UK weather: is this the end for wet summers and floods?

Oct 8, 2012

Wet summers blamed on a warming of the North Atlantic Ocean but pattern is likely to change

COULD this be the last of Britain's horrible sequence of wet summers? A new study suggests we could see a rapid reversal to a drier climate.

The pattern of dismal summers over the last five years can be blamed on a substantial warming of the North Atlantic Ocean in the late 1990s, according to new scientific research from the University of Reading, published in Nature Geoscience.

The shift in temperature in the Atlantic has resulted in rain-soaked weather systems being driven into northern Europe, increasing summer rainfall by about a third, reports The Guardian. Summer 2012 was the wettest in a century and floods have devastated homes in areas such as Cumbria, Cornwall and Tewkesbury over the last five years.

But the good news is that the pattern is likely to revert to drier summers and may do so suddenly, according to Prof Rowan Sutton, who led the study.

Sutton's team examined over a century of data and found that the temperature of the North Atlantic remains above or below the long term average for decades at a time. They compared three periods in this cycle: a warm state from 1931-60, a cool period from 1961-90 and the most recent warm period starting in 1990 and continuing now. The paper notes that conditions in the last warm period in the Atlantic are broadly similar to those observed now.

Sutton says he cannot guarantee a switch to drier summers but said it is likely. 'We are not sure of the timing, which is what everyone wants to know,” he told The Guardian, 'but we are working on this now.' He added that when the switch occurs, it could happen as rapidly as over two to three years.

Meanwhile, another study from the University of Reading, led by Dr David Lavers, claims the warm Atlantic waters west of Portugal and north Africa travel to Britain as enormous currents of moist air that measure up to 2,000 miles long.

The Sunday Times describes the currents as 'Amazon rivers of the skies' due to the fact that the strongest were carrying more water than the world's biggest river.

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