Met Éireann say ‘no simple answer’ on whether recent weather events are linked to climate change

By Ken Foxe

Staff in Met Éireann have been told to be non-committal when asked if specific extreme weather events in Ireland are linked to global warming.

The advice is contained in a guidance document for staff on what to do when hurricanes, droughts, heatwaves, and snow storms 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).

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

It explains: “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 is 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”.

It also explains that new climate modelling technology might give clearer answers on whether events like the Beast from the East snow storm or the summer heatwave could be linked to climate change.

The document was 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 is “more or less settled” on climate change, linking specific events to it is nowhere near as simple.

“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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