ABC of Weather: Gulf Stream

We gardeners here in the UK should thank our lucky stars for the wonder that is the Gulf Stream. Without it our average annual temperatures would be lowered substantially and we'd be 'enjoying' the same kind of climate as that found in Labrador. It also means we have one of the widest choices of plants in the world for our garden palette: from dainty alpines through to lush tropical foliage. It's one of the things that helps to shape us as a nation of gardeners.

What is the Gulf Stream? It's a northerly flowing ocean current which brings warm water to us from the Gulf of Mexico. It's part of the 'conveyor belt' of water flowing between that area and the Arctic. In the latter region, water cools, sinks because it's heavier and starts to flow southwards to replace its warmer, lighter counterpart flowing northwards.

And what has this to do with the miserable looking olive tree in my garden? We all know how bad the last winter has been and my poor unprotected olive tree is suffering as a result. One of the reasons for this could be because scientists have found the Gulf Stream to be 30% weaker than it was half a century ago. This may have been sufficient to allow the colder, north continental European air to dominate for longer periods over the UK than usual and in turn block the warmer, wetter Atlantic weather systems we know and love coming in from the south-west.

Of course it's rather simplistic to say a weaker Gulf Stream explains our cold winter, or to extrapolate this means all our winters will be cold from now on should it remain in its weaker state. Our weather and climate are much more complex than just one factor governing it and after all, we usually have one bad winter in around seven of them anyway. However, it's interesting to note the Met Office has increased its scientific monitoring in Greenland to see how this area impacts on the Gulf Stream and in turn our weather/climate here in the UK.

It also shows the impact of Global Warming may mean we might not be reaching for the shorts and shades after all...

For more in the way of G, do have a look at the ABC Wednesday blog.


  1. Interesting post VP - here on the west coast this winter I think we have fared better weather wise than central England.

    Which makes up for last summer, a little although I would still prefer long hot DRY summers and my olive looks rather like yours, struggling.

  2. Whereas the snow has gone southward, for the most part, in eastern US. Labrador may have gotten less snow than Washington, DC in 2010. Weird weather.

    On behalf of the ABC Wednesday team, thank you! - Ramblin' with Roger

  3. I learned many things today just by blog hopping on ABC Wednesday. Thanks for the great information and Happy Wednesday.

    G is for Gold

  4. Yes to the upside down switch, VP, it is alive and well in the southeastern US with snow and well below normal temps for the entire winter. Now, what will the summer bring, is the burning question? I do hope you don't turn into Labrador, you will need a whole new wardrobe. Balaclava anyone? :-)

  5. Hello there VP !@ Long time no "see" haha
    As a Canuck I have to stand up for Labrador (but I don't have to live there phew ?!) .. Everyone is affected by this menopausal weather .. but extremes have always happened through out history .. yes, I understand that global warming ? or maybe it's opposite is happening and sadly I think the world leaders (sorry bunch of hesitant people that they are) will act far too late .. so we are going to have to hang on as best we can and do what good we can by way of our green missions.
    Wow .. I will get off my soap box now ? LOL
    Joy : )

  6. Yes, your climate is vary varied in terms of the plants you can grow. Was perplexed and confused when I saw palms growing in Cornwall! Michigan is the only US state that was 100% covered by glaciers. Gardeners here talk about the glaciers (it makes the soil interesting; you can have clay in one spot, and sand or gravel not too far away) in kind of the same way as you discuss the Gulf Stream... only with us glacier is usually prefaced with "those darn"! ;-)

  7. A very informative post, VP. I think it is interesting to see where we will be going with the global warming, with some places possibly colder and wetter than historically normal, and other places hotter and drier. The not-knowing certainly makes it harder to plan for the long term.

    BTW, I like GardeJoy4Me's term: "menopausal weather!" Ha!

    Another BTW: the word verification says "cowiness." Ha! That tickles me.

  8. Yes, Europeans will not fare well if the Atlantic conveyor belt slows down (or Goddess forbid, stops)... but then, everywhere else has got some huge potential problem that might occur as global climate change unfolds. Here, it's drought. Although here in the Southeastern US, as commenters have alluded to already, it's been a miserable, wet, freezing winter. It would be so nice to have a definitive cause to blame that on... ;)

  9. Great post! Here in the Puget Sound side of Washington state we too enjoy weather from afar...we often get a Pineapple Express from Hawaii that bring warm balmy temps to us in winter. Love it when that happens. It's been a warmish winter for us this year but icy cold last winter. not sure I believe everything about this supposed global warming fad. it's definitely politically charged and like 'gardenjoy4me' said...there's been weather extremes throughout history.

  10. The only thing I know is that it rains in the UK and in Belgium most of the time, lol !

  11. Well the Met Office certainly needs to do something about its long term forecasting after its last two efforts. How wrong could they be! The climate does seem to be changing, and yet I can remember a dreadful winter 25 years ago.

  12. Perhaps we ought to be referring to 'global chaos' rather than 'global warming' - but I do rather love the concept of 'menopausal weather'!

  13. At this rate we will be reaching for all year round thermals and flippers VP. Hope that the olive perks up.

  14. Excellent post, as always. Great theme. I hope your olive tree rallies.

  15. Interesting post. It is the inconsistency of the weather I find annoying.
    I'd put your Olive tree in the ground. Mine has been planted out for about five years now and looks much healthier than it did in a pot. Surprisingly, this year's snow and temperatures down to -11C did it no harm at all.

  16. Interesting - and an example of why we should be talking about climate change rather than global warming.

  17. Manag Kim, Merdith, Joan, Gattina and Sheila - welcome to Veg Plotting! Good to see you :D

    I'm henceforth adopting Joy's 'Menopausal weather' phrase - I wonder how many times I can work it into my subsequent ABC weather posts? ;)

    Thanks for your comments everyone -they're most appreciated. I forgot to mention that we tend to confuse weather and climate. And Elizabethm made such a good point that 'Climate Change' is more appropriate than 'Global warming'


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