Professor Joe Goldblatt, Emeritus Professor of Planned Events, Queen Margaret University
In Scotland we have experienced an unparalleled run of brilliant sunshine and phenomenally beatuiful weather. This week we experienced in the United Kingdom the highest temperature since the 1920’s. This would not be too remarkable except for the fact that our country is generally perceived to have some of the most rubbish weather in the world.
This rapid and dramatic change in weather conditions has aroused my innate curiosity. Why did this happen? What will happen next?
The Guardian newspaper, while recognizing the massive decline in airplane flights, observed that “Aircraft make a vital contribution to forecasts by routinely sending reports of in-flight weather conditions, and more than 1 million aircraft observations were collected each day last year around the world.” We therefore have lots of data from which to measure our rubbish weather when we have planes in the air. But what about how?
Despite the lack of real time weather data from airplanes, our Scottish national tourism agency Visit Scotland proudly describes our weather as follows.
Scotland’s climate is actually quite moderate and very changeable, although on occasion we get really hot or really cold weather. As the old Scottish saying goes, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes!’
Therefore, as a result of the absence of airplanes and the contrails they produce, I wondered why are we experiencing this bucolic weather and will it continue? I specifically wanted to know if the absence of airplanes could be significantly affecting our weather patterns in Scotland. It turns out that I am not alone in being curious about this recent intervention.
In 2001, following the halting of air travel after 11 September, scientists in the United States studied the absence of airplanes and determined that daytime temperatures indeed did rise and the nights were cooler, however, the argument was by how much. Some reports put the afternoon temperatures as much as 1.5C higher and the nights similarly cooler, others said it was a fraction of a degree. This matters because it seemed to confirm that the diurnal temperatures, the difference between day time highs and night time lows, increased significantly with the absence of aircraft. As a result, this significant rise in heat could be dangerous for some people and for farmers it could be disastrous if it produced a late spring frost.
The Covid 19 pandemic is an unprecedented opportunity to further observe and measure these weather patterns to see if there is a valid cause and effect scenario that has produced our, thus far, brilliantly beautiful Scottish weather. However, there is also a wider opportunity to examine our environmental priorities in the future as well as our value system as citizens and stewards of planet earth.
One key question may be that if we find there is a positive correlation between fewer flights and better weather, what we might do next? Could we, as an evolving human species, who love to travel, potentially accept the trade off of fewer airplane flights in return for a lower carbon foot print and therefore potentially a more pleasant sustainable environment. For example, would we accept the future convention of taking one staycation within our country per year and only one international holiday that would require air travel. I do not know the answer, however, it would be interesting to see the response from a valid and reliable survey of the travelling public.
Another key issue for the tourism and hospitality industry will be how do they adjust their marketing offers to promote more local and regional trade to insure their revenues do not fall as a result of fewer custom potentially arriving through air flights.
In 2019, nearly 15 million passengers used the services of Edinburgh International Airport. The number of passengers has increased year upon year with a growth rate of 6.7 percent since 2017. As we progress into the post Covid 19 economy, do we desire to and shall we eventually return to this level of performance or will the travelling public make other choices based upon their new fondness for the weather we have experienced during the pandemic, if this cause and effect may be proven?
I do not know the answer, nor can I or others right now be certain that the absence of airplanes in the sky are the absolute cause of this new weather experience for Scots.
However, I must admit that as we grapple with the daily dark forces of illness and death caused by the pandemic, it is so refreshing to step outside, breathe deeply and appreciate the overpowering symphony of birds chirping, the brilliant sun shining and mother nature seeming to be happier than ever before in my memory. One day I may wonder, as I believe others will as well, were the Spring and Summer months of 2020 merely Brigadoon or could it have been the beginning of what may be referred to one day by future tourism promoters as the dawn of the new Scottish Riviera.
The Guardian, Decline in Aircraft Flights Clips Weahter Forecaster’s Wings, (9 April 20200
Visit Scotland, viewed 31 May 2020, https://www.visitscotland.com/about/practical-information/weather/
The Guardian, How Flight Sutdowns May Affect Temperatures, viewed 30 March 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/news/2020/mar/30/how-flight-shutdowns-may-affect-temperatures