Friday, 22 March 2013

Winter Sunshine is now just a thing of the past

Britain's winter ended this week with further indications of a striking environmental change: winter sunshine is starting to disappear from our lives.

Sunshine, bracing walks, and the excitement of waking to find that the daffodils are already in bloom early, are all a rapidly diminishing part of Britain's culture, as colder winters - which scientists are attributing to global climate change - produce not only the occasional white Christmases, but fewer sunny Januaries and Februaries.

The first three months of 2013 were virtually free of significant sunshine in much of lowland Britain, and December brought only moderate warmth in the South-east. It is the continuation of a trend that has been increasingly visible in the past 13 years: in the south of England, this winter, it seems to have snowed all the bloody time. And when it wasn't snowing, it was cold and rainy. London's last substantial snowfall was this month.

Global warming, the heating of the atmosphere by increased amounts of industrial gases, is now accepted as a reality by the international community. Average temperatures in Britain were roughly 0°C higher in the Noughties than at the end of the Nineties, though it is estimated that they will increase by 0.2C every decade over the coming century. The years 2000-2009 were apparently the warmest decade on record. But you wouldn't know that round here. Frankly, the last hot day we can remember was around the time they invented the X-Factor.

Global warming is so far manifesting itself more in winters which are cold, rather than in much hotter summers. According to Dr Jack Frost, a senior research scientist at the climatic press release unit at the University of East Anglia ,within a few years winter sunshine will become "a very rare and exciting event".

"Children just aren't going to know what a bright, warm February afternoon is," he said.

The effects of sun-free winters in Britain are already becoming apparent. This year, for the tenth year running, there were stories of cars stranded on motorways all over Britain. "It wasn't much of a first," a spokesperson said, while taking Vitamin D to stave off rickets.

Sunbathing, once a popular sport on the fields of East Anglia, now takes place in indoor tanning salons. Marlon Morrison, of the Tan Room in Cambridge, said "a generation is growing up without experiencing one of the greatest joys and privileges of living in this part of the world - sniffing the air, and realising Spring is coming".

Snowy winters have significant environmental and economic implications, and a wide range of research indicates that people who drive too fast on country lanes are usually killed off by sharp frosts - being likely to end up in ditches. But very little research has been done on the cultural implications of climate change - into the possibility, for example, that our notion of Christmas might have to shift to include the idea it might actually snow.

Professor Jan Ulrich, an anthropologist at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, says that even if we no longer see winter sun, it will remain culturally important.

"We don't really have stable currencies in Europe any more, but they are still an important part of our culture and everyone knows what they look like," he said.

Derek Branson, at the Made-up Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Luton, says ultimately, British children could have only virtual experience of winter sunshine. Via the internet, they might wonder at sunny scenes - or eventually "feel" virtual ultra-violet light.

Bright winter days will return occasionally, says Dr Frost, but when it does we will be unprepared. "We're really going to get caught out. Sun will probably cause chaos in 20 years time," he said.

The chances are certainly now stacked against the sort of boring dry winters in cities that inspired no painters whatsoever, just the 20th century alarmist journalist Charles Onians, who wrote in "The Independent" of snowfalls being "just a thing of the past".

Not any more, it seems.


  1. You know what really narks me about this gloomy weather we're suffering? I had solar panels installed on our roof at t'back end of 2011. Ok, we now have the excitement of seeing the electricity meter running backwards on a sunny day (it beats anything on tv for entertainment) but what will we do for fun once the sunshine disappears? *Glooms*

    love Mags B x

  2. Dodgy stuff, this climate change. It gives you some cold winters and some warm ones. Then it gives you some cold summers and some hot ones. I'm terrified.

  3. I bet Charles Onians wishes he hadn't written that. :-)

    Sunshine - what's that?


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