Great Britain in the summer is a fantastic place to be if you follow world-class sport, or if you’re a fan of the weather. The fourth Ashes test starts today and the location (Old Trafford in Manchester) inevitably brings the thought of rain delays. And it looks like the rain will deliver on its promise. The golfers at the Open at the Royal Liverpool Club in Hoylake, teeing off tomorrow, are made of sterner stuff, and it’ll take a bit more to stop play there.
But some of the most remarkable instances of the variability and unpredictability of British weather took place a couple of weeks ago. For anyone interested in the thoughts of professional meteorologists this was a bonanza – qualifying for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone saw three F1 teams, each with their own meterologist, each plugged into the weather radar feed, give three different short-term weather forecasts in the course of a couple of minutes to their drivers. At the same time, the radio was abuzz with forecasts of the potential for rain in Leeds, where the third Ashes test was at boiling point.
While that is happening we also have the remarkable weather split between Britain and parts of northern Europe and the rest of mainland Europe, with the jet stream forming a barrier stopping the heatwave that’s afflicting mainland Europe spreading to the UK. Take all this together and Britain’s climatic variability, and the impact of it upon our activities (and its focus as a topic of conversation) is clear.
It’s not just sport of course – farmers in the east have been affected by a dry north-easterly wind for much of the early part of the year, which has a major impact on crops. The lumpy nature of the rain that has fallen means that while average rainfall may hold up over a year, it can hardly be described as a smooth pattern.
Some of this is in the nature of Britain as the beneficiary of a maritime, generally benign climate, but the variability is difficult, and variability seems to be increasing with climate change. We are seeing adaption to this happen before us, whether in agriculture (see Good weather for wine?, Kevin Kennedy (burges-salmon.com) or the All England Lawn Tennis Club having decided that if they are to house the world's most famous tennis competition, they need to be able to put matches on when it is raining, and investing in roofing their show courts.
Resilience, and particularly resilience to a lack or superabundance of rain, is one of the watchwords for the next 20 years, and the rural land has a central role to play. This will surely lead to a greater push, coupled with incentives, for private reservoirs to harvest water, investment in infrastructure to distribute it locally and nationally to where it is needed, and incentives to both retain water on land and protect housing and other critical bits of infrastructure from flooding when the rain buckets down.
This will come down to how land is physically shaped and used, and it dovetails very well with the direction of travel on soil health, which offers the potential of greater water retaining capacity. In a year where the quality of water in rivers and the impact of run-off has been a headline issue, we can expect there to be more focus on this as a key area of infrastructure, to be delivered at farm scale through a mixture of physical improvements and changes as to how land is used, that may start off subtly, but will have profound impacts over the longer term.
While it is never wise to stick too slavishly to the British weather forecast, it is impossible to ignore the likelihood of rain intervening in this match. Showers are predicted to play a part throughout but there is a particular concern over the weekend, when things are set to get extremely wet.