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Dublin: 13 °C Thursday 15 November, 2018
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Met Éireann staff told not to link specific extreme weather events with climate change

The advice in a guidance document for staff says linking extreme weather to global warming was a problem.

Members of the public relax while sunbathing at the beach at Sandycove during the summer heatwave.
Members of the public relax while sunbathing at the beach at Sandycove during the summer heatwave.
Image: RollingNews.ie

STAFF IN MET Éireann have been given advice about what to say when asked if extreme weather events in Ireland are linked to global warming – and that there’s not a yes or no answer.

The advice is contained in a guidance document for staff on what to do when hurricanes, droughts, heat waves, and snowstorms are being blamed directly on climate change.

In their climate attribution statement, Met Éireann said questions linking these specific events to global warming were to be expected.

“There is no simple yes or no answer to the question,” says the guide.

“It is a fact that a current weather event is occurring in a climate that is approximately one degree Celsius warmer than pre-industrial times.

“But that alone does not mean that the event would not have occurred if the climate were colder by one degree (pre-industrial).”

‘Human influence on the climate system is clear’

The guide said extreme weather events are more likely to occur because of global warming, but that linking it to specific events was a problem.

It explained:

A comment along the lines of ‘we can’t say if the event is a result of climate change, but it is the type of event that is projected to occur more frequently in a change climate’ can be used if the question arises.

The guide was much clearer on what to say when asked about the link between human activity and climate change.

It said the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had concluded that “human influence on the climate system is clear”.

“Societies around the world are faced with increasing climate change risks,” said the guide.

It also explained that new climate modelling technology was developed, which might give clearer answers on whether events like the Beast from the East snowstorm or Ireland’s summer heatwave, could be linked to climate change.

The guide said: “These model simulations are expensive to run computationally, so it is not possible to get information on attribution in real time.

“Results of attribution studies have statements like ‘the event is 30% more likely to have occurred in a warmer climate’.”

‘Our forecasters deal with the weather’

The documents were obtained by transparency group Right to Know using EU environmental information regulations.

Séamus Walsh, head of the Climate and Observations Department in Met Éireann, said:

“There is no simple yes or no answer and often when we’re explaining this, we’re losing.

“Our forecasters deal essentially with the weather, which is the day to day variation. Everybody thinks because we all work in Met Éireann, we are all experts on climate change. But they are quite different skills so we like forecasters to talk on weather and our climate experts to talk on climate.”

He said that while the science was “more or less settled” on climate change, linking specific events to it was nowhere near as simple.

“The difficulty with these attribution studies is people want to know today and it’s really not possible to do that and it won’t be for a while,” he said.

“Focusing on extremes can muddy the water. The actual global temperature is continuing to rise even if on a day-to-day basis we don’t notice that.

“Man’s influence is written all over that one-degree rise, and that does have a knock-on effect on events. However, if you start commenting on individual events, you kind of get caught.

“And while these events will become a lot more frequent in the future; it’s just not that straightforward to link day to day weather events to climate change.”

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About the author:

Ken Foxe  / Journalist lecturer and freelance reporter

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