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Are we in for a cold winter? What are nature’s signs?

With record-breaking numbers of Berwick Swans arriving in Slimbridge, an El Nino year, and ‘freak ocean cooling over the North Atlantic,’ (courtesy of the Daily Star – who then proceeded to say we could be in for a food and fuel shortage!) it seems we could be in for the coldest winter for 50 years!

It’s typical of slow news days at this time of year: modern news outlets are all in such a rush to create a story rather than just report one that they resort to such scare-mongering tactics to drum up sales and appease their editors.

But what are the signs of cold winters to come? As a landscaper in Worcester whose office is in the finest gardens in the county, then it behove me to debunk the nonsense as well as to add the sage advice of my own experience.

Firstly, do the appearance of the Berwick Swans mean anything? The first to arrive this year, on its own, was on the 11th October. This is the earliest arrival for 50 years. Berwick Swans migrate all the way from Siberia as the cold winter descends, and this year the temperature there is 5-10 degrees below its October average. (The Guardian has a report that was published in 2010 almost to the very day I write this. And 2010 proved to be a cold winter).

The on-going El-Nino effect, which is forecast to be the most intense for 65 years, will have an important impact on the weather in England over the next three months. Winters in El-Nino years are likely to be colder and drier, and the ferocity of the El-Nino means that we are likely in for a similar winter as the last ‘Big Freeze’ in 2010, which brought record snowfall and low temperatures.

The lavish presence of berries on the trees and shrubs, such as Holly, also indicates that a cold winter is likely. Again, this was observed in 2010 in which the Telegraph ran an article in November of that year. (However, the presence of Holly berries after a warm autumn like the one we have had is probably more to do with the fact that the birds have lots of other berries to eat). What is more, The Woodland Trust estimates that Holly is ripening about 17 days earlier than a decade ago due to warmer temperatures (but at least the Mistle Thrush will be happy – these birds are known to guard Holly shrubs quite jealously as a winter food source).

And then, we must remember the Daily Star’s report about the Northern Atlantic. Back in 2010 the area around the Grand Banks was indeed cold, and this in turn effects the Jet Stream, pushing it south and leaving the British Isles susceptible to Siberian winds. Indeed, just two days before I wrote this article, the Guardian summed it all up with a very neat expression: “Forget El-Nino, start worrying about the Northern Atlantic Blob!” (God help us!).

For my part, I would offer a few lines of advice: make sure you leave enough food out for the birds (and water), and stock up on the winter essentials: rock salt, snow shovels (remember the price on Amazon of these a few years ago?), and perhaps think about winter tyres. Make sure you have a few emergency items in the car (boots, blankets, torches, small snow shovel, chocolate), and then, finally, buy a sledge in case they all sell out. Everyone loves sledges. But above all, don’t panic! Talk of food shortages and fuel shortages are examples of extremist-journalism. Still, with a freezing winter looking to descend, at least we can burn the papers!

Daily Star believes we might be in food and fuel shortages!

Guardian 2010 report:

Telegraph 2010 report:

The Guardian’s North Atlantic ‘Blob:’

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