Though the trend of wet summers due to a warming north Atlantic Ocean is cyclical, like many climate issues that we face today, the problem has been exacerbated by climate change. Northern Europe has been stuck with a series of miserable, wet summers in recent years while southern Europe (along the Mediterranean) has been dry. Just as there were serious crop failures in parts of the US this past summer, parts of Italy suffered from severe drought as well.
Sutton said these shifts have been occurring for many hundreds of years, but that global warming was also having an impact. “It is not now purely natural or purely a manifestation of human-induced climate change,” he said. “There is lot of evidence to show that climate change is changing the timing and amplitude of the temperature changes.” For example, he said, the cooler period from the 1960s to the 1980s occurred when soot and other pollution from dirty power stations cooled the planet.
The previous North Atlantic warm phase, which ran from the 1930s to the 1950s, also saw a run of wet summers in the UK, including severe flooding in August 1948, which closed the east coast mainline railway for three months, and the Lynmouth floods in August 1952 in which 34 people died.
The warming of the North Atlantic has been one reason for the record low in Arctic sea ice this summer. It is possible that the shrinking of the sea ice is also contributing to poor summers in the UK, as the exposed ocean waters warm in the sun. However, Sutton said that this remains to be proven by scientific work that is now underway.