A freezing Russian spring has reignited the climate change debate

March in Russia saw the harshest frosts in 50 years, with temperatures dropping to –25° Celsius in central parts of the country and –45° in the north. It was the coldest spring month in Moscow in half a century.

The freezing spring followed a severe winter when temperatures did not rise above –19° for 15 days in a row in Moscow. The region had double the usual amount of snow, more than three metres. As of end March, the snow depth was still 70 centimetres, the highest in more than 20 years. Two-metre deep snow covered by ice crust led to the death of many wild animals in Russia’s Far East.

Linked to Arctic

Winter started to give ground grudgingly in April but halfway through the spring, the fields in much of Russia are still blanketed in snow. Weathermen say spring is a full month behind schedule in Russia causing migrating birds to delay their return to Russia from the south.

Russia is famous for its biting frosts but this year, abnormally icy weather also hit much of Europe, the United States, China and India.

Record snowfalls brought Kiev, capital of Ukraine, to a standstill for several days in late March, closed roads across many parts of Britain, buried thousands of sheep beneath six-metre deep snowdrifts in Northern Ireland, and left more than 1,00,000 homes without electricity in Poland.

British authorities said March was the second coldest in its records dating back to 1910.

China experienced the severest winter weather in 30 years and New Delhi in January recorded the lowest temperature in 44 years. According to Rajendra Kumar Jenamani of the India Meteorological Department, winters in northern India have become colder in recent years.

A winter-weary prosecutor in Ohio indicted, even if tongue-in-cheek, the famed groundhog Phil, who had wrongly predicted an early spring this year.

With snowstorms still battering the U.S. mid-West in early April, the DTN market forecaster issued a warning last week that low temperatures may hurt winter crops in the U.S., Russia and Ukraine and delay the start of field work for spring planting in the Canadian Prairies.

Meteorologists said the unseasonably cold weather in the northern hemisphere this year was a result of the so-called atmospheric Arctic Blocs, with higher than usual air pressure over the Polar regions pushing cold currents southward. They possibly linked the phenomenon to the rapid loss of Arctic ice in recent years. Thus, the record-breaking winter colds this year would seem to support the theory of global warming.

British forecast

However, Britain’s Met Office in December said that global warming would take a vacation in coming years. It scaled back by 20 per cent its earlier projected rise in global temperatures through 2017. The readjusted forecast means that there will have been no global warming for two decades since the record warm year of 1998.

The new prediction was all the more significant as it came from the British meteorological establishment, a fiery champion of man-made global warming, blamed on rising industrial discharges of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide or CO.

Critics have long accused the British Met Office of politicised bias in favour of the anthropological global warming theory.

According to BBC climate correspondent Paul Hudson, the Met Office global temperature predictions had been “regularly too warm.”

“In the 12 years to 2011, 11 out of 12 forecasts were too high — and… none were colder than expected,” he wrote in January.

Climategate

Three years ago the Met Office’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research was hit by a “climategate” scandal when hackers released hundreds of private emails in which British climatologists appeared to discuss doctoring temperature figures to show relentless global warming and silencing dissenting scientists.

The revised temperature forecast from British meteorologists bolstered the case of man-driven climate change sceptics among Russian scientists.

“There are no grounds to claim that global warming will continue till the end of this century,” said academician Vladimir Kotlyakov, head of the Institute of Geography at the Russian Academy of Sciences. “Early signs of cooling are already there and the trend may pick up in coming years.”

“Human activity and industrial discharges do have a great impact on environment, but forces of nature are far more powerful,” said the scientist, who has studied Antarctic ice cores that are hundreds of thousand years old. “Climate moves in natural cycles of warmer and colder, drier and more humid times.”

Scientists who study solar activity also predict global cooling.

“The past cold winter of course has nothing to do with climatic changes that occur over decades-long periods,” said Dr. Yuri Nagovitsyn, academic secretary of the Pulkovo Observatory near St. Petersburg. “But our forecast is that [the] next generations will have to grapple with temperatures several degrees lower than those we have today.”

While long-term climate change remains a hotly debated issue, the no-warming forecast for the next five years from the British Met Office is good news for Dr. Vladimir Bashkirtsev, who together with a fellow solar physicist made a $10,000 bet in 2005 with climate-warming enthusiast James Annan of Japan’s Research Institute for Global Change (RIGC). The Russian scientists will win if average world temperatures for 2012-2017 are at least 0.01°C lower than they were in 1998-2003.

Nagaraj Adve responds