The Irish Times view on storms and climate change: more intense, more often

The big picture of global warming is clearly influencing the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events over time

A man looks at sea spray in the Cleedagh River in Spanish Point, Co Clare, after Storm Franklin hit. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

The interplay between the small pictures from our personal daily experiences of weather, and the big pictures from long-term scientific research on climate change, is becoming more evident, though we need to be cautious in how we read it.

Many of us probably wondered, as storms Dudley, Eunice and Franklin successively battered our homes, whether we are now witnessing the climate crisis as a present, rather than a future, phenomenon. Peter Thorne of the Irish Climate Research Centre (Icarus) at Maynooth University rightly warns that "It's important not to . . . link any and every weather event to climate change".

Nevertheless, the big picture of climate change is clearly influencing the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events over time. Indeed, a remarkable long-term study from Icarus, published on Tuesday, tells us that the jet stream over the North Atlantic has increased its speed by 8 per cent over the past 141 years, and also moved its average position northwards by 330 kilometres, much closer to Ireland. Jet streams are fast bands of air circulating some 10 km above us, and their speed and position affects the patterns and intensity of storms. So while the recent tempestuous weather might indeed have happened without climate change, we do know that climate change makes such devastating events ever more likely.

The indications remain all too clear that we are not acting with anything like the speed required to decelerate this crisis. On the contrary, the International Energy Agency revealed yesterday that global emissions from the energy sector of the very powerful, if short-lived, greenhouse gas methane are 70 per cent higher than national governments report. Yet many of these leaks from fossil fuel operations, the IEA says, could not only be fixed by known technologies, with major and rapid climate benefits, but the cost could be met by savings through the additional natural gas generated. Offered a win-win solution, some governments and industries have opted to lose-lose. Without a radical shift in priorities, locally and globally, our lives are going to get much stormier.