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.
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.
In July 1808 Paris wilted in a heatwave. The average maximum for the 13-day spell that began on the 10th was 31°C, higher than a similar spell last month that saw the all-time record for the French capital broken.
The temperature at the peak of last month’s hot spell reached 42.6°C, some 6.4°C higher than the peak of the 1808 spell but, as the graph below shows, maxima fell back more quickly than 1808.
The average mean and minimum temperature of both spells showed a difference of just 0.2°C.
Since Paris recorded its hottest day ever there have been just two days where the temperature has exceeded 30°C.
The heat in Paris in 1808, like in 2019, was also felt in London. Luke Howard noted the following in The Climate of London.
“Very hot from July 12th to 19th. On the 12th a thermometer in perfect shade in a window in St James’s Park was 81.5 degrees at 3pm, and on the 13th at the same hour, 94 degrees. On the same day four men and seven women were killed by sunstroke in various parts of the Midland counties, and numerous coach and other horses were also killed. On the 15th a very violent and destructive thunderstorm in Gloucestershire, Monmouthshire, and surrounding counties.”
* Values for 2019 were taken from the station Montsouris.
** Though there is no way of knowing how accurate the 1808 values were previous studies have found that historic temperatures can be as much as 3°F too high.
July 2019 saw the month’s daily maximum record broken on the 25th with a high of 36.8C, The reading beat the previous record set on July 1st 2015 by 0.8C and was the second highest reading recorded in this area. Cloud that drifted in mid afternoon put paid to any chance of all-time record though Cambridge, further north, managed to break the UK record with a reading of 38.7C. This temperature set in the Botanic Gardens beat the previous record of 38.5C set in Brogdale, Kent, in 2003.
Although it has been mentioned that the Cambridge site appears to be overdeveloped it meets the WMO standard and the Met Office are happy with the record.
Compared with 2003 the heat this time was far more widespread and further north, with many stations recording higher values than 2003, as shown by these 24 hours to 6pm readings below.
In 2003 some 44 stations recorded 30C or above whereas this year some 67 reached 30C or higher.
Though the heat was record breaking it was much shorter lived than 2003. Like last month and July 2015 the 9-day temperature trace is far more ‘pointed’ – perhaps a symptom of the changing behaviour of the jet stream.
Overall the monthly mean finished 19.9C, that’s 1.4C above average though 1.8C cooler than last July – the warmest month on record.
Rainfall at 61.5mm, was 141 per cent of average, the wettest for 2 years. Sunshine, at 165hrs, is 85 per cent of average and well down on last July’s 273hrs.