“What Do You Mean – ‘Brutal’?”
There is no doubt that the last few winters have been… disappointing.
Disappointing if you like snow, that is. If you prefer your winters wet, mild and windy, then it’s probably been a fantastic few years for you! Last year, for example, even areas that would normally expect a huge amount of snowfall saw little more than a smattering.
Most of the time, you will see the milder winters we have been experiencing have been put down to climate change. There is some truth in that, but the bigger impact has been a weather system known as El Nino.
“Why Should I Care?”
We’re all impacted by the weather, so that’s a good enough reason, to begin with. It also matters if you have found the lack of snow and the torrential downpours and flooding to be an issue. December 2015 was easily the warmest on record, which is a bit disappointing when you’re trying to get into the Christmas spirit.
“Okay, So What’s El Nino?”
It’s a warming of the Pacific Ocean which impacts global temperatures and weather throughout the world.
“I’m Bored Already.”
Aha, but here’s why it matters! 2015 saw one of the strongest ever El Nino events, and that’s directly related to our mild, wet winter.
“But That Was Last Year – So How Does It Matter This Year?”
When it comes to the ferocity of winter, El Nino is the Dr. Jekyll. It’s the good guy. It can even bring relief. For example, in California, they needed the El Nino to try and bring relief to drought conditions. In the Northern Hemisphere, El Nino is generally welcomed as it brings milder weather through all seasons.
Okay, so that does mean the past couple of summers have been something of a washout. But it’s still the good guy! Honest!
“So What’s El Nino’s Mr. Hyde?”
El Nino is about the Pacific Ocean warming. La Nina is its sister; its opposite; its Mr. Hyde.
La Nina is, as you would expect, the cooling of the Pacific Ocean. And it tends to send weather in one direction: cold. Very, very cold.
The last significant La Nina event was the largest on record and temperatures felt the impact. For the first time in over a decade, 2010 was not the hottest year on record – all because of the weather event.
Do you remember the winter of 2010? It was complete chaos. It seemed the snow would never end; people died; the transport system gridlocked for weeks. It was harsh, punishing and… it might be about to happen again.
“So This Is… Quite A Big Deal.”
Yes and no.
First and foremost, La Nina does not always follow El Nino, though it happens more often than not. It does appear to be confirmed to be occurring this winter and may continue through to next year, but it’s looking like a fairly weak event. (It’s worth noting this can change at any time, but the current signs look to be a significant but weak event, especially compared to 2010.)
That said, it’s still in comparison to five years of relatively warm, mild and wet winters. Winters when we have focused more on flooding than ice as causes of hazards. Winters when we have spray-painted snow rather than seen the real stuff; where scarves have been chosen for style over warmth.
It’s fair to say we may have been lulled into a false sense of security by a series of warm winters, which means we’re woefully unprepared.
“Okay, You’ve Got Me Sufficiently Concerned – What Do I Do This Year?”
This year, your standard winter prep would be wise to go into overdrive.
La Nina is a distant force that sometimes seems difficult to feel the influence of. Yet it can have a huge impact on how the forthcoming season is going to go.
The first step is to figure out where your weaknesses are.
“I Don’t Have Any Weaknesses!”
Good for you. But also: a lie.
The first area to consult is any elderly relatives, who suffer far more in the cold than their younger family. Get in touch with anyone you know over the age of 70 and see if they can handle a sudden freezing spell. This means simple things like having tinned food rations, medications up to date and ability to heat their homes. If you’re concerned they might struggle in that regard; then there are government schemes that might be able to help. Make phone calls and get care in place before the cold weather hits when the demand will inevitably surge.
“Done. What’s Next?”
With care for the most vulnerable taken care of, you can begin to get your house in order – literally.
Now is the time to do all those annoying little jobs you have been putting off. In freezing temperatures, especially if they’re sustained, your home is more vulnerable than ever. You’ve got a few weeks before the worst of it will begin, so doing it now will save you a lot of hassle to come.
Also look into doing the same things suggested for relatives. Stock up on tinned food and alternative fuel and light sources, in case there is a power outage. Buy a snow shovel and change the tyres on your car to winter versions.
It helps to try and envision what a day would be like if you woke up and realised that you’d been snowed in. How would you go through your everyday tasks? What do you need to make it easier to cope with? Role-playing the scenario means you can identify areas that you need to work on.
If money is tight, then focus on the main areas that may be a concern should the worst happen. Keep your mind on the basics of warmth and sustenance, so your funds meet the areas of most immediate need.
“Is This Not All A Bit Dramatic?”
It can be easy to think so in the UK. We don’t really have what would be considered “extreme” temperatures, compared to the rest of the world. The winter of 2010 may have been dramatic by our standards, but it was fairly basic for the Scandinavian countries.
Therein, of course, lies the problem. As we’re not ready, because our winters are not that dramatic, we don’t have the infrastructure to handle them in the same way. There’s a good reason for that as well – as these events are rare, it makes sense to spend public and private funds as wisely as possible.
Whether you do any of the above depends on how you feel. Do you want to chance it and risk the inconvenience, the potential danger, of the extreme weather coming to pass? Or be prepared? Neither is inherently wrong; nothing is certain but death and taxes, of course. If you want to roll the dice and hope for the best, that’s fine too – just try and have a plan in mind to keep everyone safe.
“Yes, Talking Of… What About Health of Humans?”
So far we’ve focused on the health of the home, but your health matters here too.
It is generally recommended that you should keep your home around 18C, but for some, this is unreasonable. Some of us will actually find that far too warm and uncomfortable, preferring to snuggle under duvets rather than turn up the thermostat.
There’s also a substantial financial burden to consider if you’re keeping to that temperature. So see it more as a goal rather than a set limit and run the heating strategically, particularly in the evenings.
If you or a member of your family has a health condition, then talk to your power supplier. If you are vulnerable and cannot afford to heat your home, there may be help available to make the cost more affordable. Don’t make yourself unwell because you can’t keep warm.
There’s also the higher potential for calamity due to icy conditions. Ensure all your footwear has been well worn-in and is comfortable. For extra grip on the soles, you can score them with a pair of scissors. If necessary, use a cane or walking stick – don’t be embarrassed about it either! What would you prefer, a cane or a pair of crutches thanks to a fractured ankle? There’s nothing wrong with getting a bit of help if you need it.
“So Is That Everything?”
Pretty much! Of course, there is always the chance nothing much will happen, that it will be another mild winter and you had nothing to worry about. That’s the problem with weather systems; they change so much it’s almost impossible to predict them.
Or, you will end up needing everything you have put in place. In that circumstance, you’ll be grateful for the effort you went to. And this way, you might actually get to go sledging for a change.