Weather patterns leading to more ferry disruption?

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Further research into weather patterns is currently being considered by CalMac as changes in climate appear to have an impact on ferries.

A spokesperson for CalMac explained that bad weather - in particular significant changes to weather patterns - is a “major concern” for the company who provide lifeline services to the islands.

The spokesman was speaking following the publication of a study looking into the impact weather changes could have on ferry routes.

‘Sensitivity of ferry Services to the Western Isles of Scotland to Changes in Wave and Wind Climate’ was recently published in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology and looks into the relationship between the ocean wave climate and the economy of the Western Isles.

John Coll, one of the authors of the paper, explained: “Our study examined the hypothesis that regional sea state could deteriorate with climate change, specifically we linked disruption to ferry services on the routes analysed to the behaviour of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), an important hemispheric influence on the wind and wave climate of the Western Isles.

However, without further research the future behaviour of the NAO in response to climate change remains uncertain.”

He continued: “It is timely therefore that CalMac are considering further research.

“The recent run of unusual seasonal weather patterns resulting in, for example; the cold winter of 2010/2011, last year’s wet summer and the recent cold spring are related to shifts in the track of the jet stream.

These changes could be linked to solar variability, changes in ocean circulation and declining Arctic sea ice extent, which in itself is a response to recent rapid warming in the Arctic.”

He added: “In all of this of course there remains the ‘smoking gun’ of climate change and how it might play out to change the future behaviour of some of these drivers of our regional weather patterns. Ultimately our climate system is rich and complex and we do not fully understand the linkages.”

The CalMac spokesperson said that they have seen an increase in easterly and northerly winds over recent years which cause particular challenges for vessels in the Western Isles operating into and out of east-facing ports.

He said: “We have plenty of anecdotal evidence of these changes but it would be helpful to understand some of the science behind these changes to see if there are any operational or other changes we could or should be considering.”

A Transport Scotland spokesman insisted vessel and harbour projects are already developed with weather resilience as a high priority. He continued: “An increased understanding of the risks and how to adapt to them is valuable in informing future decision making.”

He added: “The Scottish Government has published its Climate Change Adaptation Framework which includes an action plan for the transport sector.

“The plan provides an overview of the broad range of work that will be undertaken in the coming years to strengthen the resilience of the transport network to the impacts of climate change.”