Rhein on Energy and Climate

Belgium and other West European countries have witnessed one of the most bizarre March ever. After a spring-like beginning it turned unusually cold in the second half of the month with icy north-eastern winds making the cold feel really icy.

Many People who tend to identify climate change only with rising temperatures may feel confirmed in their belief that climate change is not taking place. They may have been shocked by Belgium’s leading climate scientist, Jean-Pascal Van Ypersele, telling them that the cold spell might on the contrary be attributed to climate change.

Van Ypersele assumes that the melting of the ice caps, so far the most visible consequence of climate change, may have an impact on global wind streams, replacing conventional west-east winds by more frequent winds blowing north-south.

As to the big shifts of temperatures we have to see them as an intrinsic element of the rising instability of the global weather system, which might also be linked to more rapid changes of wind streams. This may apply in particular to Western Europe with its two vast solar storage reservoirs in the Mediterranean and Atlantic Ocean that provide us with mild humid temperatures during the long autumn period, whenever winds blow from there.

If it turned out that, due to the melting of polar caps, we were to benefit less often from Western winds in winter and spring this might, indeed, have a strong impact on our weather which might become much drier during certain parts of the year.

Climate change may thus also have an impact on the direction of air traffic and noise around cities like Brussels or Berlin.

But as one swallow does not introduce spring, one cold winter with icy northern winds is no proof of climate change. We need to carefully observe and register a series of winters to obtain certitude that something permanent is about to happen.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels

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