Will the weather get worse this year?

Stormy weather. Image: Getty.

Last year unleashed some catastrophic weather across the world. At the beginning of 2017, Australia experienced one of the hottest summers on record in Sydney and Brisbane, followed by a killer summer heatwave across southern Europe and wildfires triggered by heat in California.

The Atlantic hurricane season was particularly active, recording three mighty category 5 hurricanes – Harvey, Irma and Maria – resulting in significant casualties. The cost of the damage across the American continent was in excess of $260bllion.

At the same time, the 2017 monsoon season brought considerable rains to the Indian subcontinent, and resulted in devastating floods in parts of India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh (one of the most flood vulnerable countries in the world), causing more than 1,000 deaths.

Monsoon flooding in the Himalayan foothills of India, Bangladesh and Nepal affected more than 40m people last year. Image: EPA/creative commons.

At the end of 2017, we could look back at the statistics and see that globally it was the warmest non-El Nino year on record. El-Nino is the warming part of the El-Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle which affects global ocean and atmospheric currents and can create powerful storms and hurricanes.

In a world that is getting warmer, what does that mean and what might 2018 hold for weather across the globe? Are we destined to see more and more of these “unusual” and catastrophic weather events which result in significant devastation? What effect will climate change have on our weather and will this become the new norm?

Looking at the facts

First, we need to untangle the difference between weather and climate change, something president Trump seems to confuse. In a nutshell, the difference is time. Weather is the conditions in the atmosphere over a short period of time. Climate is how the atmosphere behaves over a longer period of time. When we talk about climate change, that generally means changes in long-term averages of daily levels of temperature and rainfall. So we may see a change in average or typical weather over a number of years, but we can still experience extremes in any one year.

Source: YouTube/CNN.

Recently, scientists have used robust event attribution where natural or human influences on particular events are studied to understand the role climate change may play in particular weather events. This can help support future regional contingency planning.

This also helps us to understand the role climate change has played in past events such as heatwaves, wildfires, droughts, or extreme flooding and some of their large-scale drivers such as ocean and atmospheric patterns of warming and cooling, like El-Nino.

Looking at the past there are many factors which control the onset, spread and eventual impact of a big weather event. But not all of these factors are climatic and many relate to things such as urbanisation, engineering interventions or land-use changes.

What the future looks like

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC, an international body set up to assess the science of climate change, we can continue to expect an increase in the average global temperature. That means we will be experiencing warmer years in the future.

But at the same time, we may see changes to the extremes, which could become more frequent in the case of high temperature or heavy rainfall, or less frequent in the case of extreme cold. This means that the distribution, occurrence and expected averages of our weather (for example, temperature and rain) throughout the year may change, resulting in warmer years on average with more extreme hot days, and fewer extreme cold days in the future.

Heavy snowfall on the US eastern seaboard seriously disrupted cities like New York this winter. Image: EPA/creative commons.

This pattern has a direct link to such phenomena as heatwaves, which are caused by more extreme temperatures. The links to droughts or periods of extreme low flows in rivers are more complex. Global Circulation Models (GCMs) – a collection of numerical models that provide a 3D analysis of global climate interactions such as atmosphere, oceans, ice and land – predict increases in temperatures for some regions, such as southern Europe.

In terms of tropical cyclones, the effects of climate change on these phenomena is an active area of research as the processes are complex. For example, the Clausius-Clapeyron relationship which can be related to the water vapour-carrying capacity of the atmosphere, may have an impact on the strength and intensity of such storms.


The relationship states that for every degree rise in temperature, the water-holding capacity of the atmosphere increases by 7 per cent, so in a warming ocean, the air above the water has a much greater capacity to hold water and thus store more rain that can feed more powerful storms.

But sinking cold air from the upper atmosphere may prevent storms from rising in the first place. If this happens more frequently with climate change then we can expect fewer such storms. That means in the future there may be fewer tropical cyclones forming, but those that do will be stronger and more intense.

Wet wet wet

In a warming world, we can expect it to get wetter. The distribution of the rainfall throughout the year could change as we experience longer, drier spells, although when rain falls it may be in intense bursts. Recent research by Newcastle University analysed the results from finer scale GCMs climate projections and suggests we may expect more intense summer rainfall in the UK in future. New climate projections from GCMs are being prepared for the UK to help predict what the future climate may look like.

Flooding from intense rainfall or river sources has many complex drivers which cause the damage in catchment areas. For example, land use changes (such as intensive farming practices or deforestation) and the degree of urbanisation both play a part in flood risk. Recent research for the UK suggests that we will see an increase in the frequency of extreme river flooding.

Source: KSBY News/YouTube.

So what can we expect for 2018? Already Australia is experiencing extreme heat, while the eastern seaboard of the US is suffering a severe cold spell, and the west coast devastating mudslides that have killed 17 people. So far 2018 seems to be picking up right where 2017 left off.

The ConversationGovernments need to recognise and absorb that extreme weather across the globe is likely to become more common and start to adapt accordingly, rather than treat it as shocking one-off events. Otherwise, we risk increasing loss of life and environmental damage in the future.

Lindsay Beevers, Professor/Chair Futures Forum, Heriot-Watt University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

“Stop worrying about hairdressers”: The UK government has misdiagnosed its productivity problem

We’re going as fast as we can, here. Image: Getty.

Gonna level with you here, I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, I’m a huge fan of schadenfreude, so learning that it the government has messed up in a previously unsuspected way gives me this sort of warm glow inside. On the other hand, the way it’s been screwing up is probably making the country poorer, and exacerbating the north south divide. So, mixed reviews really.

Here’s the story. This week the Centre for Cities (CfC) published a major report on Britain’s productivity problem. For the last 200 years, ever since the industrial revolution, this country has got steadily richer. Since the financial crash, though, that seems to have stopped.

The standard narrative on this has it that the problem lies in the ‘long tail’ of unproductive businesses – that is, those that produce less value per hour. Get those guys humming, the thinking goes, and the productivity problem is sorted.

But the CfC’s new report says that this is exactly wrong. The wrong tail: Why Britain’s ‘long tail’ is not the cause of its productivity problems (excellent pun, there) delves into the data on productivity in different types of businesses and different cities, to demonstrate two big points.

The first is that the long tail is the wrong place to look for productivity gains. Many low productivity businesses are low productivity for a reason:

The ability of manufacturing to automate certain processes, or the development of ever more sophisticated computer software in information and communications have greatly increased the output that a worker produces in these industries. But while a fitness instructor may use a smartphone today in place of a ghetto blaster in 1990, he or she can still only instruct one class at a time. And a waiter or waitress can only serve so many tables. Of course, improvements such as the introduction of handheld electronic devices allow orders to be sent to the kitchen more efficiently, will bring benefits, but this improvements won’t radically increase the output of the waiter.

I’d add to that: there is only so fast that people want to eat. There’s a physical limit on the number of diners any restaurant can actually feed.

At any rate, the result of this is that it’s stupid to expect local service businesses to make step changes in productivity. If we actually want to improve productivity we should focus on those which are exporting services to a bigger market.  There are fewer of these, but the potential gains are much bigger. Here’s a chart:

The y-axis reflects number of businesses at different productivities, shown on the x-axis. So bigger numbers on the left are bad; bigger numbers on the right are good. 

The question of which exporting businesses are struggling to expand productivity is what leads to the report’s second insight:

Specifically it is the underperformance of exporting businesses in cities outside of the Greater South East that causes not only divergences across the country in wages and standards of living, but also hampers national productivity. These cities in particular should be of greatest concern to policy makers attempting to improve UK productivity overall.

In other words, it turned out, again, to the north-south divide that did it. I’m shocked. Are you shocked? This is my shocked face.

The best way to demonstrate this shocking insight is with some more graphs. This first one shows the distribution of productivity in local services business in four different types of place: cities in the south east (GSE) in light green, cities in the rest of the country (RoGB) in dark green, non-urban areas in the south east in purple, non-urban areas everywhere else in turquoise.

The four lines are fairly consistent. The light green, representing south eastern cities has a lower peak on the left, meaning slightly fewer low productivity businesses, but is slightly higher on the right, meaning slightly more high productivity businesses. In other words, local services businesses in the south eastern cities are more productive than those elsewhere – but the gap is pretty narrow. 

Now check out the same graph for exporting businesses:

The differences are much more pronounced. Areas outside those south eastern cities have many more lower productivity businesses (the peaks on the left) and significantly fewer high productivity ones (the lower numbers on the right).

In fact, outside the south east, cities are actually less productive than non-urban areas. This is really not what you’d expect to see, and no a good sign for the health of the economy:

The report also uses a few specific examples to illustrate this point. Compare Reading, one of Britain’s richest medium sized cities, with Hull, one of its poorest:

Or, looking to bigger cities, here’s Bristol and Sheffield:

In both cases, the poorer northern cities are clearly lacking in high-value exporting businesses. This is a problem because these don’t just provide well-paying jobs now: they’re also the ones that have the potential to make productivity gains that can lead to even better jobs. The report concludes:

This is a major cause for concern for the national economy – the underperformance of these cities goes a long way to explain both why the rest of Britain lags behind the Greater South East and why it performs poorly on a

European level. To illustrate the impact, if all cities were as productive as those in the Greater South East, the British economy would be 15 per cent more productive and £225bn larger. This is equivalent to Britain being home to four extra city economies the size of Birmingham.

In other words, the lesson here is: stop worrying about the productivity of hairdressers. Start worrying about the productivity of Hull.


You can read the Centre for Cities’ full report here.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites

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