ‘barbecue summer’ forecast in 2009?), the job is getting much more difficult as global temperatures rise and the climate changes.  Only last week we were warned yet again that extreme weather events, particularly flooding and drought, are likely to be much more frequent .  While that is annoying for maintaining my experiment, it is much more serious for society as a whole.  There is an increased risk of water shortages as well as flooding of homes and business, both of which we saw within a one month period last spring.

It isn’t just the UK that is facing more extreme weather events either.  Think Progress compiled an interactive timeline of extreme weather events around the world for 2012.  It includes heatwaves, droughts, floods, typhoons and hurricanes.  While all of these are natural events, there is strong evidence that climate change is increasing their frequency and severity (see the IPCC special report).  These are real issues that directly affect people’s homes and livelihoods where they occur, but also have wider implications for species, ecosystems and global food resources as well.  This is something I hope to write more about soon, assuming I can spare the time from clearing snow off of roofs at my study site.

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