Noise in the signal

It’s just possible that you’ve heard the UK is unusually cold right now. We’re recording near-record low temperatures night after night, everyone’s stopped working/going to school, and of course we’ve run out of salt and grit for the roads.

And of course people have started to question how we can possibly have such cold weather when the planet is supposed to be getting hotter. One commentator even went so far as to suggest that blind faith in global warming led to councils not having enough grit stockpiled to keep the roads clear.

It doesn’t take much to understand the concept that there is a difference between the climate, which is the underlying trend, and the weather, which is the chaotic seasonal fluctuations around that trend, but for some it’s asking too much.

To put it in its simplest, starkest terms, climate is the signal, weather is the noise.

There are daily (day/night), seasonal, annual and decadal cycles that all interact to produce the weather. But cutting through all of that, the annual mean global temperature is on an upward trend. That’s why glaciers, icesheets and permafrost are melting around the world.

Much journalistic mileage has been made of the apparent fact that the UK is currently colder than Antarctica. Notwithstanding the fact that Antarctica is currently in the middle of its summer, there is another way of looking at this: shouldn’t we be worried that Antarctica is currently hotter than the UK?


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