Blowing hot and cold over the big chill

No sooner has all that hot air on global warming been spouted at the Copenhagen climate change summit than vast tracts of the world have been thrust into the deepest freeze in 50 years. Brutal winter weather has blanketed large swathes of the northern hemisphere with snow, bringing chaos to Europe's airports and roads, closing schools and office, and forcing power-rationing in China. The bitter snap is even threatening to devastate Florida's orange crop.

The extent and severity of the plunging temperatures has few precedents and has been seized upon by those who question whether global temperatures are rising. "It's very rare to see such an extensive cold event over so much of the northern hemisphere," said Omar Baddour, a climatologist at the World Meteorological Society. "Snow and cold weather are not unusual factors in climate systems, but the extent is certainly unusual."

The big chill caught many nations unaware. In Britain, temperatures plunged as low as minus 21°C, just a few degrees warmer than the South Pole, and the bitter conditions are forecast to last for the next two weeks. The national grid was forced to issue two gas alerts in four days as freezing temperatures caused a surge in consumption. The military were called in after more than 1,000 cars became stranded in snow on a major motorway in southern England and at least 4,000 homes were without electricity as power lines were brought down. Adding to the chaos, thousands of schools closed, hundreds of planes were grounded and cancelled trains and icy roads kept Britons away from work - costing the recession-battered economy an estimated £600 million a day. Hundreds of deaths in Europe are attributed to the extreme conditions. In Poland, 32 people died in three days during December - most were homeless - and the death toll there is now up to 122.

In Switzerland, seven people were killed in one of the country's worst avalanche disasters in a decade as a group of off-piste skiers was buried. A rescue team going to their aid was hit by a second fall. Avalanches killed four more people in Switzerland and France.

In Germany, described by one meteorologist as the "freezer of central Europe", salt for gritting the roads is running low. Another 40cm of snow was forecast there yesterday. Sweden and Norway suffered some of Europe's coldest temperatures with minus 40°C, but are well equipped to handle sub-zero temperatures.

Many Europeans were surprised at Britain's inability to deal with the snow. Roger Hampton told the BBC he had travelled 250km across Norway on Wednesday when it was minus 22°C. "In the town Roros, in central Norway, it has been minus 40°C the last two nights. I have not heard of schools closing and the roads are for the most free," he told the news service. Perhaps Britain had been lulled into complacency by the Met Office's long-range forecast in September of a winter "milder than last year" with only a "one in seven chance of a cold winter".

In the US state of Vermont, also accustomed to snow, a record-breaking 84 centimetres this week still did not stop the district's 3,600 students from attending school. In other parts of the country, however, the snowfall was less expected, and snow and ice reached as far south as Louisiana and South Carolina. Record lows are forecast for two-thirds of the US as the country is buffeted by snowstorms and the Midwest is bracing itself for temperatures to drop this weekend with dangerously low minus 50°C wind chills.

Florida's orange growers, who supply 40 per cent of the world's orange juice, fear the icy conditions will ruin this year's harvest, but so far the bulk of the crop has been spared. Just four hours of temperatures below 2°C can spoil the fruit. Bob Tarr, a meteorologist at AccuWeather, told Bloomberg: "It's a rare pattern, and unusual to see this cold weather affecting a number of major population centres and persisting for about three weeks. The cold weather is hitting a lot of the more populated areas, such as western and northern Europe, a lot of the eastern US."

Ironically, in Salt Lake City, a protest against the result of the climate change talks in Copenhagen was called off because of the weather. "Not many people showed up because of the blizzard conditions," said Clea Major, an international studies student at the University of Utah and one of the organisers. Asia has not escaped the cold, seeing its worst winter weather in half a century and bringing life to a standstill for millions of people. China, which is due to be hit by another cold front this weekend, has put restrictions on electricity consumption because of coal shortages. While power for industry is being rationed, residents are also being urged to limit their gas use.

Having endured an unusually early and cold winter, Beijing ground to a halt last Sunday after more than 33cm of snow fell on suburban areas, the most since 1951. Wednesday's low of minus 16.7°C was the coldest in almost 40 years. Even the central region and east of the country have been hit by rare snow flurries. South Korea had more than 25.5cm of snow, the heaviest since records began, bringing chaos to its roads. In northern India more than 195 people have died due to the extreme weather. With few homeless shelters, those sleeping rough suffered the worst.

So what has happened to global warming? Sceptics have seized on the freezing conditions to debunk the theory. Ann Winterton, a British MP, argued in Britain's House of Commons that the winter weather "clearly indicates a cooling trend" - though her comments were met with jibes and laughter. "This is the 'exceptionally mild winter' that the climate change buffoons warned us would occur as a consequence of global warming. Their credibility is 20 degrees below zero," wrote Gerald Warner in a blog on The Daily Telegraph's website.

Experts say the cold snap does nothing to disprove the science of climate change. They argue that it is wrong to focus on single events, whether heatwaves or cold snaps, when assessing climate change. "To take an event like this over a few days or weeks and draw conclusions about climate change is the worst possible approach you can take," said Mr Baddour. "It's not analysed based on one year or two years, or even 10 years, it's about long-term trends."

Organisations such as Nasa and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change prefer to use the more scientifically accurate term "climate change" over "global warming". Whereas global warming refers only to temperature increases, climate change includes global warming and any other changing trends related to increased greenhouse gases. Britain's Met Office said the cold weather did not disprove the theory that average global temperatures were rising.

"The current cold weather in the UK is part of the normal regional variations that take place in the winter season," the Met office said. "It doesn't tell us anything about climate change, which has to be looked at in a global context and over longer periods of time." While wrong to extrapolate conclusions from single wether events, scientists do not rule out that the cold spell could be the result of climate change.

Guo Hu, the head of the Beijing Meteorological Bureau, went as far as to say that it was the probable cause of the extreme weather in China. "In the context of global warming, extreme atmospheric flows are causing extreme climate incidents to appear more frequently, such as the summer's rainstorms and last year's ice storm disaster in southern China," he told Beijing News. Mr Baddour said the extreme weather could be linked to climate change, but only after extensive analysis.

"At the moment we don't know exactly how to explain this year's colder weather in Europe and other parts of the world," he said. "Such events can happen without being linked to climate change, El Nino, or La Nina - it could just be internal atmospheric factors, or it might be linked." In Britain the cold weather has been caused because the winter winds that normally come from the south-west, travelling over the relatively warm Atlantic, have been "blocked" over the past three weeks by an area of high pressure over Greenland. Instead cold air has been pushing down from the Arctic, according to the UK Met Office.

Mr Baddour said that because climate systems "interact" with each other, "blocking" in one area could lead other linked climate systems into extreme weather conditions. "These events could be linked to each other, but we need to stand back and analyse what has happened in the past few weeks and run computer simulated models before we can say," he said. There is a theory that the collapse in the ocean's circulation, due to an inflow of melting ice from the poles, could lead to cooler winters in the northern hemisphere but "it's just a theory," he added. "We really don't know." And this winter it is not cold everywhere. Record-high temperatures have been recorded in Washington and Alaska, in North Africa, the Mediterranean and south-west Asia. Temperatures in Canada are more than 10°C above normal.

Indeed, despite ending on a cold note in many regions, worldwide, 2009 was still the fifth warmest year since global records began in 1850. Whatever caused the "big freeze", its impact has been wide-ranging and its consequences - such as the potential damage to Chinese wheat crops - will still be felt long after temperatures return to normal.

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
Which honey takes your fancy?

Al Ghaf Honey

The Al Ghaf tree is a local desert tree which bears the harsh summers with drought and high temperatures. From the rich flowers, bees that pollinate this tree can produce delicious red colour honey in June and July each year

Sidr Honey

The Sidr tree is an evergreen tree with long and strong forked branches. The blossom from this tree is called Yabyab, which provides rich food for bees to produce honey in October and November. This honey is the most expensive, but tastiest

Samar Honey

The Samar tree trunk, leaves and blossom contains Barm which is the secret of healing. You can enjoy the best types of honey from this tree every year in May and June. It is an historical witness to the life of the Emirati nation which represents the harsh desert and mountain environments


Founders: Sebastian Stefan, Sebastian Morar and Claudia Pacurar

Based: Dubai, UAE

Founded: 2014

Number of employees: 36

Sector: Logistics

Raised: $2.5 million

Investors: DP World, Prime Venture Partners and family offices in Saudi Arabia and the UAE

Springtime in a Broken Mirror,
Mario Benedetti, Penguin Modern Classics


Company profile

Name: Tabby
Founded: August 2019; platform went live in February 2020
Founder/CEO: Hosam Arab, co-founder: Daniil Barkalov
Based: Dubai, UAE
Sector: Payments
Size: 40-50 employees
Stage: Series A
Investors: Arbor Ventures, Mubadala Capital, Wamda Capital, STV, Raed Ventures, Global Founders Capital, JIMCO, Global Ventures, Venture Souq, Outliers VC, MSA Capital, HOF and AB Accelerator.

Company Profile

Company name: Namara
Started: June 2022
Founder: Mohammed Alnamara
Based: Dubai
Sector: Microfinance
Current number of staff: 16
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Family offices

Abu Dhabi GP schedule

Friday: First practice - 1pm; Second practice - 5pm

Saturday: Final practice - 2pm; Qualifying - 5pm

Sunday: Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (55 laps) - 5.10pm

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Console: PlayStation 2 to 5
Rating: 5/5


Power train: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 and synchronous electric motor
Max power: 800hp
Max torque: 950Nm
Transmission: Eight-speed auto
Battery: 25.7kWh lithium-ion
0-100km/h: 3.4sec
0-200km/h: 11.4sec
Top speed: 312km/h
Max electric-only range: 60km (claimed)
On sale: Q3
Price: From Dh1.2m (estimate)


Developer: 11 Bit Studios
Publisher: Odd Meter
Console: PlayStation 5, PC and Xbox series X/S
Rating: 4/5

Abu Dhabi traffic facts

Drivers in Abu Dhabi spend 10 per cent longer in congested conditions than they would on a free-flowing road

The highest volume of traffic on the roads is found between 7am and 8am on a Sunday.

Travelling before 7am on a Sunday could save up to four hours per year on a 30-minute commute.

The day was the least congestion in Abu Dhabi in 2019 was Tuesday, August 13.

The highest levels of traffic were found on Sunday, November 10.

Drivers in Abu Dhabi lost 41 hours spent in traffic jams in rush hour during 2019


Did you know?

Brunch has been around, is some form or another, for more than a century. The word was first mentioned in print in an 1895 edition of Hunter’s Weekly, after making the rounds among university students in Britain. The article, entitled Brunch: A Plea, argued the case for a later, more sociable weekend meal. “By eliminating the need to get up early on Sunday, brunch would make life brighter for Saturday night carousers. It would promote human happiness in other ways as well,” the piece read. “It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.” More than 100 years later, author Guy Beringer’s words still ring true, especially in the UAE, where brunches are often used to mark special, sociable occasions.

Seemar’s top six for the Dubai World Cup Carnival:

1. Reynaldothewizard
2. North America
3. Raven’s Corner
4. Hawkesbury
5. New Maharajah
6. Secret Ambition


Bangladesh (from): Shadman Islam, Mominul Haque, Soumya Sarkar, Shakib Al Hasan (capt), Mahmudullah Riyad, Mohammad Mithun, Mushfiqur Rahim, Liton Das, Taijul Islam, Mosaddek Hossain, Nayeem Hasan, Mehedi Hasan, Taskin Ahmed, Ebadat Hossain, Abu Jayed

Afghanistan (from): Rashid Khan (capt), Ihsanullah Janat, Javid Ahmadi, Ibrahim Zadran, Rahmat Shah, Hashmatullah Shahidi, Asghar Afghan, Ikram Alikhil, Mohammad Nabi, Qais Ahmad, Sayed Ahmad Shirzad, Yamin Ahmadzai, Zahir Khan Pakteen, Afsar Zazai, Shapoor Zadran

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

Company profile

Company: Zywa
Started: 2021
Founders: Nuha Hashem and Alok Kumar
Based: UAE
Industry: FinTech
Funding size: $3m
Company valuation: $30m


Name: SmartCrowd
Started: 2018
Founder: Siddiq Farid and Musfique Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech / PropTech
Initial investment: $650,000
Current number of staff: 35
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Various institutional investors and notable angel investors (500 MENA, Shurooq, Mada, Seedstar, Tricap)


Name: Elmawkaa
Based: Hub71, Abu Dhabi
Founders: Ebrahem Anwar, Mahmoud Habib and Mohamed Thabet
Sector: PropTech
Total funding: $400,000
Investors: 500 Startups, Flat6Labs and angel investors
Number of employees: 12


Name: Xpanceo

Started: 2018

Founders: Roman Axelrod, Valentyn Volkov

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Smart contact lenses, augmented/virtual reality

Funding: $40 million

Investor: Opportunity Venture (Asia)



Company profile

Name: Emonovo (previously Marj3)
Based: Cairo
Launch year: 2016
Number of employees: 12
Sector: education technology
Funding: three rounds, undisclosed amount

Company Profile

Company name: Hoopla
Date started: March 2023
Founder: Jacqueline Perrottet
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 10
Investment stage: Pre-seed
Investment required: $500,000

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