The year snow fell in London in October

Two hundred years ago this October the extremely rare phenomenon of lying snow in October was recorded in London.

A likely plunge of Arctic air on the 21st saw rain turn to snow which lay nearly 8cm deep by the morning and remained for nearly a week.

The month started dry and warm. On the 1st Luke Howard recorded 75°F at his laboratory in Stratford. The warmth remained into the second week with 77°F recorded on the 10th, 11th and 12th.

oct 1819
The values from Luke Howard’s Climate of London.

The wind swung into the north on the 18th and with it arrived the first hoar frosts that were cold enough to kill garden plants.

On the 21st the cold air further dug in and with it rain that turned to sleet. Howard said: “It began to snow about noon falling in very large flakes thick and rapidly for an hour and covering the ground. Some rain followed.

“In the evening the wind rose and it blew hard in the night from NNW. At midnight came a second heavy fall of snow which continued till 6am and though at first much of it melted it lay in the morning a full three inches deep.”

Howard adds that the surroundings ‘took on appearance of mid winter with the single exception of the foliage still remaining on the trees which mingled with an enormous burden of snow presented a very singular and grotesque appearance’.

The weight of the snow was also enough to break off large limbs from fruit trees.

The snow was still lying on the 23rd and, probably caught out by the earliness of the polar plunge, swallows were seen at Stamford Hill. On the 24th a very white frost was observed with a low of 31°F recorded at Tottenham.

More wintry weather followed in November, December and January.

Could snow fall here again in October? The probability is very low but it is not impossible, given the right synoptic conditions. Recent cases of notably positive and negative anomalies following in quick succession somewhat mirror the weather of Howard’s day.

 

 

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Collapse of the Weisshorn glacier in 1819

Two hundred years ago this December a huge part of the Weisshorn glacier in Switzerland crashed down several thousand feet to the valley below.

saas fee glacier
A glacier above the village of Saas Grund, Switzerland. Viewed from below I am always struck by how precarious they look.

At 6am on December 27th 1819 the villagers of Randa, near Zermatt, were awoken as millions of tonnes of snow and ice swept away boulders, rocks, gravel and mature larch trees. Though the debris missed the village the force of the slide created a blast of air that moved entire buildings and their contents, burying 12 people, all but two of whom escaped with their lives.

Eyewitnesses described the noise of the falling mass as the loudest thunder and said a bright flash accompanied the slide before darkness once again enveloped the village.

First light revealed the utter devastation of the avalanche that have covered an area of pasture 2,400ft by 1,000ft by 150ft high.

It was not the first avalanche to bring disaster to Randa. In 1636 the village was destroyed by a similar avalanche when 36 people were killed. It is said that that occasion saw a much greater chunk of the flacier fall from the slopes of the mountain, at 14,783ft the 5th highest in the Alps.

Two other less serious falls happened in 1736 and 1786 but not precisely in the same place. This time only a small part of the glacier fell down.

Could a similar disaster happen again? With climate change and the nature of the Alps being constantly on the move it is possible. Earlier this month it was reported that part of a glacier on the Mont Blanc Massif, just 40 miles away as the crow flies, was on the brink of collapse.

I don’t have local figures but a look at the recent climatology in London shows that anomalies during the past couple of years – warmer than average summers and low rainfall – have been similar to what happened in 1819.

summer mean

summer rainfall

Of course the difference between now and 1819 is that we have early warning systems in place that can help prevent loss of human life in the event of a catastrophic avalanche.

weisshorn
The Weisshorn in the far distance seen from the slopes above Grächen

August 2019: warmest for 4 years

Apart from the hot four days in the last week August 2019 was fairly unremarkable.

Overall the monthly mean finished 19.9C, that’s 1.4C above average.

Rainfall at 37.7mm, was 75 per cent of average,  the driest for 3 years. Sunshine, at 180hrs, the sunniest for 3 years.

To view full stats follow this link:http://1drv.ms/1kiTuzv

august max

Summary for August 2019:

Temperature (°C):

Mean (1 minute)  18.9
Mean (min+max)   19.3
Mean Minimum     13.9
Mean Maximum     24.7
Minimum          8.8 day 20
Maximum          32.6 day 27
Highest Minimum  19.5 day 07
Lowest Maximum   17.9 day 14
Air frosts       0
Rainfall (mm):
Total for month  37.7
Wettest day      12.6 day 14
High rain rate   65.8 day 09
Rain days        11
Dry days         20
Wind (mph):
Highest Gust     22.1 day 10
Average Speed    2.6
Wind Run         1941.4 miles
Gale days        0
Pressure (mb):
Maximum
Minimum
Days with snow falling         0
Days with snow lying at 0900   0