I was brought up in Manchester where, famously, it rains. Living in Teddington in West London, I notice that it doesn’t rain as much as it did when I grew up. But I was still surprised to find that the South East of England is in a drought! And that’s the point of this article: individually we have a very poor perspective on the slow changes in weather patterns that we call ‘climate’.
Fortunately, I live in the UK and we have possibly the best meteorological service in the world! So I can look at the Met Office Web Site. There one can examine maps like the one above for a variety of climate variables, showing how data for a quantity in a particular year or month compares with the average of that quantity over a 30 year period.
The ability to compare a year or a month with the 30 year averages is something at which we as individuals are chronically bad. But the statistics are reliable and they are available for us all – we paid for the data collection! The Met Office even have historic data from climate stations – an enormously valuable resource. So just for the hell of it I downloaded the data from Heathrow Airport. I plotted data for how the maximum daily temperature varied since 1948 – with the data averaged over a month and over a year.
And then just for the hell of it – I had had a glass of wine! – I also plotted the decadal (10-year) averages.
Plotting the decadal averages it is possible to discern that the maximum daily temperature has increased by around 1.5 °C over the last 60 years. Given the location – a major international airport – it is likely that some or all of this rise is not a signal of climate change, but an ‘urban heat island’ effect. However, that is not the point of this article. What I want to stress is this:
- Having this data available is fantastic. We should be proud of funding a service which makes this data available.
- You can download it for several sites in the UK and see how the data varies. Have any sites cooled?
- There is absolutely no way that an individual human being could have sensed such a tiny change in daily maximum temperature.
So I agree with one part of the famous quotation: There are lies, damn lies, and then there are statistics. But in this case I think it is statistics that we need to look to in order to find truth.