The system of winds that is responsible for bringing weather to Northern Europe and North America may be changing, new research has found.
A study suggests that the jet stream, a high-speed air current that carries weather around the globe, is taking a longer, more meandering route than usual. This means that weather patterns will remain the same in some areas for longer periods.
If accurate, these findings could explain the recent stormy spell that has brought devastating flooding to many parts of the UK.
“This does seem to suggest that weather patterns are changing and people are noticing that the weather in their area is not what it used to be”, said Prof Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University in the US.
“We can expect more of the same and we can expect it to happen more frequently.”
It has been suggested that the jet stream has been affected by the warming of the Arctic region, caused by manmade climate change.
Francis said that it was too early to definitively confirm the link, but added, “As we have more data I do think we will start to see the influence of climate change.”
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, defence secretary Philip Hammond said climate change was “clearly a factor” in the prolonged stormy period.
Labour leader Ed Miliband has also partly blamed a lack of government spending in the fight against climate change for the crisis.
“What we’ve learnt from what’s happened over the last few weeks, tragically, is that the costs of not acting on climate change in terms of the billions of pounds that are lost in terms of businesses and families as well as the human costs are greater than the costs of acting”, he said, also speaking on Sunday.
“Climate change will mean more floods and more storms and that’s why we’ve got to treat it like any other national security issue and that means uniting as a country behind a national effort to do more to defend against the floods, to invest in clean energy and to show leadership internationally to persuade other countries to be part of the fight against climate change.”
In a recent statement, the Met Office also said it was likely that this “exceptional” weather was linked to global warming.
It said that while there was “no definitive answer on the possible contribution of climate change to the recent storminess, rainfall amounts and the consequent flooding”, there was consistent evidence suggesting that “daily rainfall rates are becoming more intense, and that the rate of increase is consistent with what is expected from the fundamental physics of a warming world”.
The influential economist and climate change expert Lord Stern last week echoed these warnings, saying that ignoring climate change will bring even more devastating consequences.