The first blow of the 2010-11 Ashes series was struck last summer – ironically in England – when a climate scientist at The University of Reading produced research which suggested that the weather might be on Australia’s side.
The meteorologist in question had found that when playing at home, Australia had a significantly better record in the Ashes when the series were preceded by El Nino conditions. In particular, he had found that the last time England had won the Ashes in Australia after an El Nino event had been back in 1932-33 during the infamous Bodyline series, with Australia winning 13 out of 17 series when preceded by these El Nino conditions.
An El Nino event is associated with above-average Pacific Ocean temperatures which results in a sequence of consequences and, in particular, lower than average rainfall across south-eastern parts of Australia. But El Nino events are part of a complex cycle and, in the past few months, the reverse meteorological conditions have started to develop, with ocean temperatures below average in the Pacific. The consequence of these conditions – known as La Nina – is above average rainfall in south-eastern parts of Australia, and when these conditions have preceded an Ashes series, Australia have not prospered, winning just five of 13 Ashes series.
To compound matters, weather patterns in the Indian Ocean are also likely to trigger heavy rainfall in the eastern and southern cities of Brisbane and Sydney, and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) is already forecasting significant falls of rain over these cities during December and January.
“To get two strong events like the ones we have got is very unusual,” said Dr. Harvey Stern, a climate scientist at BOM. But while the weather scientists are looking back to find out when such a coincidence last took place, the English bowlers are rubbing their hands because the combination of heat, moisture and humidity is all likely to favour their swing bowling.
In their pre-Test preparations during the past few days in Brisbane, the England bowlers have already extracted swing in the conditions. “It’s been pretty warm and sticky here in Brisbane the last few days,” James Anderson told The Sunday Telegraph’s correspondent. “It’s been cloudy too and we have had a few showers. I`m not a scientist but as a bowler I know the likeliest conditions for the ball to swing. It is when there has been overnight rain, there is moisture in the ground and the sun is out.”
So it is still possible that the weather conditions could, quite literally, have swung back in favour of England, and only time will tell if Australia continue their modest record in Ashes series played outside El Nino conditions.