New ice age on the way - but it's just 'a little one'
IRELAND could face decades of harsh winters as Europe is gripped by a "little ice age".
Research, which is to be published in Nature magazine, shows there has been a fall in the sun's ulraviolet emissions, which may in time cause winters in Europe to become even colder.
The study, which was effectuated by Britain's Met Office, also coincides with predictions that the country would be hit by a cold blast by the end of the month.
Forecasters have noticed what could be the return of a pattern called La Nina, which is linked to extreme weather all over the world.
La Nina, which is brought on by a drop in temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, affects upper air currents and is thought to be responsible for last year's record low temperatures, high level of snowfall in the US and flooding in Australia.
While La Nina is only supposed to occur every three to five years, scientists have recorded temperatures in the equatorial Pacific that are 1C below normal for this time of year. The Met office said it was difficult to predict how severe this winter would be because, by this time last year, they had recorded temperatures of 2C.
But Ian Currie of the Meteorological Society pointed out that "all the world's weather systems are connected".
"What is going on now in the Pacific can have repercussions later around the world," he said.
Meanwhile, Liverpool-based, long-range forecaster James Madden of Exacta Weather warned that Ireland can expect to see frequent and heavy snowfalls between November and January.
"It is likely that temperature and snowfall records will be broken," he said.
"I initially expect temperatures to really struggle across many northern regions, including Scotland, Ireland (Northern Ireland in particular), north west England, and parts of Wales." However, a Met Eireann spokesperson said that long-range forecasts are not reliable. Last year's big freeze in late February and December brought much of the country to a standstill and ended up costing Irish insurers €224m.