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Monday, 23 April, 2001, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
Why is the weather so bad? David Braine quizzed

April is the cruellest month - as the saying goes. And this month has certainly lived up to that.

Traditionally a month of showers, this April has seen both hail and snow.

March saw the wettest year since 1988 and February was the coldest since 1996. And some parts of the UK are still expecting snow.

Why is the weather so bad? Is it due to global warming? When is the climate going to stabilise?

The BBC's weather presenter David Braine answered your questions in a live forum on Monday.

To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:

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Highlights of interview:


George McLean:

Is there going to be a heat wave in May/June this year to make up for the bad weather this island has been experiencing of late?


Adrian Jones, London:

Does such a wet start to the year normally indicate a hot summer?


Newshost:

Two similar questions here - I suppose what they are asking is there any justice in the weather?


David Braine:

Unfortunately we are not able to forecast quite so far ahead. The trend obviously will rely on what we have seen over the last 50 years or so in terms of climate warming. There was no direct correlation for the fact we have had a very wet spring or a very wet winter to find a very fine summer - a lot of sunshine and slightly higher temperatures. Anything could happen this coming summer and the nature of the UK climate being so close to such a huge amount of ocean means that we could have either. We could have some more rain during the course of May and June or we could have some dry weather.


Newshost:

So there is no reason to think that because have had our bad news now that the news is necessarily going to get any better to make up for it?


David Braine:

I am afraid not.


James Done, Reading, England:

How can we distinguish anthropogenic (man-made) climate change from natural climate variability?


David Braine:

A lot of research has gone into the human impact on climate - it has been done by the Hadley Centre which is the climate research centre. They have come up with some statistics as to exactly how we contribute to global warming. Obviously there are some natural elements - if a volcano goes up and chucks a lot of particulate matter up into the atmosphere that does have an effect on the climate because obviously it is the same as ourselves putting particulate matter into the atmosphere.

But in general over the past 50 years or so, the human impact on climate change has become far more important than many other factors. We are looking at change in the climate being generated by the fact that we continue to put a lot of CFCs, output from car exhausts etc. The more we are involved - the more the population increases then the more impact we do have on climate change. So in general over the next 50 years our impact is going to be far higher than those that naturally occur.


Newshost:

People hear about global warming - if you are in Britain at the moment it doesn't feel much like global warming. Why is it so cold?


David Braine:

We have just moved into one of the cycles we occasionally get at this time of year. It is not unusual to find some snow in April - it not unusual to find frost in April either - gardeners are aware of that. We have had a run of northerly winds which has brought the cold air down from the north. Through this week we may well find south westerly winds lifting the temperature and giving us some slightly milder air.


Richard Carter RNR, London, UK:

Is weather forecasting any more accurate now than say 10 years ago?


David Braine:

Well I think it is. I think we have got a lot better at it. We have certainly got more help - help from some very powerful computer modelling, help also from the fact that the global coverage is better. We have more reports about the weather every hour around the world than we have ever had before and that obviously helps us as a starting point to produce the forecast. This is not just for the UK but a forecast for around the world.


Colin Warner, Bedford:

Has all the rain that's been had of late (floods etc.) gone anyway to topping up the aquifers that the water authorities told us a couple of summers ago were so long term depleted?


David Braine:

Well after the wettest year since 1766 I would have thought so! But I can't speak for the Environment Agency - what I can say is that we have a very close relationship with them - they provide us with information on the levels of rivers etc. and from the information that I have received, there is every indication that all of the acquifers are absolutely full.


Mark Thornton, Hertford, UK:

I am surprised at the number of days this spring which have been considerably MORE pleasant than the forecast (on the BBC weather site) suggested. Are the forecasters pessimists?


David Braine:

We have been described as that in the past - we hopefully do look on the bright side every now and then. If we certain of a reasonable dry spell with some sunshine - which everybody wants - then it is a pleasure to forecast it.

The nature of spring weather is showers. April typically is characterised by showers - one minute you have a shower and the next minute you have sunshine. You can be literally only a few miles away where they are having a lovely sunny day and therefore the forecast has gone right - we forecast sunshine - yet just down the road only a few miles away, it is pouring with rain. There is not much we can do about that - you either get caught in a shower or you don't.


Max Pilotti, Widnes, Cheshire:

Do you have to have qualifications in meteorology to become a weather presenter on TV?


David Braine:

It depends on which channel you work for. Certainly for the BBC we are looking at people who have been trained as forecasters. Some of them have degrees in physics and maths and then go to the Met Office and are trained as forecasters on a very comprehensive course in forecasting. Some of them, like myself, have come from a different background. I came from the Navy and have a degree in oceanography and meteorology and trained as a forecaster in the Navy and then joined the BBC.


Paul Brogan, Swindon, UK:

As the climate seems to have undergone a fairly significant change in recent history (relatively speaking) is it not now prudent to re-assess the timing of the seasons and adjust the dates to suit the current conditions?


David Braine:

It is a valid point. I don't think I can speak for how we can describe the seasons - I don't think that is part of my job. The Hadley Centre has produced some guidance on what we are likely to see over the forthcoming 50 to 100 years. We may well see autumns that are wetter and more active with more severe weather. We may well see milder winters and perhaps a bit more rain during the summer time. But whether we can actually say where summer and winter starts and finishes is a very difficult thing to gauge.


Anand Singh, London, UK:

What is your opinion about the fact that we are currently in or coming into an Ice-Age?


David Braine:

Unfortunately I cannot comment on that - I am not up to speed on general forecasting for that length of time. There are always cycles in millions of years terms when we are just a blink of an eye in terms of the time scale. Things do change and we could well be moving into either a hot spell or a cold spell over the next hundred thousand or even five hundred thousand years. It is very difficult to tell at the moment.


Newshost:

In summary then, looking at your experience in weather forecasting, would you say that what we are seeing now is just one of those years that occurs every now and again or is it really exceptional?


David Braine:

I think what you have got to remember is the difference between what happens every year, where we do sometimes get hot summers and sometimes get cold summers - those kind of things happen. The nature of the UK's climate - being so close to such a big part of the ocean - we do get big seasonal changes. But the general trend over the forthcoming 50 to 100 years, as described by the Hadley Centre, is that global climate is gradually warming up and that sea levels will eventually start to rise. But whether we are going to get exactly the same kind of scenario this coming winter - whether we are going to get more flooding - this is very difficult to predict. It could just be one of those things - this coming autumn and winter we could have a dry spell.

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