from David Maughan Brown in York, UK: Climate Change

Were the ‘Flying Fickle Finger of Fate Award’ still around to be awarded on a global basis, the jet stream that is currently playing fast and loose with our weather in the UK would, with a bit of updating of the criteria, be a prime candidate for a fickleness award.   At any rate, there seems to be a good chance that it could be a pointer to our possible fate where our climate is concerned.

A word of explication might be in order here.  Between 1968 and 1973, NBC in the USA broadcast a satirical programme titled Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In which provided, in the words of entertainment.ha.com, ‘a heady dose of comedy and biting satire during a turbulent period in history, and in the process boosted the careers of Goldie Hawn, Lily Tomlin, and others.’  The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate award was used on the show, we are reminded, in a ‘recurring segment that “lauded” noteworthy, dubious achievements by celebrities or government officials. Recipients of this uncoveted award included then Los Angeles Chief of Police Ed Davis, who suggested that gallows be put in all airports so hijackers could be hung on the spot; the City of Cleveland for their Cuyahoga River (it caught fire due to its high pollution levels); and William F. Buckley for his philosophy “Never clarify tomorrow what you can obscure today”.’*

Television was not available to South Africans between 1968 and 1973 because, as Dr Albert Hertzog, the Minister of Posts and Telegraphs, kindly explained in 1959: ‘The effect of the wrong pictures on children, the less developed and other races can be destructive.’  But, once television had been introduced in 1976, there was an obvious need for those South Africans who had TVs to have their attention distracted from the vicious cruelties of apartheid outside their windows, and Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In was apparently (and often somewhat mistakenly) seen by the apartheid government as a politically inoffensive distraction.

All of which is something of a diversion from the path of the jet stream.  It is raining off-and-on again today, as it has been for most of the month.  This is because, as the weather forecasts have explained, and can be seen from the weather map above, the UK is caught in a low-pressure loop in the jet stream, and has been trapped in the same loop throughout this month.   Parts of the UK have had three times their average May rainfall already, and our average temperature has been two degrees centigrade below the May average.  This follows one of the driest, and certainly the frostiest, April on record with frosts somewhere in UK every night.     May 2020, by contrast, as I wrote in June last year, ‘was the driest May on record in England and the sunniest month ever, at least as far back as records go; this spring’s sunshine hours smashed the previous record by all of 70 hours, and have only been exceeded by summer sunshine hours in three previous years.’  So ‘fickle’ seems an appropriate word.

The extreme variations from year to year in UK suggest that something significant is going on weather-wise.  This would seem to be backed up by what appear to be increasingly extreme weather events around the globe.  Prolonged droughts leading to devastating wild fires, increasingly frequent and violent hurricanes and cyclones, and serious floods all come to mind.  In his 2003 book Inevitable Surprises Peter Schwartz doesn’t regard global climate change as being a surprise ‘because most of us (by now) have seen it coming’ (p.207).** Donald Trump hadn’t put his ornamental head above the political parapet by then.   But what will be a surprise, Schwartz suggests on the basis of analysis of the fossil record, will be the speed of its impact:  ‘The pattern is consistent: hundreds or even thousands of years of steady-state equilibrium.  Then an abrupt shift, in as short a time as a decade, can alter temperature and rainfall patterns, and ocean currents.’ (p.208)

So what could happen in the next decade that could provide us with a distraction from worrying about Covid-19?  As global temperatures rise, mainly as a result of human activity and the carbon emissions that activity produces, the polar ice caps and the glacial ice in Greenland are melting and cold freshwater is pouring into the Atlantic Ocean.  There is a serious possibility that this could result in the ocean currents being ‘forced into new patterns’, as Schwartz puts it.  Put more bluntly, it could arrest the flow of the Gulf Stream that warms North Eastern Europe.  This has apparently happened before – most recently around ten thousand years ago.  Schwartz quotes Dr Robert Gagosian’s suggestion as to what might happen next:  ‘Average winter temperatures could drop by 5 degrees Fahrenheit over much of the United States, and by 10 degrees in the North-eastern United States and in Europe.  That’s enough to send mountain glaciers advancing down from the Alps.  To freeze rivers and harbours and bind North Atlantic shipping lanes in ice…. These changes could happen within a decade, and they could persist for hundreds of years.’ (p.209)

Schwartz doesn’t claim that this particular manifestation of global climate change is ‘inevitable’, it is merely a distinct possibility.   But, given the manifest fickleness of our current weather patterns, those of us in UK who live on the front line where that particular manifestation of climate change is concerned had better not be fooled by talk of ‘global warming’ into packing our winter woollies too far away.  Speaking for myself, as I clean out the shed in preparation for its demolition, I will make sure not to throw away my good-as-new snow-shovel that hasn’t been needed even once in the past fifteen years.


* https://entertainment.ha.com/itm/movie-tv-memorabilia/props/-laugh-in-flying-fickle-finger-of-fate-award-broadcast-from-1968-to-1973-on-nbc-rowan-and-martin-s-laugh-in-provided-a/a/648-21045.s

** Peter Schwartz, Inevitable Surprises, London: Free Press, 2003.

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Dusty and Dry and a Yellow-tailed Black cockatoo

January 8, 2021

Struggling eucalyptus tree-seedling

It’s been hot and dry and rain-less for weeks. Not ultra-hot – which is defined as a series of days over 40C but oscillating around 30 degrees C. The soil is hard and even if you dig a foot down, there is no moisture. We are watering daily: sprinklers and drippers in a series of timings around the house. When I go out, I fill six 2litre old milk bottles with water and take them in my car to water the smaller trees along our driveway.

Note the liklihood of rain: On Tuesday, 5% chance of less than 1 mm … so it goes.

We fill our bird baths twice a day for the bees that gather around the edges and for the birds that congregate early and late. No koalas have yet come down to drink in the daytime this summer.

La Niña is indeed bringing cooler weather and rain, but not to us in South Australia. It is raining almost everywhere else. The map of Australia is no longer filled with emergency red coloured areas of desperation. Drought remains only in isolated unlucky spots.

The presence of La Niña increases the chance of widespread flooding. Of the 18 La Niña events since 1900 (including multi-year events ) 12 have resulted in floodsfor some parts of Australia, with the east coast experiencing twice as many severe floods during La Niña years than El Niño years. Typically, some areas of northern Australia will experience flooding during La Niña because of the increase in tropical cyclone numbers. The relationship between La Niña strength and rainfall is closely linked.’

http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/updates/articles/a020.shtml

Sadly, this rainfall is not reaching us, but at least we have not had the fiercest of summers, nor a winter without rain. However, we are all very conscious of water availability and usage. Metered water is not cheap in Adelaide.

Yellow-tailed black cockatoo (male has the pink around the eye)

All evening, a single yellow-tailed black cockatoo has been flying around our house and the valley calling and wailing. It sounds desperate. These cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus funereus) are monogamous and mate for life. For sure this cockatoo had lost its mate. We often see flocks of them in summer. They are most elegant flyers with a taste for the nuts inside the cones of radiata pines. In the past, fishermen used to shoot these magnificent birds to get the grubs from their gizzards – grubs that the birds had extracted from eucalypts. Our bird cried mournfully. I hope the mate has not met some misadventure.

A Painting of the Outback

Yesterday, I went to the cinema to see a film called ‘The Dry’ based on the eponymous book by Jane Harper. It is a murder mystery set during drought times in a small town in the desolate wheatlands of NW Victoria –  the Mallee Wimmera. For anyone who has no concept of how drought affects Australian farming communities, watch this film and you will get an idea of this country of extreme weather.

There is no problem with going to the cinema at the moment. We all checked in at the cinema entrance with our phones against the QR code reader, we sanitised our hands and we were allocated seats according to some social distancing formula.  No one was wearing a mask.

This all might change. This long weekend, greater Brisbane is in total lockdown. 2 million people. It’s all because one worker, a cleaner in a medi-hotel, contracted the new UK strain of the virus from a quarantined UK traveller. During the time before the cleaner become ill and was tested, she wandered around and they say up to 800 people might have been in contact. So, everyone is holding thumbs.

How can we seal our borders to this virulent mutated virus (501 and 117)? We are told sad stories of Australian families desperate to return home. Yet already we are in catchup with the virus escaping in NSW from an international traveller and the same happened in South Australia 2 months ago.

Today PM, Scott Morrison announced measures that they hope will reduce the odds of this happening. Masks on international and domestic flights are now mandatory (that does not seem to be much help for an 8-12 hr flight). Flight numbers will be reduced; testing pre- and post-flight are required. Pre-boarding rapid tests will be required for UK travellers to Australia. Surely this will make it harder for the virus to find its way in.
Once more, I am not hopeful!

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: La Niña and the Rose Garden

The Veale Rose Garden, Adelaide, Australia

October 17. Two months ago, I wrote about the drought affecting us in South Australia. Since them we have received good spring rains: 130 mm. That is over the average: not a flood, not a glorious amount of rain but enough to make us delighted.

It’s all about La Niña, (the girl), weather event (as opposed to El Niño , the boy) centred in the ocean between Australia and the Americas. I don’t understand it, but it has something to do with the sea surface temperatures being below the norm and, in the way of the world, this affects Australia, Asia, Africa and the Americas. In Africa and Australia, it will be cooler and wetter; countries in Asia will receive heavy rains. The same goes for North America where snow falls will increase. South America, however, gets drought conditions along the coast of Chile and the Peru.

La Niña will last for about five months. She is welcome – bear in mind that our last summer was abnormally hot and dry and bushfires raged across our country for weeks.

So, in Adelaide this spring, our gardens are looking green and lush. The hillsides have not yet browned off. We all fear the advent of the ferociously hot spells in summer and delight in these mild mid 20 temperatures.

some of the 50 varieties of roses in the Veale Gardens

This week, for the first time in the 29 years I have lived in Adelaide, I visited the Veale Rose Gardens in the South Parkland of our city, to see the first bloom of roses. The gardens are named after a William Veale, Adelaide Town Clerk for 18 years. Our city centre is surrounded by a 500-meter-wide band of parkland: easy to get to and easy to park.

Indeed, the roses were magnificent. I am not knowledgeable at all about roses, but my companion showed me the intricacies of the blooms. It is a pity how few roses have any scent nowadays. All bending and smelling was to no avail! It appears that crafting exotic beauty is now more important.

This might be the City of Adelaide Rose – it was there somewhere and it was pink!

Some blooms were deep maroon, some pale lilac, some had darker pink stripes, some were old-fashioned climbing tea roses: rows and rows of roses – 50 varieties in all – and not a rose beetle in sight.

I cannot see roses blooming without remembering how my mother’s rose garden in Durban, South Africa, was attacked by black and yellow beetles the size of your thumb. They ate out the centre of the rosebuds. My mother employed my compliant daughter to extract them from the blooms, to gather the angry insects into a glass bottle. She was paid her for her industry.

With the benefit of Wikipedia, I have a identified those little nasties as the ‘garden fruit chafer’ in the family of scarabs. But in the Veale Gardens in Adelaide there was not a scarab beetle in sight. Every bloom was perfect. Enjoy the beauty of our Adelaide spring!

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: Rain!

Weather front approaching

September 20. September in Adelaide is the last month of the year in which we hope to receive a reasonable amount of rain. Our mean rainfall for the first month of spring is 2 inches or 50 ml. Bear in mind that our annual rainfall is 525ml. (21 inches). Some say South Australia is the driest state in the driest continent in the world. It sure feels like that at the moment.

This year, our winter rainfall was only 60 % of the average. You can see this in the hardness of the soil when you dig. Summer lies ahead with those challenging weeks of furiously high temperatures and no rain.

Witchelina creek – long long without water.

I returned from our recent trip up north acutely aware of the devastation that the drought has had on the countryside. So I started watching the 28-day forecast of possible rain that is produced by Elders Weather – hoping for rain for the stations we had returned from. They get their rain from monsoonal troughs arriving from the north. And in the last few days, one arrived.

Witchelina, Farina and the Marree area received close to 100ml of rain (4 inches). The Flinders Ranges recieved a little less. Flood warnings were broadcast with images of swollen creeks. A godsend. Our ABC news was full of the wonder of this record downpour, as farmers rejoiced.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-09-19/record-rain-has-sa-outback-stations-rejoicing/12681156

So we waited in Adelaide, hoping for the meagre 20 mm (1 inch) that was forecast for last Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The clouds were dark but no rain fell … a few showers passed south over Kangaroo Island. I started watering the garden again.

Today’s Bureau of Meterology radar.

Today, Sunday, the skies were full of sound and fury and once more in anticipation I examined the local radar – a narrow band of orange, red and black approached us from the west. We got some rain! Only 5ml over half an hour, but so very welcome.

Later, I walked out in the dark to set our two feral cat traps (yes, we are trapping feral cats with help from our council) and the bush seemed to be singing.

from John F. in Tadcaster, UK. August in North Yorkshire.

Post no 14.  August 17. We are well behaved in this rural part of the country; masks are universal and even in the little village shop when the postmaster hands me my morning paper, I don a face shield. So far there is no sign of the virus erupting again, as it has in West Yorkshire, not so far away. The local hospital has not had a death since June 18th.

Some of the restrictions are proving frustrating. I saved Rishi Sunak £100 by taking all my grandchildren and parents to a wonderful tapas restaurant last week on a Thursday, just missing the £10 a head gift. The food was excellent as always (far better say the Spaniards whom I have taken there, compared to what they get at home) but the complex ordering system made me cross.

The menu was on the internet, so I printed off copies for everyone to save time. However we could not simply tell the shielded waitress what we wanted, but had to download the menu and an ordering system from a mobile app. As we were spread over two tables there had to be two orders and drinks were also online. The whole ordering process took 45 minutes but the waitress finally relented and accepted a drinks order before we had entered it on the mobile. Payment had to be made before the order could be sent to the kitchen; later the whole process was restarted for the ice creams etc that the children wanted.

Sandsend Beach, north of Whitby, UK

Like many people I am still a little uncertain about the regulations; I may well have been breaking them when my wife and I went to the beach at Sandsend, a little village north of Whitby. On a lovely sunny day we joined our grandchildren for a light lunch on the terrace of their holiday house and then in deckchairs on the beach. But what a wonderful orgy of nostalgia it was, as I used to go to that same beach 75 years ago just after the war.  However the young now have 21st century equipment such as wet suits and surf boards and are far more active than I ever was.

The weather has been far cooler than in the south of England and as a result our harvest has barely started. However those farmers that have combined, report low yields of poor quality barley – fit only for cattle feed rather than milling for food (or beer). Straw is very short and stubby so the income from this will be negligible. Wheat has still to be harvested and the potatoes are being drenched by huge irrigation pipes.

As ever, our local church has been slow to restore normal operations. It provides one Zoom service on Sundays for all four parishes in its benefice and a live one in the biggest church; it then lets the local churchwardens open up their churches for private prayer an hour once a week. No plans are given for full live services in the three smaller churches.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: Waiting for the golden wattle

the golden wattle

Aug 1. Spring has not arrived. Of course. We are still in deep winter – whatever ‘winter’ is in South Australia, but there are tentative indications that it’s not far away. One of the natural events we watch for is the first flowering of the golden wattle, Acacia pycnantha . The golden wattle is Australia’s national floral emblem and is common around Adelaide. When the small tree flowers, it is covered in a profusion of bright golden bubbles. The valley next to us turns into a sea of gold.

Yesterday, I noticed the first wattle tree flowering.

We have not had any rain for a month which is not good news. This is the time of the year that we count every mil. There is a theory that the pattern of rainfall has moved south 200 kms in South Australia which means, over time, we will get less rain. Our next rain is predicted for 5th August. We are planning a trip north to the Flinders Ranges (500kms north of Adelaide) in three weeks’ time and the news is that the Flinders Ranges are experiencing a serious drought. It has barely rained for four years.

Friends of ours have just returned from a camel trek in the Northern Flinders. For two weeks they walked through remote country, sleeping in the open in ‘swags’ (a sort of cross between a small tent and a sleeping bag). All the food, water etc was carried by the camels. My friends said that you had to learn to be careful of not being kicked. Camels can kick forwards and backward! They said there was barely any sign of animal (or bird) life. Bones of kangaroos lay everywhere. Very depressing.

http://www.flindersandbeyondcamels.com.au/

I noted that the 14-day weather forecast predicts a day or so of rain (60% chance of 15ml) in the Flinders Ranges.  This would make all the difference.

an eastern beared dragon

Another hint of spring crossed our driveway in front of my car: an eastern beared dragon (Pogona barbata). The dragon is a kind of large lizard with an intimidating beard which it puffs out when threatened. This lizard was obviously taking advantage of the abnormally warm weather to have a quick feed. Not a good sign as sometimes the brown snakes will come out in mid-winter.

It is strange how much time we spend looking at the weather now: more so than before Covid-19. Perhaps, this is because we are spending time outside walking and enjoying the environment whatever the weather, with or without beared dragons.

Susan D from Ottawa, Canada: COVID time – a reflection

14 June

I feel time is playing tricks, behaving like an elastic band.  Time seems to have stretched out: it feels like forever since we were enjoying ourselves in Paris.  Now each week dissolves, leaving hardly a trace.  I have finished my nightly meetings with Alec Guinness in his “positively final appearance”, but a bit from the December chapter stuck in my mind. “The days, they say, are drawing out. All that strikes me is that in spite of the slowing up of time, the weeks gallop apace; Sunday comes sharp on the heels of Sunday.”

At first, it seemed that enforced isolation would have one positive aspect.  Time without without socializing, shopping, travelling or hosting travelling friends would free up time to address some of those things one can always find a reason to leave for another day, month or year.  There is the basement, never sorted out after moving, and the perfect thing to do during the winter months of which Canada has so many.  Then there is the idea of learning and doing something new – writing a children’s book based upon a doll that belonged to my daughter.  When rescued from the garbage and cleaned up, he looked just fine as the main character for a story – perfect for spring creativity and increased energy.  Spring would also be a good time to address some landscaping at the front of the house, of which there is really none.  And then there are all those bookcases full of books, in fact, a whole library of unread books, good at any time of the year.  However, there is another side of COVID confinement – no cleaning help.  Now too much time is filled with cleaning a rather large house, and Monday comes sharp on the heels of Monday as the dust rolls down the halls and the cleaning cycle starts up again.  No new tasks get taken up.

Right at the moment, time seems to be collaborating with its colleague, the weather.  Early summer arrived with 30 degree days several weeks ago, but down jackets have been donned again, and tonight the temperature will descend to 6 degrees.  As Ontario has begun to open up further, although cases are still not falling consistently, the weather seems to be intimating that it is April or perhaps early May in COVID time, and too soon to be tossing aside so many precautionary measures.  I read a comment today that COVID is very young as a virus, mere months old, and we have hardly gotten to know it.  Nonetheless, the more than three months of self-isolating feel much longer: time is still playing its tricks.

From Brenda in Hove, UK: “I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky …”

Hove Beach, UK. a sunny day for beach huts

28 May. So far we have been told to take our exercise close to home (really, Dominic) and I have obeyed that instruction. The brakes seem to be coming off somewhat so I ventured down to the Hove seafront today. It is officially half term for the schools and normally we would see thousands of tourists on the beach-front but the town councillors warnings to people to stay away from Brighton and Hove seem to have had effect – even in the glorious weather we are enjoying.

There were quite a few people on the beach and in the sea – but distances more than respected – and the same went for the promenade (and not a mask in sight). It was more than a very relaxed and pleasant experience; it was so normal; it was a joy! .

People had also returned to their beach huts and there was an unusual amount of DIY going on.  Quite a few are scruffy and one wonders why some people don’t sell their huts if they clearly haven’t used them for years. They sell for something between £16,000 and £25,000. High price to pay! Anyway, hot owners out in force, with their deck chairs and picnic tables hauled out and the kettles on – and much sun worshipping in evidence.  

Much to my surprise, Hove lagoon café was open for take-away after being closed since lock-down. Hurry on over! Chips on the beach – new special treat. Another joy! Really. Nothing like a pleasure denied and then allowed.

Table tennis being played but lagoon and children’s playgrounds and paddling pool not in use. I miss the sound of small children playing.

Cyclists much in evidence as usual and it is worth noting that the line-up of bicycles provided by the Council had been added to – and there were lots of newly painted cycle lanes on the way to the beach.

What I had sorely missed was just looking at the sea. We have lived near the sea for more than half our lives and I never tire of contemplating the waves and the sun playing on the water. Such bliss to be able to indulge such a simple pleasure again.