Wednesday, 29 July 2009

BBQ Summer

I’ve been a gas BBQer over recent years and I have been thinking of late that I need to return to more traditional methods – to be honest it’s probably because I have always wanted one of those oil-drum BBQs. Well I am kind of glad that I didn’t in the end do something about it this year as the cover has stayed on the BBQ so far this summer.

The seasonal forecast was half right (if a probability forecast can ever be deemed right or wrong) in that it has been a warm summer, but it’s also been a wet summer so far and by all accounts it doesn’t look a great deal different for August (you can see the Met Office’s seasonal forecast at So what did this year’s summer forecast not pick up on? It would seem that we have the Polar Jet Stream to blame yet again.

The Jet has once again been further south than we would expect for this time of year. This has helped to transport the weather systems across the Atlantic to the UK and stopped the development of one of those welcome ‘blocking high pressure systems’ from the south that brought our few weeks of warm sunny weather at the end of May.

So what’s caused this you could rightly ask? And the truth is that we don’t really know. We do know that there is a link with the ocean temperature patterns, and the natural cycles in El Nino and the North Atlantic Oscillation, but I don’t believe as yet that we have a good enough understanding of how these systems effect the wider global circulation. That being said it is remarkable what information the seasonal predications can provide and what an advance in our capabilities it has been to be able to produce this type of information which, despite the wet weather so far this summer, I would argue strongly holds real value.

I might not have had occasion to BBQ this summer but recently I did have the chance to visit my great Aunt who is a very remarkable 101 years old. We were talking about the vagaries of another wet summer and she recited a poem to me that I had long since forgotten. It’s a poem called ‘Rain in Summer’ by Henry Longfellow. It’s too long to reproduce here, but to give you a taster here is the first couple of verses:

How beautiful is the rain!
After the dust and heat,
In the broad and fiery street,
In the narrow lane,
How beautiful is the rain!

How it clatters along the roofs,
Like the tramp of hoofs
How it gushes and struggles out
From the throat of the overflowing spout!

Odd that it takes an American to so eloquently describe to us the British obsession. It’s a beautiful poem that I would definitely recommend having a look at in a quiet moment, perhaps best left until it’s too wet to go outside and you can read it whilst staring out of your window at the wet and rusting BBQ sitting in the corner of the patio.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Word Bingo at the Conference Dinner

Our conference dinner is always a fun event for several reasons. I enjoy it because it’s one of the few opportunities to see our many academic members come together as a UK community. The other reason is that we present our awards at the dinner, and it’s nice to celebrate success.

A good night was had by all, but it did make me feel as though I’m well and truly in middle-age. Looking out to the dinner audience when it came to my bit to speak, it was great to see lots of young scientists there. And some of them confessed t playing the games that I used to play when I came to those kinds of events at their age, like word bingo.

If you’ve never played it, you basically put together a bingo sheet but instead of numbers you have words that you expect people to say. The first to fill the sheet wins. Their slight variation was to count how many times I said certain words. Amongst the highest ranked were ‘weather’ with 16 mentions, and 11 for ‘climate’ and ‘thank you’. Apparently the winner was ‘meteorology’ with 21 which beat the ‘Society’ only getting 19 mentions. My Head of Communications will want to make sure I get the ‘Society’ to the top of the ranking next time around!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Can we enjoy the Cricket in our BBQ Summer?

I was just relaxing on Sunday after the busy schedule of our biennial conference and looking forward to our Ashes series when two things caught my eye. The first was that we were holding a test match in Cardiff. This fairly historic event seems to have completely passed me by, but goes down well in our household – my wife’s Welsh.

The second was an article we recently published in our house journal Weather on the correlation between El Nino (the large-scale warming of the oceans off the coast of Peru) and the outcome of the Ashes test matches. Apparently there is a statistically significant link between what we call a positive El Nino phase and Ashes victories for the Australians.

Thinking about this it does make sense as a positive El Nino phase tends to lead to prolonged warm, dry conditions in Australian, and our antipodean friends must be more used to batting and bowling on hard, dry pitches than we are, that’s for sure. I know what you’re thinking; it’s nothing to do with El Nino, they are just better than us. Well that may be so, but the study also shows that in the opposite phase, which we call La Nina, we do far better in terms of Ashes results.

What does that mean for this test series I hear you ask. Well, we are just entering a positive El Nino phase, but often the effect of El Nino relatively speaking is less in the UK than in Australia – so you have to make of that what you will, but I still have my fingers crossed for us to sneak it on a gripping last test!

By the way, if you are planning to go to the Cardiff test, then Friday this week looks the best day – it looks a very cloudy and wet weekend. For the remaining part of the season, I’d aim for one of the July test matches. Climatologically July is sunnier and drier than August in the UK, so on average you’re more likely to have less rain interruptions and more sunshine. Whether that will help the home team is another matter.