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All-Year Winter

29 May 2012

A postscript ends this Blog as the body of the text was penned on or before May 18th and just prior to the astonishing run of brilliant weather!

They say that SAD syndrome, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, affects people that live in extreme northern climes and is often associated with the melancholy of the Nordic races.

As I write this on 18 May 2012 many Great Britons must qualify for this winter depressive illness, only formally described and named in America in 1984 and now recognized by doctors as a real illness. Our spring has passed us by and yet there is still no sign of warm weather and darkened skies plague our days. In moments of deepest gloom one can imagine how a nuclear winter might be ……except it would last forever.

Some treatments for SAD syndrome include: sunlight, bright lights as well as antidepressant medication, ionized air treatment and even hormone melatonin supplements. But we all know that the real answer is simple: Let there be SUNSHINE!

The awful weather we have been experiencing during the first four months of this year, with the exception of one unseasonal warm week in March, affects not just us humans but the animal kingdom too. The swallows that normally arrive at my house at the head of Nidderdale in mid April did not come in force until 8th of May, three weeks late. It was not until May 12 that I saw the first swifts and our regular pair of house martins that nest in an upper floor window eave have only just started to investigate their usual home – nearly a month late!

The weather it seems has got stuck. It is said that there has been a high pressure system over the Azores that is blocking better weather going north while everything to the south remains hot and sunny. For certain we know that severe storms over northern Africa and an enormous low pressure system over Spain have held up bird migration this year. Chiffchaffs, blackcaps and assorted warblers were all very late into the UK. My garden seems to be erupting in slow- motion, herbaceous plants remain inert or are creeping up out of the soil, the Ash trees look as if they will never come into leaf. 

So how shall we react to these strange climatic times? A little over a month ago there were sixteen counties with either hose-pipe bans or some level of drought restrictions and yet after two weeks of torrential rain seven of these areas have been removed from this list as aquifers and reservoirs have filled up.

Weather forecasters, since Michael Fish’s great hurricane blunder of the late 80’s, have become risk averse. The Met.Office tells us of weather alerts for the most minor conditions. Severe Weather Warnings pop up at the slightest provocation. We rarely believe them or take much notice any more; we have become sanitised to the Government’s political correctness/health and safety agendas. Ultimately this leads to disillusionment and now we don’t know when to take them seriously or not!

Climate change may mean that we’ll all have to get used to different weather patterns. But nobody really knows. Until a few years ago we had wet warm winters without much snow; then we had two winters in 2009 &10 when with loads of snow and arctic temperatures, the coldest for twenty or so years. So what are we to believe?

There is no doubt that the arctic ice cap is melting and inevitably this must lead to changes in our climate. Some say if the Humboldt Current that brings warm water from the South Atlantic gets interrupted by melting sea ice from the north we could be in for another ice age. Others predict hotter summers and wetter winters. Over the millennia weather has always changed but ours might happen over a few short years rather than through a gradual and more manageable time-scale. The last ice age was halted 7000 years ago (we should be in one now according to normal patterns) but then man learnt how to farm by growing crops, breeding animals and grazing cows and other beasts. These actions of the early farmers, unbeknown to them, started to create more carbon monoxide which in turn halted the onset of the next ice age. Another good reason to be thankful for the farming community.

Whatever we do we have to adapt to fit our circumstances. I am a Northern European, whilst I like the sun, I never feel really comfortable in very hot weather that you find in southern Europe, let alone the Middle or Far East where temperatures and humidity are more extreme. It doesn’t suit my body type; I get sunburned and feel exhausted, never on top form. Take me to Scandinavia and I feel as if I have come home! I remember being on business in the US and had to visit Phoenix in the Arizona desert in July. It has an unbelievable dry, desert heat. You never sweat because the perspiration you produce immediately turns to salt which in turn leaves tell-tale white stains on your clothing. Air-conditioning helps you survive. Everywhere you go in the US you find heavily air-conditioned buildings. These places are ice-cold. I remember once visiting a large advertising company on Madison Avenue and the higher you went up the building the colder the air conditioning became, by the time I reached the President’s sumptuous suite on the top floor it was positively arctic! However, once you step outside these man-made environments you are greeted with a wall of intense heat – very dry in desert states and like a wet blanket in the more humid climes of the Deep South.

How the early US settlers survived whilst heading out west to find new lands I will never know. It must have been unbearable. My Scottish great grandfather went to Salt Lake City in about 1860. After the rail line finished he travelled in a canvas covered chuck wagon with his wife and six young children (one died on the trail and had to be buried without a coffin). Eventually they returned to their native Glasgow, I don’t think the Mormon habit of having numerous wives went down well with my great grandmother!  However, it amazes me that they didn’t all expire on the trail from temperatures that were as alien to them as the land they were travelling across. Fair-skinned Scots folk are not renowned for finding a blazing sun to their liking!

29th  May Postscript

In contrast to my earlier ramblings since 22nd May we have been experiencing, beautiful warm weather with temperatures in the mid to upper twenties centigrade. I have concluded that the Gods must have heard our collective wailing and gnashing of teeth and given Britain some prolonged sunshine to cheer us all up. There is a palpable relief pervading the country despite gloomy financial coming from home and Europe. People are smiling and looking more cheerful once again. As the barometer has risen so has the garden has sprung into life, the bees are buzzing, bird song is louder and the house martins have built a nest in a week and are now in residence. It won’t be long before we are complaining it’s too hot or hear the usual doom-laden mutterings of ‘it won’t last’.

We should always be grateful for what we have got (or had) and this last week of constant sun certainly has topped up my own reservoirs of vitamin C and along with it my goodwill bank. I hope it will see me through the summer!


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