A spatter of rain

It cooled for a while this evening, then an unsatisfying spatter of rain, no more than a few specks here and there, then back to how it was.

The satellite photos above, from NASA, show England and Wales at the start of May, and a few days ago.

It’s been hot and dry for that entire period. The driest early summer since records began, but hot with it too. Hot in a way that’s not right. 

There are certain protocols to the weather in these islands, and we grow up with those protocols in our bones. We indulge the rain and leaden skies because we know they won’t last. We’re always unprepared for snow, but the snow won’t last either, so why bother organizing defences. And we’re always surprised by sunny days, the better to seize on them with  bonhomie and glee.

Heatwaves are not unknown – there is a place in the protocols for such treats.  A heatwave may last a long weekend, or longer, up to two or three weeks in one of those legendary summers we all recall and still speak of. But not like this one. This one had outstayed its welcome by late May.

Where’s the fun in gabbing about the weather – our famous national pastime – when its presiding spirit is no longer playing along?

We had a disproportionately heavy and bitterly cold dump of Siberian snow across the land one weird weekend in March, which ironically stripped the supermarkets of chilled meat and fish and dairy products for up to three weeks. (A surprising sign of how unresilient our food supply chain is.) And now this.

So, these days, my heart sinks a little every morning when I draw the curtains and see today’s sky will be the same as yesterday’s, and the day before’s. For a while I was pleading, wishing in my mind for rain. I miss it. The playing fields and roadside verges converted to baked earth and straw appear to me like something from an alien land. But rain will come eventually, the land will green again. No-one is going to die for lack of a mouthful of clean water on this island, not this year. Maybe there’ll be lasting damage to agriculture. I don’t know. What I’m really wishing for is for this climate change thing not to be happening. But the weather is telling me it’s not a bad dream. This is really happening.

In public, there’s an unspoken accord not to connect the “heatwave” with climate change. Even though this is exactly what the long-term forecasts have been saying would happen, for years now. Intensifying extremes. The arctic overheats, the jet stream gets disrupted and slowed, and air masses stagnate in place. Once-in-a-hundred-year weather events become once-in-twenty-year then once-in-five-year events. And like when steroid-pumped Roger McGwire and Barry Bonds were smashing the home-run records – what was going on was clear from the mounting tally of homers, even though no individual big hit could be pinned on the drugs.

So, that’s how it is here, this summer, on this patch of the northern hemisphere. How’s it where you are?


6 Replies to “A spatter of rain”

  1. That is a stunning pair of photographs. If your agriculture is not adapted to long periods of drought – i.e. no irrigation systems – it could get very unpleasant, especially for those in the North that might not be able to get back on track when the rains come, because it will get too cold too soon. I was reading about potential shortages of forage for animals in the winter due to a very poor hay crop this summer.

  2. Serious ouch. My heart goes out to those in the UK whose daily bread is dependent upon a fair dosing of rain now and then. I’d heard there was unusual dryness, but hadn’t kept up.

    Normality in weather is a tricky thing – but this degree of variation from the usual expectation can have fairly serious consequences beyond what we witness most directly. You’ve mentioned the burnt up verges and paying fields – and Michelle rightly brings up the hay and pasture shortfall – but there will also be a longer latency for return of healthy levels of the wee soil critters that assist the grass in being at its best once water returns. A bit like the stripping of the supermarket you mention.

    Stiff upper lip is one thing, rekindling some sense of normalcy and avoidance of longer term depression seems quite more to balance. Here’s wishing you the best on those fronts.

    As for weather where I’m typing from – nearly the opposite. We’ve “suffered” from some relatively wet weather in the same period where you’ve been far to dry. We’ve not had flooding related deaths such as those in Japan recently, but there are many patches in agricultural fields damaged by excess water. On the flip side of this is the realization that areas not drowned out are taking full advantage of sufficient moisture. So it’s not all bad.

  3. Oh, and I forgot to mention – Mr. McGwire’s name is Mark. He was playing for the St. Louis Cardinals when all those hits were escaping the playing field. As a lifelong Cardinals fan, but not necessarily a fan of the “homerun” [why should you be rewarded for hitting the ball out of play??] I thought I’d offer the correction.

    And I’d also noticed it fascinating that a Brit might offer a baseball illustration. But the connection to statistical expectations is fairly clear…

    1. Ha! Thanks for setting me right on baseball stars, Clem. There appears to be a crossed circuit in my brain between the batter with the big forearms and soft-spoken Merseyside poet Roger McGough. I was living in Taiwan at the time, where baseball’s the national sport, and the McGwire/Sosa home run race was in the news. It seemed pretty obvious what was fuelling it and I was curious how long it would take to all come out.

      Glad to hear things are keeping within manageable limits where you are.

  4. Chris,
    I think most people can understand what you’re feeling. In the US both Texas and California have recently gone through extreme drought for a period of up to 5 years. In California the drought years were followed by a year of deluge followed by a year of wildfires, landslides, flooding, and now more drought.

    I have been following the science for most of the last decade. I see clearly the effects on weather from our changing atmosphere and oceans predicted by climate change scientists. It’s depressing to realize that people will not take action before the pain becomes extreme. It seems unfair that the poorest people have the least ability to deal with the consequences of storms and weather disasters. The media delights in chasing storms, gleefully recording the pain and suffering in its wake.

    It bothers me that too many Republicans in my country side with fossil fuel industry and still cling to climate change denial. Their control of our government means there is little effective action being taken to address climate change. We are closing our eyes to the messes our energy consumption has created.

    As for weather this year in Indiana it’s been unusual but like Clem nothing too extreme. Dry spells are followed with rain. Unusually hot weather doesn’t last more than a week or so before we get a reprieve. I’ve noticed that the corn and soybean in the fields are looking very healthy. We’ve gotten plenty of summer rain making everything still green, which is unusual for the end of July when the heat usually starts to dry out the soil and things turn brown. The tree frogs sing loudly after every rain and their voices drown out the cicadas who are normally very loud in the heat and dryness of midsummer.
    My heart goes out to everyone who is living with conditions far less accommodating.

    1. Jody – it’s sobering to hear about the far worse heat and drought related crises that have been taking place elsewhere in the world. I’ve read persuasive accounts linking the civil war in Syria and northward migrations of people from the Sahel and Mesoamerica to the persistence of hotter, drier climates in those regions. What’s happening in the British Isles at the moment is minor by comparison but I guess because it’s my land, and I’m attuned by upbringing to its natural patterns and cycles, I feel the disruption more acutely.

      There’s a gobsmackingly dumb tendency for our TV talking heads, weather reporters even, to refer cheerfully to this “wonderful weather”, “extraordinary summer which just keeps going on and on” etc, and that still appears to be the prevailing public perspective. I suppose the penny’s going to drop at some point, if it really does just go on and on and for example the winter feedstock crop fails. As you say, it seems we don’t respond until the pain becomes extreme.

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