Blitz bombs bring yet more tragedy

With the arrival of spring the people of Wanstead and the surrounding region must have thought that the terror of bombs raining down was at an end. Just one raid in February that damaged a few houses was in sharp contrast to the devastation wrought by the Luftwaffe since September.

Synoptic chart for March 19th 1941

But further horror lay in wait in March when four members of the Civil Defence Services, two of them young lads, would lose their lives while heroically carrying out their civic duties.

March continued the theme of the wet, miserable and dull winter. The early part of the month was unsettled with heavy rain at times. On the 6th, over 13mm fell. During the second week it became dry with sunny periods. There were some frosty nights and lingering fog. On the 12th, the maximum temperature was only 5°C. Temperatures slowly rose during the third week.

The morning of the 19th dawned cold and frosty. Patchy fog soon lifted under the warm spring sun – it was the second day running the region was bathed in over five hours of sunshine.

The fog soon returned after dusk but plummeting temperatures were no excuse for the wardens at Post 41 ‘F’ District to undertake their nightly duties from their Aldersbrook Tennis Club headquarters. This area of south Wanstead received a real battering from the early days of the Blitz, earning the nicknames “The Battle Field” or “Hell Fire Corner”.

The following impression of that night is written by one who was at the scene:

“The wail of the siren opposite the Post announced at 8.15pm the arrival of the raiders. The Post personnel saw a startling sight. The Flats were a sea of flame. Thousands of incendiaries were burning on the open space. The guns roared. It was obvious that the enemy was making a concerted and determined attack. Bomb flashes stabbed the blackout. Planes droned overhead. The batteries on the Flats joined those further away in putting up a terrific barrage.

At 8.50pm, three high explosive bombs fell in Lake House Road, damaging a number of houses and partly demolishing Nos 14 and 31. A few casualties resulted, one being a man who was trapped in the doorway of No. 14. Wardens heaved on the obstruction to release him. Gas escaping in the same house caused a fire. This was quickly dealt with and the flames smothered. A nearby barrage balloon had burst into flames, illuminating the scene with glaring brilliance and revealing the widespread damage.

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 12.37.33At 9.20pm this first incident appeared closed, and services were awaiting the result of a final search and check-up before being dismissed. Then a parachute mine landed. It exploded a few yards from Aldersbrook corner on the Leytonstone side. A house in Lake House Road, already badly damaged, tottered to destruction. Number 11 caught fire and was destroyed. Loss of life would have been heavy but for the fact that most of the inhabitants had by now taken refuge in the Aldersbrook public shelter, and those who remained were in their dugouts.

The attack died down. Wardens returned to their posts – but the number for 41 was sadly lacking. The two boys’ bicycles stood in their usual place. ‘Busy somewhere’ said the chief. But the absent ones did not return, and a search was made. They were found – in the mortuary, three of them. It was known that two others had been taken to hospital. Warden Barnett was one of these. He died next morning of his injuries.

Just before the mine exploded, the messengers had been giving assistance in one of the less badly-damaged houses. Broome, although officially not on duty, had rushed out to lend a hand. Warden Hutton was endeavouring to turn off the gas at No 14 when the mine fell.

So the four from Post 41 died doing their duty on the Home Front. The two boys, pals in the service, sleep in one grave in Old Wanstead churchyard. The two men lie close by, in Ilford Cemetery.

A few days later their comrades stood silently at attention as the funeral cortege halted outside the Post. A Union Jack covered each of the four coffins.

The four members of the Civil Defence Services who gave their lives were: Thomas Hutton, 44, a warden, of Blake Hall Crescent, Wanstead; William Barnett, 36, a warden, of Belgrave Road, Wanstead; Roy Broome, 17, a messenger, of Lake House Road, Wanstead; and Herbert Stower, 18, a messenger, of Clavering Road, Wanstead.

Winston Churchill’s letter to his constituents

As spring wore on the weather remained mostly miserable though raid incidents lessened and petered out in May. Wanstead and Woodford had its last bombs of the period on May 10th.

In total 129 people lost their lives and 194 were injured during the campaign. This figure would nearly double when the next phase of the bombing, using V1 flying bombs and V2 rockets, would begin three years later in June 1944.

It is hard to imagine how people coped with the constant barrage of bombs during the Blitz. What seems to get lost in articles and historical texts I’ve read is just how grim the weather was at the time – remember this was a time before central heating. Not only were bedrooms freezing cold people must have laid there wondering if they were going to see morning.

It seems to be a human condition that when we are faced with adversity we just find a way of ‘getting on with it’ as best we can.



Another development on Thames floodplain

A new suburb the “size of Windsor” is being planned for Barking Riverside, the site of the old Barking Power station, according to a report in the Financial Times.

barking riverside
The Barking Riverside site is sandwiched between two sewage works and a power station

Some 10,800 homes are being planned for the 179-hectare site by the housing association London & Quadrant in association with the Greater London Authority. The report states that £70m will be invested in extending the London Overground rail line to the site. But no mention is made on how much will be invested in flood defences.

Nor does it say that the site is sandwiched between sewage works on either side of the river and a power station and the Ford Motor works to the east.

It is part of the Mayor of London’s ambition for a City in the East that also makes no mention of how much money will be invested in flood defences to make these new estates safe.

This 200,000 home masterplan for East London should be music to the ears of anyone struggling to find a place to live in our overcrowded capital.

But unless planners are willing to spend billions on new flood defences it is possible that these new homes will be particularly at risk of flooding should rainfall levels increase with climate change.

The Environment Agency's Flood Plan map of the Thames illustrates Howard's comment that "the Thames was so full during this time that no tide was perceptible"
The Environment Agency’s Flood Plan map of the Thames illustrates Howard’s comment that “the Thames was so full during this time that no tide was perceptible”

Many of the developments mooted in London Mayor Boris Johnson’s plan for a City in the East are situated on flood plain, according to the Environment Agency.

On reading through the blueprint flood risk isn’t mentioned once.

A report in the Financial Times, citing the plan, says there is much more potential than previously thought to increase housebuilding in east London, the capital’s planning chief estimates. Sites earmarked include the Lea Valley and areas along the Thames beyond Canary Wharf.
‘Thames Riverside’, the term for an area along the north side of the Thames including Barking and Beckton, could host 27,000 homes, while areas on the opposite side of the river could hold 22,000, according to the report. There could be 52,000 more homes in Lea Valley, 30,000 on the Isle of Dogs and 15,000 in Woolwich.
Sir Edward Lister, deputy mayor for policy and planning, believes the capital’s authorities had learned from their experience with the Nine Elms regeneration area, where a statement of intent had galvanised developers.
“We just have to commit and then the developers can move in,” adding that there were “vast” amounts of underused post-industrial sites along the river in east London.
The housing plans also include commercial and industrial buildings, giving potential to create 280,000 jobs, as well as supporting infrastructure such as schools and hospitals. Transport improvements, such as Crossrail and a new London Overground line, would make the developments ‘desirable’. But costs would be dwarfed by any flood defence improvements.
Previously the Environment Agency has outlined a range of options for the future of the Thames Estuary flood defences. None are particularly cheap.

As a minimum, the EA estimates that the cost of maintaining the defences until 2035 will be around £1.5 billion, with an additional £1.8 billion needed to repair and upgrade the defences until 2050. Particular bits of marshland could also be set aside to store tide waters.

The River Lea close to where Luke Howard's laboratory stood by wanstead_meteo
The River Lea close to where Luke Howard’s laboratory stood

More ambitiously, the government could fund a new barrier in either Tilbury in Essex or Long Reach in Kent. Such a barrier would be designed to resist the highest surge tides identified by the Met Office’s analysis of how conditions will change this century. The EA estimates a new barrier could cost as much as £7 billion, though that figure could go up if conditions change significantly as the climate changes.

The Agency also say the existing barrier could be converted to include locks, which could open and close more flexibly and extend the life of the defences. The EA report says a decision on a new barrier will have to be made by 2050.

It may turn out that there’s a more pressing reason to spend. The EA says 50 is the maximum number of times the barrier should close each year, and beyond that, the barrier could start to fail.

How high is the likelihood of flooding in this part of London? A look back through history shows the geography of the Lea Valley has made the area prone to inundations for hundreds of years.

The Environment Agency's Flood Map for Planning shows the flood zone risk of the area. And endorses Howard's account that the river Lea was 'a mile wide' at its peak
The Environment Agency’s Flood Map for Planning shows the flood zone risk of the area. And endorses Howard’s account that the river Lea was ‘a mile wide’ at its peak

In January 1809 the lower River Lea burst its banks in several places following a deluge that dumped two inches of rain in the space of 24 hours. The rain abruptly ended a snowy cold spell that had begun over a month before in the middle of December. From Luke Howard’sreadings it is likely that up to half a metre of snow had fallen in the previous weeks in the upper parts of the surrounding countryside with only slight thawing. With the frozen ground unable to absorb any of the rapidly melting snow and rainfall the amount of water flowing downstream must have been immense. Howard takes up the story…

“The River Lea continued rising the whole of the 26th… The various channels by which it intersects this part of the country were united in one current above a mile in width which flowed with great impetuosity and did much damage.”

Howard, his chemical factory located on the banks of the river Lea close to what is now Bow flyover, wrote at length about the event, his account replacing the usual brief notes about daily weather in his book The Climate of London.

He talks of embanked pasture land being “filled to the depth of eight or nine feet” and people driven to their upper rooms relieved by boats plying under the windows.

“The Thames was so full during this time that no tide was perceptible.” It took until February 23rd for things to return to normal.

Wanstead Flats by Scott Whitehead
Wanstead Flats during the wet winter of 2013-14

Miraculously no lives were lost in the flood and cattle “by great exertions” were saved by being kept in their stalls. Howard, saying that the flood could have been far worse, believed a neap tide, strong westerly winds urging water down the Thames and mild weather helped avert a tragedy.

Howard’s statistics of the previous months show that the second half of 1808 were wetter than average – though not especially so. And nothing like the rainfall this area recorded during the winter of 2013/14. From December 1st until February 8th 1809 Howard recorded 130mm of rain, which is about 100mm less than what was recorded during 2013/14.

This fact alone shows just how much the nature of the river has changed in the last 200-odd years thanks to spending on flood defences.

Work to improve the defences was prompted 67 years ago when similar catastrophic flooding came with the thaw that ended the severe winter of 1947, one of the coldest winters in history and an episode remarkably similar to what Howard recorded in 1809.

The Lea Valley, along with many parts of the country, saw some of its worst flooding in a generation. The river burst its banks at several points bringing misery to surrounding communities. Valleys turned into lakes in 40 counties and East Anglia’s fens were a sandbagged inland sea. More than 100,000 properties were damaged and, then as now, heroic battles were fought by the military to keep water-pumping plants and power stations dry.

A marker of that flood, together with a history of flood defences, can be found here. There is also British Pathe footage of another flood between 1910 and 1919 here .

Spillers Millennium Mill was repainted 25 years ago especially for the concert. It now provides the backdrop for the London Triathlon across from the ExCeL centre

The River Lea Flood Relief Channel, that flows between Ware, Herts, and Stratford, took almost three decades to complete. The channel incorporates existing watercourses, lakes and new channels. Since it was completed in 1976, there have been no major flood events in the Lea Valley, although there have been three occasions when the river system was full virtually to its capacity: in 1987, 1993 and 2000. Since its completion, the level of protection afforded by the structure has declined, so that in some areas it offers 2 per cent protection, and in some, only 5 per cent protection. The EA published a strategic environmental assessment in 2008, which looked at ways to maintain the flood defences in the Lea Valley.

In summing up its ambitions for a new development the Greater London Authority says it is trying to “overturn the historic perception of the east being seen as apart from London, rather than as a part of London”.

Jim Ward, a director of research at property consultancy Savills, said the challenge was “building something that makes people want to live and work there”, he said. “You need to build more than homes, you need to build a place.”

Boris’s record of late has not been good: an estuary airport to replace Heathrow has been dismissed as pie in the sky while his promise for a 24-hour Tube was made without first consulting unions that it was possible.

London’s safety from flooding is an altogether different proposition, both for old and new developments. Boris really needs to get London’s flood defences right before any brick is laid on these desperately-needed new developments.

Is London heading for a hot summer?

Before I’m accused of going all Daily Express the following is based on winter statistics for the London area and other variables rather than the latest expert hopecast.

Even before looking at the data in depth the chart below shows that a warmer than average summer is more likely after a mild winter. The winter just gone was the third mildest in a record going back to 1797.


There are some real corkers in that list, including 1995 when this area recorded the driest August on record. Other notable summers included 1990 – England in the semi-finals of the World Cup and another notably fine August: the then hottest UK temperature was set that year when a maximum of 37.1C was recorded at Cheltenham – a record that lasted until 2003. The year 1989 also stands out with a notably sunny summer.

So far, so good. But what about rainfall? Some 145mm of rain fell this winter – pretty much on the nose average for this region. Combining warm winters with similarly average rainfall gives the following list.

with similar rain

Though some years have disappeared there are still some decent summers, and notably sunny too. The year 1975 stands out as does the sunniest summer on record, 1911! Both were also very dry summers.

Altough the teleconnection with El Nino is tentative in our part of the world the winter seemed to follow the pattern of most positive ENSO episodes, so it is worth having a look to see where the data goes. The latest forecast by NOAA suggests:

A transition to ENSO-neutral is likely during late Northern Hemisphere spring or early summer 2016, with a possible transition to La Niña conditions during the fall.*

If the forecast goes to plan the second ‘rainfall list’ would narrow further:

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 02.44.05

Viewed by graph reveals that ENSO values of all the years decreased over the course of the year. Series 1 is 1998, series 2 is 1983 etc.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 02.48.01

In conclusion, the results would suggest that there is a 66% chance of a decent summer with below average rainfall and above average sunshine. In terms of details June 1st is still a very long off in meteorological terms – so whether it includes any heatwaves that would put it my premier league of hot spells is anyone’s guess at this range.

If it’s anything like 1959, 1975, 1983 or 1998, however, I think most folk will be happy.

*The above contradicts some forecasts which suggest a continuation of the general pattern that persisted during the winter: warm SSTs in the Atlantic / warm water south of the Grand Banks were largely responsible for the cyclonic westerly type of weather that caused the mild weather. In summer this would cause changeable weather rather than long spells of settled weather.


Winter 2015/16: Very mild with average rain

The winter of 2015/16 was skewed by a ridiculously mild December which brought the natural calendar forward three months.

A persistent flow of air from the Azores caused the unseasonable warmth in December, skewing the overall temperature for the season

Daffodils and other spring bulbs which normally come out in early March in this part of the UK  were in full bloom at the end of December. Spring blossom was also very early with many may trees out in early February.

The mean temperature for the season finished 7.38C, that’s 1.9C above average. It was the third warmest winter in my series going back to 1797, behind 1989 / 90 and 1974 / 75.

Rainfall was almost precisely average: 144.8mm fell, within half a millimetre of what normally falls. Sunshine was just under average: 162.8 hrs is just over 5 hours short of what we’d normally expect during December, January and February.

The warmest day of the winter occurred on December 19th with 16.3C recorded, the second warmest December day in my daily record going back to 1959 – the record fell short by just 0.1C.

new street
Snowfall, like the previous two winters, was very scarce

The coldest night of the winter coincided with the coldest mean temperature on January 19th. A low of -5.7C was the lowest value recorded in Wanstead for three years.

The wettest day of the winter occurred on January 10th when 11.6mm, a very unremarkable amount for winter and in complete contrast to the deluge that affected NW England and NE Scotland. There were 51 rain days (where 0.2mm or less fell) and 37 wet days (where 1mm of rain falls over a 24hr period).

Although sunshine was around average there were 24 sunless days.

Snow, like the previous two winters, was very scarce: just one day of snow falling and lying occurred on January 17th, though you had to be up early to see it.

A full weather diary is available for the months of December, January and February. To view full stats for each month follow this link:


Winter forecast review

At the beginning of December the opening par for my forecast for winter read:

Winter in the London area this year is likely to be average overall, following the pattern of the past two winters that saw little snow.

It was broadly correct though I won’t pretend that I knew just how mild December would be when I prepared the figures at the end of November.

January, as predicted, produced the coldest weather and best chance of snow while February was, as thought, about as average as you can get.

The stats overall:
Predicted – Mean: 5.4C, Rainfall: 153.5mm
Results – Mean: 7.3C, Rainfall: 144.8mm

So, all in all, not bad. The Daily Express and others should take note. This is what they printed last November… I’ll leave it up to the reader which forecast was more useful…


top 20 winters
Top 20 warmest winters

February 2016: average contrast

Though it was devoid of snowfall February 2016 was average for temperature and sunshine and on the dry side.

On the 15th cold northerly winds brought sharp showers to the coast. A big swell was seen at Broadstairs allowing for some good surfing conditions

Some sharp frosts made for a couple of stunningly sunny days, “ski resort weather” the kind of days that were absent during the first half of winter after the super mild December.

Rainfall of 35.1mm was 90% of average – the driest February for three years. Mean temperature for the month was 5.4C, 0.1C above the 1981-2010 mean.

Sunshine was just above average. Over 79 hours were recorded, 108% of what we can expect to see during an average February.

The wettest day occurred on the 7th with 11.6mm.

Air frosts: 10

Ground frosts: 16

A rare Channel low but conditions weren’t cold enough for snow

So what has March got in store weatherwise? The late winter synoptic pattern could see the first snowfall above 1cm over the coming days and next week though amounts are likely to be small and temporary and restricted to night hours.

The pattern bringing this messy wintry mix is low pressure moving SE across the UK between now and the weekend each band bringing progressively colder air across the UK. Much of the precipitation will be showery although Friday looks more interesting as a secondary moving south brings cold N or NE winds. Models suggest next week will see high pressure from the west displacing this cold N. The timescale is very uncertain and it may be toward the second half of next week before the general theme of dry and settled conditions prevail. Frosts at night remain likely and daytime temperatures remain close to or a little below normal.

Overall the first half of March does not look like it will offer much in the way of spring weather.

My long range forecasting method suggests the most likely scenarios to be rather cold or cold, though both are only at 33% probability. Something average or below works out at 83% probability. The only mild indicator is for something rather mild at 16% probability.

On the 15th cold northerly winds brought sharp showers to the coast. A big swell was seen at Broadstairs allowing for some good surfing conditions

A dryer than average month looks most likely at 66% probability. Something wetter than average works out at 34% probability.

Very dull conditions look most likely at 83% probability.

So to sum up: Mean: 5.9C, rainfall 31.6mm, sunshine 68 hours.

Taking all of the above into account perhaps the most likely scenario will be that the month will be predominantly anticyclonic with lots of gloom during the day and night frosts, varying in intensity.

So to sum up: Mean: 5.9C, rainfall 32mm, sunshine 67 hours.

My February outlook for temperature was good. I predicted a mean of 5.9C (outcome: 5.4C) with 31.6mm of rain (outcome: 35.1mm). Sunshine 68 hours (outcome: 79.5hrs)

Here follows the full weather diary for February. To view full stats follow this link:

1st: Cloudy, breezy start. Sunshine PM with nacreous clouds reported on east coast. Cold in a brisk wind.
2nd Cloud gave way to sunny spells around 11am – then feeling cold in a brisk wind.
3rd Cloudy and cold start then mostly cloudy with a cold wind.
4th Bright though mostly cloudy start. Cloudy through the day with odd spot of drizzle through the night. Area of very light rain gave about 0.1mm before 9am.
5th Cloudy with light drizzle up to 11am then briefly bright before more drizzle arrived.
6th Cloudy to start with odd burst of drizzle. Very windy and feeling chilly in wind. Rain arriving after 8pm.
7th Sunny start though cloud bubbling up after 11am and feeling cold in wind as dew point fell away. A very heavy, violent squall swept through at 2245z then blustery through the night.
8th Sunny start quickly gave way to squally showers which were mostly light. Strong winds into the afternoon with squally but light showers. Chilly overnight.
9th Cloudy and cold start, briefly clearing before noon before clouding over again.
10th Cloudy start though with some weak brightness lunchtime.
11th Mostly sunny all day and calm – warmth of the sun can now be felt. Just a few cirrocumulus. Stunning.
12th Bright start but cloud thickening. Day felt cold though as DP fell away.
13th Cloudy start with drizzle at obs time. Cold wind through to lunchtime and intermittent drizzle.
14th Bright, cold start with cloud increasing through the morning.
15th Bright, cold start with lots of wispy cirro-cumulus around. .
16th Stunningly sunny and frosty start. Just patchy cirrus through the day.
17th Cloudy through the day until 5.30pm when drizzle then rain set in.
18th Initially cloudy but then quickly brightened up. Sunny spells through the afternoon.
19th Sunny, clear and frosty start. Cloud began to build mid morning becoming overcast by noon. Light rain spread in about 4pm. Milder.
20th Bright start but cloud and wind quickly built. Light at times moderate rain fell through the afternoon – a thoroughly miserable day.
21st Dull, dry day up to 1pm. Very mild. Staying cloudy overnight with rain arriving at 5am, most falling until 7.30am.
22rd Drizzly start turned to a dull, overcast day
23th Cloudy with clearance at 11.30am. More cloud appeared to leave sunny spells. Much advection but cleared to leave frosty night.
24th Sunny, clear and frosty start. Lots of sunshine but quickly turned cold after dark with early frost. Cloud then wind lifted temperature though.
25th Bright start but quickly clouded over to become cold. Clearance in evening allowed temperature to fall quickly but cloud moved in and breeze picked up to prevent a sharp fall.
26th Cloudy, cold start. Brightening up to sunny spells by 1pm. Too much cloud overnight for a frost.
27th Bright start but became cloudy through the day with a cold easterly wind.
28th Cloudy start but some brightness around noon
29th Cloudy start but soon brightened up with long sunny spells before clouding in again early afternoon.