For the rain it (still) raineth every day

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

I am told that Shakespeare used this in two plays.  In a late Twelfth Night song, as shown here:

When that I was and a little tiny boy,

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,

A foolish thing was but a toy,

For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came to man’s estate,

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,

’Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,

For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came, alas! to wive,

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,

By swaggering could I never thrive,

For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came unto my beds,

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,

With toss-pots still had drunken heads,

For the rain it raineth every day.

A great while ago the world begun,

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,

But that’s all one, our play is done,

And we’ll strive to please you every day

and also in King Lear where the Fools says this:

He that has and a little tiny wit--

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,--

Must make content with his fortunes fit,

For the rain it raineth every day.

How true.  How apt.  And the rain it raineth on, though I can now glimpse a patch of blue sky … .  But here's a bit of perspective which is taken from a talk I gave about 12 months ago:

Between 950 and 1250 there was what’s known as the Medieval Warm Period, and just before 1300, the population of Europe had reached levels not seen again until the nineteenth century.   This was putting strain on their ability to provide enough food, and so land was farmed more intensively, and marginal land was planted.  In England, the chalk downlands were terraced; the fens were drained.  Inevitably, wages fell and food became more expensive.  Woodland was not managed sustainably, and wood became scarce and hence expensive.  This meant that straw and dung were burnt for warmth, and weren’t ploughed into the fields, reducing soil quality and fertility.  Crop yields dropped.  At this time, in a good year, the seed to grain ratio could be as high as 7 : 1, while during bad years as low as 2 : 1 – one seed for next year's planting, and one for food.  This was below subsistence levels, and the seed corn was often eaten.  Modern farming gives ratios of around 30 : 1 .

All this was bad, but then there was a rapid temperature fall over two decades starting in 1310.  There was a long period of wet weather caused by a string of endless depressions from the Atlantic.  What followed was inevitable and might sound familiar.  The summer of 1314 was wet and cool and the harvest poor.  Corn prices rose again.  In May 1315, it began to rain again, and continued for 15 months. Atlantic depression after Atlantic depression – rather like November 2012 (and January 2014), but for much longer.  Two more poor harvests ensued.  Food prices in England doubled between spring and midsummer in 1315. And it continued.

Between 1310 and 1330 northern Europe saw some of the worst and most sustained periods of bad weather in the entire Middle Ages, characterized by severe winters and rainy and cold summers.  There were widespread crop failures.  Straw and hay couldn’t be cured and so there was no fodder for draft animals which had to be eaten.  There were epidemics amongst sheep and cattle.  There was famine across most of northern Europe which reached its height in 1317.  Finally, in the summer the weather returned to its usual patterns but it wasn’t till 1325 that the food supply returned to normal levels.  Somewhere between 10 and 25% of the population of northern Europe had died.  Then the Black Death came.  This wiped out 40% of England’s people.  The young were especially vulnerable, just as they are to today’s pandemics such as bird flu.

The point in all this is that the balance between weather (or climate), population, the land, farming, and survival is a dynamic, and a delicate one.  This story, or close variants of it, have played out through human history, and continue into the 21st century across the globe.  We think we are safe from all this, but are we?  ...

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

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  • Literature and science splendidly combined! Can your account of the post-1310 succession of Atlantic depressions be used to disconnect current jet stream-induced weather from anthropogenic CO2 emissions? I follow the blog of Stephen Murgatroyd formerly of the OU and his latest in a series of sceptical pieces - “The New Science Deniers” - would reinforce such a disconnection. http://themurgatroydblog.blogspot.com/