The John Griff column: There’s more than a storm brewing…

One of the nation’s favourite pastimes – or perhaps the original icebreaker between strangers in a lift - has been much in evidence over the last few days. I mean, of course, talking about the weather. Firstly, with Storm Isha (pronounced Ee-sha) and then Jocelyn (pronounced as you might imagine), their impact (excuse the pun) has been considerable. There’s more to come, too.
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Fascinatingly, Britain’s ‘Storm Season’ is as long as it could possibly be – namely the entire year. Beginning in early September and continuing until the end of August, we have an entire twelve months with which to run through the alphabet of storm names. With Jocelyn this week we are now at a point where ten separately named storms have made their way across the country, leaving tens of thousands of us without power and millions of us watching the skies, watching the television (assuming we’re the lucky ones to still have power), watching for flying wheelie bins, shed roofs and errant washing. We’re also praying that our fences will be spared Mother Nature’s power. And power it is. Some years ago a storm which blew down the Nene Valley cracked the wooden posts holding up my garden fence. As I struggled to wrangle the now unstable fence panels from becoming dangerously airborne, I was aware of a shrieking wind all around me and the shuddering of the panels as they vibrated along a one-hundred-foot line of fencing. There was nothing for it but to wait out the storm and then pick up the pieces. As Isha whirled around in the early hours I was a regular visitor to my security camera app, checking that none of the trees in my garden had parted company with any of their boughs or had crashed through the roofs of either my own home, or those of my neighbours. By morning it was clear that they hadn’t and that the fence too had survived – but it was a genuinely anxious and exhausting time while it lasted.

With Jocelyn this week, we are nearing new meteorological records. It was in March of 2016 that our storm names reached the letter ‘J’ in any given storm season. In the same year they actually reached ‘K’ to establish a new record – we’re almost halfway through the alphabet and still with a week of January to go. To equal the record, we await Kathleen – to establish a new record we’ll be encountering Lilian. I’m sure that the insurance industry is already bracing itself for claims over this winter – no doubt it will be rubbing its hands at the premiums it will be able to charge homeowners and businesses in the coming months after the current storms have, perhaps, receded into our collective memory.

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Take a look at almost any country on the planet and there too you will find residents counting the cost of Earth’s increasingly predictable, unpredictable weather. A couple of weeks ago I watched, amazed by separate but simultaneous news reports of bush fires and extensive flooding in neighbouring states of Australia. I grant you that the country there has plenty of space to weather (no pun intended but created all the same) its storms, but the increase in temperatures and the effects on the planet’s weather have conspired to produce bizarrely conflicting states of weather adjacent to each other. Even here in Northamptonshire between Isha and Jocelyn we experienced a temperature swing of over fifteen degrees in as many hours. The reality channel Big Jet TV (it’s on YouTube and elsewhere) commentated with increasingly lurid livestreams of aircrews battling the elements on their final approaches into Heathrow Airport. I watched for a time and heard references to the ‘go around queue’ – and a long one at that. A ‘go around’ is where an aircraft’s captain decides that it is too difficult or dangerous to commit to a landing, so throws the throttles wide open and literally launches up and away from the tarmac to attempt another landing later. Or fly to another airport where conditions are more favourable. Like France. That’s fine if your journey began in France but a bit of an eyeopener if you’ve taken off from Glasgow, intending to finish your journey shortly afterwards in Manchester and you actually stagger off the plane three hours later as some did this week at Paris Charles de Gaulle. For those carrying passports on what had started as an internal, UK flight (and where passports are not normally necessary), there was at least the opportunity to find a hotel room in the city. For the majority who didn’t, it was an uncomfortable night on an arrivals hall chair, or the unforgiving and cold floor.

Trees bearing the brunt of this week's storm force winds Trees bearing the brunt of this week's storm force winds
Trees bearing the brunt of this week's storm force winds

Beyond this, though, what of things closer to the county of Spires and Squires? Storm Henk put Billing Aquadrome on the national TV news agenda and did what so many other storms have done in the past – Rush Mills came under pressure again and many held their breaths, having heard the sirens go off. It’s almost commonplace these days.

Climate has been a topic of global conversation for years – now it’s a global alarm. Governments around the world have said repeatedly that they are committed to change, not only to stop a rise in temperature but reverse it. And yet the rate of change in the extremes of our weather seems to be increasing. Last year’s COP28 discussions in Dubai seemed to achieve little by way of reporting of actual change. This year, as never before, the world will be going to the polls with widespread general elections affecting many of the largest nations. Climate change will be in every manifesto for politicians looking for votes, but will it be backed up by manifesto pledges with firepower or mealy-mouthed manifesto pledges for the masses?

In the meantime, the world turns, earthquakes shake the ground and volcanoes spew lava. One man, currently vying for a top position, says that what we are experiencing is simply the natural cycle of the planet and nothing to do with human intervention. I wonder if he’ll be on Capitol Hill – or another hill for that matter – when he says it next.

He might need to be.

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