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Julia Slingo on the storms

The Met Office and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) - a government research centre - have issued a joint report into the storms in south-west England. To mark the occasion Julia Slingo has taken to the airwaves, trying desperately to insinuate that there is a link to climate change:

Dame Julia said while none of the individual storms had been exceptional, the "clustering and persistence" were extremely unusual.

"We have seen exceptional weather," she said.

"We cannot say it's unprecedented, but it is certainly exceptional.

"Is it consistent with what we might expect from climate change?

"Of course.

"As yet there can be no definitive answer on the particular events that we have seen this winter, but if we look at the broader base of evidence then we see things that support the premise that climate change has been making a contribution."

Of course, the storms are also consistent with business as usual, but such nuance is prominent by its absence from Dame Julia's public utterances. For a more balanced summary of the report, take a look at the blog post by CEH's Barnaby Smith. It's really necessary to read the whole thing, but here are some excerpts that Dame Julia felt it necessary to brush over entirely:

  • A preliminary analysis suggest that outflows aggregated over six weeks were the greatest since the 1947 floods – the most extensive in England & Wales during the 20th century.
  • In December and January, a few rivers (including the Mole, Wey and Medway, which, on the basis of preliminary data, recorded their highest flows since the extreme floods of September 1968) registered outstanding maximum flows. 
  • Generally, however, the peak flows registered during the recent flooding were not extreme. On the Thames the highest flow in 2014 has been exceeded during 14 earlier floods (most prior to 1950).

The impression you get is that the rainfall is high, but not unprecedented. A similarly nuanced view of the link to climate change is given. But all we get from the Met Office are weasel words like "consistent with" - the scientist's counterpart of the environmentalist's "linked to". Coming so soon after Dame Julia's self-serving briefing for central government it does look as if the Met Office is reverting to type.

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Reader Comments (203)

As someone else commented, it must still be the season of the pantomime dame. Pantomime dames always perform in a melodramatic style.

From a quick skim of the report, you can work out which bits were written objectively by the CEH and which bits were written as propaganda by the MO. The Fig 3 hockey stick graphs are straight from Slingo's computer.

Feb 9, 2014 at 8:51 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

A very normal term in hydrological planning, risk mapping and other fields is the "return period", like a 100 or a 60 year return period flood. They always were exceptional but not unprecedented, like this last flood. It seems that the old terminogy has been replaced in Newspeak.

Feb 9, 2014 at 8:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterJgc

Call them Flood Plains or Climate Change Plains you still cant build on them.

Definitely wont be getting anymore building insurance on them.

Feb 9, 2014 at 9:10 AM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

Poor Richard. Hopefully he's always thought fondly of clowns.

Feb 9, 2014 at 9:11 AM | Registered Commenteromnologos

And yet the BBC, to be fair, have stated many times that it is just the jet stream stuck in one position bringing the storms in like a conveyor belt. So what is the evidence that AGW does that?!

Feb 9, 2014 at 9:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Schofield

It may well be due to climate change, global cooling. Hubert Lamb postulated, from past evidence, that this sort of locking of the jetstream would be one of the first symptoms of global cooling.

Gavin Esler at the BBC did a discussion piece on News 24 yesterday of which I caught the last 30secs. There was the usual suspects, a woman from Bloomberg Markets, some Asian guy, beard and sandal brigade member and an elderly, scruffy woman. Esler gave the last word to the Bloomberg woman " Is Climate Change real" he asked. She said "there are a few sceptics as there are for all things but yes and we need to do something now."

Voilà give up all and submit.

Feb 9, 2014 at 9:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

And yet the BBC, to be fair, have stated many times that it is just the jet stream stuck in one position bringing the storms in like a conveyor belt. So what is the evidence that AGW does that?!

Feb 9, 2014 at 9:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Schofield

Don't be fair David. That phrase does not alter their AGW screaming.

Feb 9, 2014 at 9:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

David Schofield

"And yet the BBC, to be fair, have stated many times that it is just the jet stream stuck in one position bringing the storms in like a conveyor belt. So what is the evidence that AGW does that?!"

Your obvious question is the one that the BBC doesn't ask.

I think we all know just why that is!

Feb 9, 2014 at 9:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterBryan

Slingo is first and foremost a 'political animal' not a scientists , so statements like this are powered not by facts but by what she thinks is politically 'correct' when it comes to her objectives.

When all is said and done , and as has happen before , its turned out there is no 'link' , Slingo will say not a word for that does require a statement given there is no politically 'correct' stances that benefits her.

As I have said before , the MET will not change until she goes , for its her who sets the METS approach on AGW and watch out if you cross her.

Feb 9, 2014 at 9:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

Stephen Richards

Would you have a link to Lamb's piece on the jet stream position? I'd be interested in reading it.

Feb 9, 2014 at 9:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

Stephen Richards,
Do you have some more information reference or links on that postulate of Hubert Lamb?
I am interested in knowing about the mechanism, how to infer past jet blockings and how the cooling of NE USA exceeds the warming of Siberia. Thanks

Feb 9, 2014 at 9:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterJgc

Dame Julia:

"Is it consistent with what we might expect from climate change?
"Of course."

Couldn't that be said after *every* weather event? Is there a single occasion when that *couldn't* be said?

Feb 9, 2014 at 9:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames Evans

Of course the Climate is changing it always has done and always will and yes changes in the climate will effect the weather as with sunspot minima. What you cannot do is atribute it to Man Made increase in the concentration of atmospheric CO2 as is implied when ever anything is blamed on climate change. As has been stated by Prof. Lindzen and others the human contibution to climate change is minimal. The evidence is that the bulk of climate forcing is natural and as such beyond our control. The urgent need is for a more robust approach to minimising any effects and produce affordable energy thus boosting the economy and producing more money to spend on combating any effects of climate change.

Feb 9, 2014 at 9:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoss Lea

You've gotta love the "consistent with our theory" schtick.

Feb 9, 2014 at 9:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

I keep telling people that the Met Office "sciientists" are going to make a new series of Jackanory.

This is Dame Julia SLingo rehersing for it.

After all she has a few years before she takes up her gold plated pension!

Feb 9, 2014 at 9:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

What conditions generated the 1947 flood?
• It is known from local gauged records that the 1947 flood was generated by heavy rain and snowmelt, after one of the most extreme winters in 20th century.
• The end of January 1947 brought extremely cold conditions across the whole country with heavy frosts and severe snowstorms.
• In early March, it continued to rain on frozen ground and snow, with water rapidly entering the rivers and minor water courses. On 4th and 5th March, there were major snow blizzards with drifts many feet deep. By 7th March, the rapid thaw set in running off over ground that was still frozen and impervious so leading to a rapid rise of the Severn.
The Severn catchment began to suffer flood impacts from 11th March when the town of Shrewsbury was almost entirely cut off. The subsequent fall of the River Severn was slow.

Feb 9, 2014 at 9:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartyn

Last October there was an article in a Guardian blog about French wine producers thinking of re-locating to southern England to take advantage of climate change. I doubt if they had "extreme weather" in mind!

Vineyards take action as climate change threatens wines and livelihoods

"As growing conditions are altered, grape production long associated with regions further south is now beginning to shift to new areas."

Feb 9, 2014 at 9:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

The BBC are reporting it with prominence and undisguised relish though.

Feb 9, 2014 at 9:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterKenL

The Great Flood of 1968 was a flood caused by a pronounced trough of low pressure which brought exceptionally heavy rain and thunderstorms to south east England France in mid-September 1968, with the worst on Sunday 15 September 1968, and followed earlier floods in south west England during July.

Feb 9, 2014 at 9:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartyn

Slingo: drowning not waving.....

Feb 9, 2014 at 9:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterMydogsgotnonose

KenL , that was the objective in the first place , its not science in action we are seeing its politics .

Feb 9, 2014 at 10:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

"It's all down to Climate Change'. Of course it is!
Here we have the result of the mutation in the language of control: could Slingo have said, with a straight face, that it's all down to CAGW or Global Warming? No, because those now mutated phrases require definition and context, whereas Climate Change can be a wonderful catch-all.

Feb 9, 2014 at 10:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

Is the last six weeks brisker BAU or a taster for climate change to come?

Either way, it has created a political pressure to spend more on flood and coastal defences. The UK will be better equipped to withstand "normal" extreme weather. It will also be better equipped to withstand sea level rise and a warmer, more energetic climate.

Win, win.

Feb 9, 2014 at 10:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

The MO's accuracy at predicting future events lost all credibility when its 16/11/13 prediction stated it had a greater expectation of Dec / Jan / Feb being drier rather than being wetter than average.

Feb 9, 2014 at 10:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

LB / Jgc - I read something on this the other day. but can't remember or find where. Paul Hudson refers to a Lamb paper here -

And Paul Homewood has some context here:

Peter Taylor ('Chill', published 2009) was one of the first in recent years to start to look at the role of the jet stream, I remember reading that in 2008 he phoned up the Met Office to ask to speak to their expert on the jetstream. To which they replied that they didn't have one, and suggested he contact someone from a US aviation website. Shortly after this the UK economy suffered billion pound losses due to the completely unforeseen severe winters of 2009-10 and again in 2010-11, which were attributed to jetstream blocking. Mind you, iirc Piers Corbyn did forecast these cold periods fairly accurately.

Just remembered there was an American researcher who published a paper a few years ago on how the UK climate is much more dependent on the jet stream than the Gulf Stream - i.e. how the former drives and determines our weather/climate, while the latter just moderates it. The BBC covered this but can't find the page now.

Feb 9, 2014 at 10:15 AM | Registered Commenterlapogus

@Entropic Man: More energetic climate? 680 - 310 mB humidity has fallen dramatically over 60 years Average humidity is slightly down. Thre is no tropical 'hot spot'. There is no CO2-AGW. Thre has been AGW from Asian industrialisation reducing cloud albedo, leading to higher OHC. That is now correcting.

Feb 9, 2014 at 10:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterMydogsgotnonose

Don't forget that a long list of IPCC authors recently said otherwise for global flooding. A paper published last month by 17 international scientists from five different countries in the Hydrological Sciences Journal, entitled “Flood risk and climate change: global and regional perspectives”, says:

“It has not been possible to attribute rain-generated peak streamflow trends to anthropogenic climate change over the past several decades … Blaming climate change for flood losses makes flood losses a global issue that appears to be out of the control of regional or national institutions. The scientific community needs to emphasize that the problem of flood losses is mostly about what we do on or to the landscape and that will be the case for decades to come”.

Feb 9, 2014 at 10:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterMatt Ridley

I think we have given in to easily on the term "climate change" and on every occasion should ask the person using that term whether they mean AGW or something different.

Feb 9, 2014 at 10:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Whale

"Is it consistent with what we might expect from climate change?"
"Of course."

It's also equally consistent with it having been caused by witchcraft. So would Julia Slingo suggest that we bring in an exorcist?

Feb 9, 2014 at 10:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlex

From the Guardian 12 March 2012
'Urging people to save water, Caroline Spelman, the environment secretary, said a recent drought summit had highlighted the threat posed by another dry winter and more areas were likely to be affected unless there was significant rainfall in the coming months. "We can all help reduce the effects of drought by being smarter about how we use water," she said.
Spelman has said that climate change could mean drought is "the new normal" and has urged water companies to produce long-term plans for saving water.'

Climate change is such a beautifully malleable political tool.

Feb 9, 2014 at 10:54 AM | Registered CommenterPharos

Saturday afternoon media warning from MO PRs to expect dramatic press release at midnight - just in time for the Sunday headlines.

Is this really science - or just the usual political spin machine?

Feb 9, 2014 at 11:02 AM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

Matt Ridley

Julia was talking about the weather, not flooding. Although the two are clearly related, there are also other important factors that affect flooding (like dredging). So I don't think there's a discrepancy here.

Feb 9, 2014 at 11:03 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Betts

Dame Julia said while none of the individual storms had been exceptional, the "clustering and persistence" were extremely unusual.

Ooh spooky! I wonder if she asked for the house lights to be dimmed and shone a torch in her face when she said that? ;)

Seriously though, in my opinion this tendency to strategically go all misty and vague really undermines her scientific credibility. There is clearly some broad persistent weather phenomenon going in the NH right now, what with the extreme cold in the US and the mild winter and storms here, but she seems to think this only calls for propping up climate alarmism. When this doesn't happen next year what are we to think?

Scientists have got bitten before when they went all misty and said snow was a thing of the past, and when they said drought was a new normal. Now these storms are being wooed up with the same spooky utterances. Crazy.

Feb 9, 2014 at 11:04 AM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Hose pipe ban by the summer I guess.

Feb 9, 2014 at 11:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartyn

When a Met Office employee steps in to defend the pantomime dame, is it in expectation of a pay rise or another Met Office self-award? The Met Office should be decimated, with just a small team of short-range weather forecasters retained for the BBC to use.

Feb 9, 2014 at 11:10 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby


Respect! He's a Science Fellow now.

Feb 9, 2014 at 11:15 AM | Registered CommenterPharos

So I don't think there's a discrepancy here.

Feb 9, 2014 at 11:03 AM | Richard Betts

We'll just ignore that Slingo says everything might be the result of "climate change" eh?

Feb 9, 2014 at 11:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

"We have seen exceptional weather," she said.

"We cannot say it's unprecedented, but it is certainly exceptional.

"Is it consistent with what we might expect from climate change?

"Of course."

If the Met Office "scientists" have evidence that shows AGW has resulted in an increase in UK storms (either frequuency and/or energy) lets here it. Come on Dr Betts now is your chance.

Lets see some science rather than made up stories!

Feb 9, 2014 at 11:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

As Richard Betts has kindly pointed out the blog post of mine referred to by the Bishop is about the historical context of the hydrological aspects, particularity river flows, of the current event. It's important to remember that there are many factors, including weather and climate but also others such as land management, which affect observed river flows and levels.

A perusal of the full report (put together by the Met Office and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and published today on the Met Office website and linked in the Bishop's post) should give the wider context behind the comments from Julia Slingo.

Feb 9, 2014 at 11:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarnaby Smith

Re Slingo's remark that "clustering and persistence" are "extremely unusual" and, by implication, evidence of global warming:

Even basic statistics courses explain that "random events are as likely to be clustered together as to be evenly spread".

Feb 9, 2014 at 11:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterPBL

One day, we may be able to look back and laugh at the Met Ofice 's climate pantomime, with the Dame as the Dame, Peter Stott as some dozy uncle, Richard Betts as Buttons, and their erstwhile guide and mentor, Robert Napier as a scheming wicked baron. But it is too much of a tragedy at present for such flippancy.

Feb 9, 2014 at 11:29 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

We "deniers" are losing the argument about "extreme weather" and should throw in the towel. Only this morning I came across the newspaper article below that convinced me that we have been wrong all along. Of course, as the article points out, there are still some people who try to blame natural causes such as sunspots, but wiser people realise that the deluge is man-made. It cannot be just a coincidence that the abnormal rainfall started after large scale generation of electricity in this country.

The Weather and the Rain. 1903 Smashes Some Records.
Cambrian 30 October 1903 p3

"You can find consolation for most evil tilings if vou look hard enough, and assuredly there is gloomy comfort in the reflection that never in the lifetime of this generation has it rained before as it has done this summer. Such endless deluge, such ceaseless streams and floods. Some put it down to sunspots — freckles on the face of old Sol, the exact cause of which nobody can define as yet. ... "

"Others hazard a guess that it is the electricity stored up which has wrought the invisible revolution, the consequences of which have turned every street into a running brook, that like Tennyson's rivulet, goes on for ever. The record of 1879 has long ... been broken; the other record - an unofficially registered one, of 1859, I think will break in a couple of days. "

Feb 9, 2014 at 11:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

We all know what the "context" is behind the dame's comments. It's the scary climate change we're all going to die unless we give up using fossil fuels give the Met Office more money Agenda21 message.

Feb 9, 2014 at 11:32 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

She's a propagandist so nothing she says is of any value.

Feb 9, 2014 at 11:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterSwiss Bob

So, as long as we had river dredging processes in place we had no 'Climate Change', just a bit of rain; but having stopped dredging we get Climate Change and heavy rain - and only then, according to Richard Betts, flooding. If only we hadn't stopped doing the dredging, eh?

Feb 9, 2014 at 11:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

The BBC are pushing, whenever the opportunity arises, the connection between the current weather and climate change. Sky, on the other hand, are far more balanced. They interviewed Eric Pickles who, even after being informed of Slingo's state , said the connection was unproven. It seems that the cabinet has at least two climate change sceptics: Eric Pickles and Owen Paterson.

Feb 9, 2014 at 11:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Stroud

Dawlish, pre climate change

"According to their report , Easterly gales during the first fortnight of February in 1855, had washed away the beach near Teignmouth, exposing the marl on which the railway and sea-wall were built. Heavy seas scoured the marl and despite remedial work, 30 yards of wall collapsed on the 16th. Severe frosts and turbulent seas prevented reconstruction, and by the time work could begin, 50 yards of the embankment had been washed away."

There's a great picture as well

Feb 9, 2014 at 11:39 AM | Registered Commenterjeremypoynton

Not so much 'as likely', PBL (11:27AM), as 'more likely'. Google 'clumps and clustering' to see lots of examples, e.g.

Feb 9, 2014 at 11:48 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

Sligo assumes, as does all alarmists, that climate change ONLY means warming. Alas for her it includes COOLING which she will not countenance in any way.

History disproves the models. The worst weather recorded was during the LIA including the Great Storm of 1703

Feb 9, 2014 at 11:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

Indeed, here's another apposite Paul Homewood thread:

Storminess Of The Little Ice Age, February 6, 2014

Feb 9, 2014 at 12:02 PM | Registered Commenterlapogus

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