Saturday, 3 March 2012

"Children just aren't going to know what snow is"

"The wolf is not coming, he's enjoying winter sunshine!" paraphrases the now infamous article in the Independent in March, 2000 - "Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past". Why reproduce it again? I confess I enjoy a good chuckle gloat, and confessing seems to be the fashion these days. I recommend you read the original if you need cheering up, or simply want to snigger.
According to Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia,within a few years winter snowfall will become "a very rare and exciting event".
"Children just aren't going to know what snow is," he said.
Wait, there's more
David Parker, at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Berkshire, says ultimately, British children could have only virtual experience of snow. Via the internet, they might wonder at polar scenes - or eventually "feel" virtual cold.
Heavy snow will return occasionally, says Dr Viner, but when it does we will be unprepared. "We're really going to get caught out. Snow will probably cause chaos in 20 years time," he said.
For the record, here's a chart of northern hemisphere snow extent, showing the "rare and exciting events".

Northern Hemisphere Snow Extent 1967-2011
And here's a satellite picture of a "rare and exciting event" in 2010.

It wasn't 20 years time, but 10 years time, and it wasn't occasionally, but a hat-trick of bum-freezers. Three "very rare and exciting events", the successive winters of 2009/10, 20010/11 and 2011/12 produced snow, lots of snow, cars abandoned in snowdrifts, and they were bloody cold. The BAA (who run Heathrow airport) had bought into the "winters are warmer, snow is a thing of the past" theme preached by these idiots, and failed miserably to clear the runways with their inadequate equipment (not only size, but numbers matter). Troops with shovels and brushes finished the job the experts had flunked.

Luckily each was, in the words of David Parker a "virtual experience of snow" with "virtual cold", so no one died, no cars were stuck in snowdrifts, no airports closed for three days, no motorways were closed, no local authorities ran out of road salt and grit, and no train and bus services were cancelled. UK citizens didn't need the internet to "wonder at polar scenes", they just had to look out of the window at the white mound that contained their car.

For some reason seemingly unknown to the BAA, Reykjavik and Helsinki airports remained open and didn't cancel a single flight while Britain "ground to a halt" (in the words of the newspapers who'd also bought the theme). At those airports, flights or landings are occasionally held up for as much as 30-40 minutes while they clear the runways of several times the depth of snow it took the Heathrow crews three full 24-hour days to clear. Heathrow ran out of de-icing fluid for aircraft. Reykjavik and Helsinki have large stockpiles, far more than they use even in a severe winter, "just in case". Staff and officials there laughed at Heathrow's plight. "It's just snow" they said.

Gatwick airport, not run by the British Airports Authority (BAA to them!). much smaller and less busy than Heathrow, with less money to invest and with fewer runways and taxiways, had twice the number of snowploughs and blowers than their larger cousin, and of course staff to use them, and suffered much shorter closure as a result. Perhaps the managers there are sceptics (in the true sense), or at least have a little common-sense and foresight. Perhaps, like blogger Harold Ambler, they are just prudent, and think, as he does "Don't Sell Your Coat" just yet.

A side order of fries with your words, messrs. Viner and Parker? Prediction is very difficult, especially when it involves the future.

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