Category Archives: History

First frosts in East London since 1959

Although many parts of the UK have already recorded their first air frost this part of the capital, being so built up and close to the City, remains frost free.

Although many may think that frosts are getting later a look back through local statistics to 1959 shows these events are very random.

The scatter graph below illustrates this.

first frost in east london a

Taking out the winters of 1974/75 and 2002/03, which didn’t see frosts until February and January respectively, the scatter can be seen better here.

first frost in east london b

The median for the first frost is November 6th with an average minimum of -1.4C.

October frosts can be a precursor to a mild winter much in the same way that heavy October snowfall in the Alps has lead to an awful season. But there are exceptions, as happened in 2008/09.

* To record an air frost the temperature must fall to -0.1C or lower.

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40C in London end of July? Probably not

The long range weather models are causing much excitement on various forums with one run predicting an anomaly of +16C on Sunday, July 29th.

july29th

Such an anomaly would see temperatures exceed 40C in London, unprecedented looking back at records to 1841; the highest temperature recorded in the UK was 38.5C at Brogdale, near Faversham, Kent, in Augut 2003.

Though it is improbable it is not impossible. Back in April conditions allowed the temperature to rocket to a monthly record of 29.1C, a positive anomaly of 15.5C!
A repeat of similar synoptic conditions would be needed – these would obviously be helped by the record meteorological drought conditions this area is currently experiencing.

Because reliable thermometer records of heatwaves only go back as far as 1840 it is impossible to quantify whether 40C has ever been exceeded in the UK prior to then.

However, accounts of the heatwave of July 1808 suggest parts of England may have come close. Far removed from images of freezing Georgian winters and miserable summers the July of 205 years ago was among the warmest ever. The monthly mean for July 1808, according to the Central England Temperature series, was 18.4C – the 6th hottest July since the beginning of the series in 1659.

Luke Howard, the ‘father of meteorology’ who at the time lived in Plaistow, referred to the heatwave in his diary on July 13th: “Temperature at 9am 84F. The intense heat of the maximum lasted nearly three hours till about 4pm. At 6pm the temperature was 90F.” Another entry mentions a reading taken nearby. “Another at Plashet, a mile and a half eastward, indicated 96F as the maximum under the shade of a house.”

While Howard’s methods of measuring the temperature ran short of modern standards, his thermometer was hung under a laurel bush, the values still give a valid insight into the heatwave.

Tales of the heatwave, which particularly affected east and north-east England, can be seen in letters sent to local newspapers around the country. Many describe labourers dying from heat exhaustion while working in fields. Farm animals and horses suffered a similar fate.

One letter from Hull, published in the Coventry Mercury, said: “At Sigglesthorne, the honey in some beehives melted, ran out upon the ground, and most of the bees drowned in it. At Sutton, a lamb and a dog belonging to the Rev Mr Croft of Rowley, expired in the heat; and several birds dropped down dead, while flying over the streets of this town.”
Of course it is impossible to know about the health of people and animals that died but that birds dropped out the sky suggests extreme heat.

 

London droughts back to 1871

A thunderstorm on July 27th has ended a dry spell that lasted nearly 7 weeks in east London. As storms go it was a fairly tame affair, just 1.3mm fell, the first rain in 47 days, 20 hours and 14 mins.

drought rankThere are many descriptions of drought but the one I am using here, for sheer simplicity of comparison back to 1871, is the definition used up until the 1990s; that is 15 consecutive days with less than 0.25mm (0.01 inches) rain on any one day.

Meteorological droughts occur in most years though obviously ones that occur in summer are far more noticeable than those in winter. Since 1871 there have been 35 calendar years where no drought has taken place.

The longest drought before this one in 2018, probably not surprising for those who remember it, occurred during the long hot summer of 1976. The fact that summer came on top of a very dry winter, rainfall that season was about a third of what was recorded here last winter, meant that water supplies were in a much worse state, with hosepipe bans common.

Other drought years to feature include 1959, which saw the 3rd sunniest summer on record, 1929 and 1995, a summer which saw one of the hottest heatwaves on record.

For the stats I’ve used local rainfall figures back to 1959 and then stats used at Kew to 1871.

individual droughts
This graphic shows droughts were most common between 2000 and 1921. Apart from this year the length of droughts seems to be declining

Looking at the results more closely I’ve divided them into their meteorological seasons.

spring drought

summer drought

autumn drought

winter drought

 

 

 

London’s July extremes since 1959

With the ultra dry and warm month of June many feel the rest of summer will remain hot and dry. Recent weather patterns have seen much high pressure to our north keeping us dry and mostly sunny but protected from any humid Spanish plumes.

A look at local east London stats shows that half of the last 10 July months have been warmer than average while only two have been much drier than average.

I’ve put together a few top 10s of stats for Wanstead, St James’s Park and Heathrow for the month of July.

july1959WAN

july heathrow

sjp july

Some national UK July values according to TORRO

 

Hottest: 19th 2006: 36.5C at Wisley, Surrey.
Coldest: 15th 1977: -2.5C at Lagganlia, Highland.
Wettest: 18th 1955: 279.4.8mm at Martinstown Dorset.

july av mxIn terms of climatology July maxima, considering the 1981-2010 average, shows a fairly steady increase through the month, though around the 17th there is often a dip before a warm end. This would reflect the July heatwave singularity which occurs every year at 80 per cent probability.

The average rainfall graphic shows that downpour amounts are fairly random from year to year. The driest days are the 1st and the 25th. july av rn

 

London’s June extremes since 1959

With the recent warms months of April and May you’d be forgiven for thinking that we’re in for a hot summer. Indeed the recent pattern of weather, would it repeat over the next month, could see many maxima records tumbling.

A look at local east London stats shows that six of the last 10 Junes have been warmer than average while half have been much drier than average.

I’ve put together a few top 10s of stats for Wanstead, St James’s Park and Heathrow for the month of June.

Probably most notable from the below values is that recent Junes have been devoid of extreme cool temperatures and rainfall.

Snow has been known to fall in June, in 1975.

Rain is usually most frequent in the last week of the month.

june extremes wans

heathrow june

june sjp

The 10 driest Junes were:

 

Some UK May values according to TORRO

Hottest: 29th 1957: 35.6C at Camden Square, London. Also Southampton 28th 1976
Coldest: 9th 1955: -5.6C at Dalwhinnie, Highland. Also June 1st and 3rd 1962: Santon Downham, Norfolk
Wettest: 28th 1917: 242.8mm at Bruton, Somerset

Screen Shot 2018-06-06 at 12.11.18In terms of climatology June maxima, considering the 1981-2010 average, shows a gradual increase through the month, though around the 19th to the 21st there is often a dip before a warm end. This would reflect the June Monsoon which occurs every year at 77 per cent probability.

The average rainfall graphic reflects this, showing a four-day wetter spell after the 20th.

Screen Shot 2018-06-06 at 12.29.10

 

 

 

 

In the tracks of Luke Howard

The tow paths along the river Lea have provided generations of Londoners a place to escape – the route coming into its own following the legacy of London 2012 and the creation of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

bryant
The river Lea near the Bow flyover is roughly where Luke Howard’s chemical factory was situated

It also provided a means for Luke Howard’s commute to work when he moved his family from Plaistow to Tottenham in 1812.

Seven years earlier Howard set up his pharmaceutical laboratory on the banks of the Lea in the area where Bow flyover now stands. From this vantage point, as the factory produced chemicals including quinine, Howard kept a meticulous record of the atmosphere later publishing results in The Climate of London, among the first texts to discuss urban meteorology.

Development in the region was in its infancy and it would be years before the river banks became covered by factories and warehouses, these now fast making way for luxury flats and restaurants.

canal1`
The river is lined with canal boats, breweries, old factories, residential development and street art

I’ve often wondered what his journey to and from the factory was like so on Tuesday, tempted out by cloudless skies and a warm 23C I grabbed my bike and headed to the Olympic Park. Despite numerous visits I still got lost in the myriad paths in the park, turning into dead ends and finding myself on the ‘wrong side’ of canals.

Anyone familiar with Bow Flyover will know it’s not the most inspiring place; it probably represents the low point of the way north.

It was at this point in 1809 that Howard noted that the river had swelled to a width beyond a mile wide. Five years later Howard also noted how the Lea had become choked with ice following a bitterly cold winter, the year the last Thames’ Frost Fair was held.

anchor
Anchor and Hope: a good spot to stop for a pint

As you ride north the familiar sites of the Olympic Park hove into view on the right while, if you look left, beyond the cacophony of the A12, the old Bryant & May match factory can be seen. Opened in 1861 the factory, which was one of the first east London renewal projects to feature luxury flats, is yet another landmark that simply wasn’t there in Howard’s time.

Just after Old Ford locks is a canal that turns left. This ‘cut’, called the Hertford union canal or Duckett’s canal, was in the process of being dug when in July 1829 lightning during a thunderstorm killed three workers. Howard, in one of many weather-based accounts in the The Climate of London, takes up the story:

A tremendous storm of thunder and lightning broke upon the metropolis about 1 o’clock on Saturday morning. The sky had been lighted up the whole evening by vivid electrical flashes and so late as half past twelve the stars were visible when a dark cloud suddenly arose and in a few minutes one of toe heaviest showers of rain and hail ever witnessed fell in torrents from its bosom.

Peals of thunder soon followed and continued rolling with scarcely any intermission for upwards of two hours accompanied with awful bursts of lightning; the residents of Bow, Stratford and Bromley were thrown into the greatest consternation by the violence of the storm, one poor fellow lost his life and two others have been so severely injured that but faint hopes are entertained of their recovery.

The three sufferers Sullivan, Salter and Fitzpatrick were engaged in excavating a canal, at present constructing by Sir George Duckett at Old Ford, and were at half past two o’clock diligently employed in their work when the storm commenced. Sullivan was at once struck lifeless and Fitzpatrick and Salter were so seriously injured as to make it necessary to procure immediate medical attendance.

Fitzpatrick was removed to his lodgings at Bow where he was attended by Dr Fairhead who on examining his person found that his left side had been most seriously injured and that there was reason to believe his intestines had suffered severely from the shock. The damage which Salter sustained has not been of so serious a nature.

Deaths caused by lightning were a much more common occurrence in the 19th century, mostly because so many people worked outside and the dangers of this natural phenomenon were not well document. The thunderstorm in July 1829 was particularly severe, as Howard continues:

During the continuance of the lightning on Friday evening a man who was employed in pumping in Bethnal Green fields which the late heavy rains have flooded was struck by a sudden flash which caused his instantaneous death.

The clothes exhibited a singular appearance being literally torn to atoms and every part of the metal in his buttons had the appearance of having been fused. The body itself showed no traces of the electric fluid with the exception of a slight mark on the forehead.

As you cycle on the factories / flats gradually thin out until you reach Lea Bridge Road when Leyton and Walthamstow Marshes become visible on the right. The big skies probably the same as they were during the 19th century. On reaching Tottenham Hale it is time to leave the river and turn left toward the town centre.

bruce
7 Bruce Grove, Tottenham.

A total of 6 miles later brings you to Howard’s family home, 7 Bruce Grove. It still stands but, despite having a blue plaque, is in a terrible state of repair – internal walls have collapsed and the roof is clearly porous. The owners have a plan to turn the building into flats but nothing has happened in years. A petition to save the building was set up a while ago but this, too, seems to have had little impact.

Howard and his family divided their time between here and Ackworth, Yorkshire. I’ve known about 7 Bruce Grove for years but I didn’t realise just how long the garden was, stretching back hundreds of feet.. It was here that Howard also kept a weather station and was the venue for his account of the partial solar eclipse in 1820.

monkey
The monkey puzzle tree

There is precious little left of the original garden, it being overgrown with bramble, nettles and alder. I did notice a tall money puzzle tree which I wonder once had pride of place in one of the borders.

Because of the dense undergrowth and it being behind a large wall there is precious little you can see but I wonder if there is any evidence of Howard’s meteorological enclosure somewhere in the garden?

It would be a fitting tribute Luke Howard if any future development would allow the provision of a weather station somewhere on the property.

rear
The rear of 7 Bruce Grove, Tottenham

 

w marshes
Walthamstow Marshes were flooded to a depth so great that many trees briefly disappeared

When the River Lea turned into an inland sea

It is 194 years ago this week that the River Lea burst its banks in the Stratford area leading to an ‘inland sea’ forming on nearby marshland.

Days of heavy rain that started on the 12th sent the water rising to record levels, the height was 2.5 inches higher than the devastating flood of 1809.

Luke Howard, in an entry in The Climate of London, had measured nearly three inches (74mm) of rain by the 16th and was expecting a flood:

“Towards evening the waters rose suddenly in the Lea and passing over all the banks of the level soon filled the marshes and in the course of the night rose to an unprecedented height being two inches and a half higher than in the flood of 1809.

The houses in the marshes south of the road were filled nearly to the chamber floors and some of the inmates removed with great difficulty. The flood remained stationary for nearly 24 hours. On the 17th in the afternoon it began very gradually to subside and on the 18th in the morning was much abated; the marshes still presenting the appearance of a sea the tops of the trees appearing in places only.”

Though there are no reanalysis charts from the time Howard’s daily entries state that pressure was low with the wind in the north-east, a classic pattern where depressions can move along the Channel before getting ‘stuck’ in the North Sea. A similar pattern with an almost identical amount of rain caused severe flooding in June 1903.

There was some 96mm of rain recorded during May 1824, locally the 11th wettest back to 1797. There have been wetter Mays since but, thanks to massive investment in the River Lea Navigation , prompted by more devastating floods in 1947, widespread flooding is a thing of the past.

w factory
The area around where Luke Howard’s factory once stood

 

w marshes
Walthamstow Marshes were flooded to a depth so great that many trees briefly disappeared

 

London’s May extremes since 1959

Ne’er cast a clout till May is out. With the recent March and April weather being so variable it would be wise to bear in mind this old saying, especially with fine and warm weather forecast for the Bank Holiday weekend.

A look at local east London stats, however, shows that seven of the last 10 Mays have been warmer and drier than average.

I’ve put together a few top 10s of stats for Wanstead, St James’s Park and Heathrow for the month of April.

Probably most notable from the below values is that recent Mays have been devoid of extreme cool temperatures and rainfall.

With nights now relatively short air frosts are uncommon though the odd ground frost can still strike on a clear night.

Snow can fall in May – one example being 1979 in the higher parts of the capital – but after the first week it is extremely rare.

Rain is usually most frequent in the last week of the month.

wanstead may

SJP may

heathrow may

 

 

 

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Some UK May values according to TORRO

Hottest: 22nd 1922: 32.8C at Camden Square, London.
Coldest: 2nd 1917: -9.4C at Lynford, Norfolk
Wettest: 8th 1884: 172.2 at Seathwaite, Cumbria

 

In terms of climatology May maxima, considering the 1981-2010 average, shows a gradual increase through the month, though around the 25th there is often a brief dip before a warm end.

The average rainfall graphic reflects this, showing a three-day wetter spell after the 24th.

max max

 

may rain

 

 

London’s April extremes since 1959

April showers bring spring flowers… so the saying goes though a look at local east London stats shows that eight of the last 11 Aprils have been drier than average, some remarkably so.

I’ve put together a few top 10s of stats for Wanstead, St James’s Park and Heathrow for the month of April.

Probably most notable from the below values is the top 5 maxima, made up during a warm spell in 2011.

Frosts can be common and are often sharp, playing havoc with budding plants

Snow can fall in April – a good few inches fell early in the month in 2008 – though any accumulation is usually short lived.

Rain – the characteristic April showers – is usually most frequent at the end of the month.

 

wanstead april

april SJP

april hth

 

The chart slideshow below show the synoptic situation which brought a notable warm spell in the second half of April 2011.

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Some UK April values according to TORRO

Hottest: 16th 1949: 29.4C at Camden Square, London.
Coldest: 2nd 1917: -15C at Newton Rigg, Cumbria
Wettest: 22nd 1970: 182.1mm at Seathwaite, Cumbria

In terms of climatology April maxima, considering the 1981-2010 average, shows a gradual increase through the month, though around the 21st there is often a jump of 3-4C, the start of a warm spell before rain arrives at month’s end.

The average rainfall graphic reflects this, showing a three-day drier spell after the 20th.

april max

april rain

 

 

 

 

 

‘So much for global warming…’

Since notably cold weather struck at the end of February I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard this phrase uttered by the public and some sections of the press.

Top 20 cold
Top 20 cold anomalies

The ‘Beast from the East’ (versions 1.0 and 2.0) really captured the imagination in an age where everything has to have a label slapped on it; any message that these cold spells are ‘weather’ and not ‘climate’ seems to get lost.

Both spells, indeed the general pattern of our late winter weather, were driven by the stratospheric sudden warming event that lead to a split polar vortex in February – leading to a very cold end to the month and a mean temperature anomaly of -2.5C, the greatest monthly anomaly since March 2013.

To put it into perspective, however, it was nothing like some of the anomalies that occurred in the early 19th century: January 1814, for example, saw a monthly anomaly of -8.2C and coincided with the last occasion a frost fair was held on the Thames. Januaries back then were generally very cold, the 1801-1831 average monthly mean was -3C, that’s 8C colder than the most recent 1981-2010 average!

So climate now is much warmer but that is not to say that anomalously cold months can’t happen. February 1986 saw an anomaly of -5.6C, the 13th= greatest cold anomaly in my local dataset going back to 1797.

top 20 warm
Top 20 warm anomalies

The cold December of 2010 recorded an anomaly of -4.2C, 76th= greatest cold anomaly, while anomalies of -4.1C recorded in January 1979 and March 2013 were 77th=.

With the warming climate it is no surprise that most warm months happened very recently. The balmy month of December 2015  saw a positive anomaly of 5.4C.

The ‘Beast from the East 2.0’ was caused by a narrow tongue of extremely cold air from Russia scoring a direct hit on the UK. The odds of this happening must have been low but it is an example of how, when the synoptics of the atmosphere line up perfectly, anything is possible.

And it is an example how even in a warming climate the UK can still be subject to anomalous cold and warmth at any time of the year.

As the author Mark Twain reportedly once said: “The climate is what you expect; the weather is what you get.”

gfs
The upper air anomaly of the ‘Beast from the East 2.0’. 
anom
This graphic shows positive and negative monthly anomalies since 1797 against a generally warming climate

Because the above graphic is crowded I created one of anomalies since 1970. The upward trend is the same.

1970

march 1st