Tag Archives: climate change

‘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

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London’s choked by leaving the EU

This month marks the 60th anniversary of the Clean Air Act, a piece of government legislation prompted in part by the Great Smog of December 1952 that caused between 4,000 and 12,000 premature deaths.boris

Air quality in the capital has vastly improved since those days of ‘pea souper’ fogs. A study of sunshine in Greenwich and other sites around east London reveals that winter months are, on average, around 18 per cent sunnier today than they were in the same period before the act was implemented in 1956. Though the cause of this is possibly partly because of a decline in winter anticyclones – weather systems that can give weeks of dull, murky conditions – further environmental legislation has helped.

Though the sky is clearer conditions at street level have grown steadily worse in recent years. During the first week of 2016 it was revealed that parts of the capital had already breached annual EU hourly limits for nitrogen dioxide – a pollutant that causes thousands of premature deaths through respiratory problems each year. A study last year showed that nearly 9,500 people die early each year in London because of long-term exposure to air pollution, more than twice as many as previously thought, according to the research.

Although action is being taken to reduce pollution from diesel buses, taxis and lorries the figures reveal that we are once again getting to the level of deaths caused by the Great Smog. The new mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, seems to be taking pollution a lot more seriously than his predecessor with a number of initiatives announced – making London compliant with EU legal limits well before the government’s target of 2025.

However, the mayor has also sent out conflicting messages by saying he backs the expansion of City Airport – you can’t have it both ways. And, if we do leave the EU, what will replace these EU legal limits?

With the current political situation lurching from one disaster to another I fear that the environment will get pushed well down the agenda. The current list of candidates vying to take over from David Cameron as prime minister include ‘dark horse’ Andrea Leadsom, the energy and climate change minister, who has been an ardent supporter of fracking. And on coal she recently sparked controversy in February  where she assured the industry the pledged 2025 coal phase-out was just a consultation and encouraged it to suggest what ‘unabated coal’ means.

The many benefits of EU membership got lost in the debate over the last few weeks – improvement in the environment being one of them. It is why, without the beady eye of Brussels keeping watch over us, that we must ensure that the next government stick to their promise of continual improvement to the capital’s air quality.

East london winter sunshine totals
Winter sunshine totals were falling before we joined the EU. Since 1973 a general upswing is observed. On average there is 18% more sunshine during winter months since we joined the EU compared with the same period before joining the Common Market

 

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 .

mill
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.

CET v Greenwich values since 1850

The climate of London can vary greatly to figures revealed in the Central England Temperature series. Because this dataset covers an area of the UK enclosed by Lancashire, London and Bristol the resulting monthly mean temperature can often be quite a bit lower than what is experienced in the capital.

Though these anomalies are smoothed in the monthly series that stretches back to 1659 notable daily extremes that happen nationwide tend to get lost. One example was earlier this month when the UK’s November maximum temperature record was broken. Trawsgoed in Wales reached 22.4C on the afternoon of the 1st whereas a largely foggy east London recorded just 11.5C.

Comparing CET with data from Greenwich back to 1850 reveals a gradual decoupling between the two series, the warmth of London’s urban heat island effect an ever-growing influence.

CETvGreenwich

The 1851-1880 30-year average means show that Greenwich was 0.6C warmer than the CET series. By 1981-2010 this gap had widened to 1.2C – indeed the London series is today 1.4C warmer than it was in 1851-80 whereas CET has warmed by only 0.6C.

Delving further into the data reveals an increase in the number of times that the 30-year average mean is being breached by at least 1.1C. The period 1961-90 was the warmest in both cases with the mean being breached by 1.1C or more on four occasions in the case of CET and five in London. It is interesting to note, however, that the largest anomaly in the CET series is 1.3C in 1921, greater, albeit by only 0.1C, than the warm years of 1990 and 1999.

The largest anomaly in London, 1.6C, was set in 2011, 0.1C higher than 1999, 1997 and 1989.years exceeding relevant 30-year average annual temperature by 1.1C

The graph below shows the number of occasions that the 30-year average has been exceeded in each period by 1.1C or more. With 1961-90 being so warm it appears that CET warming has slowed though it should be borne in mind that we have another five years before the 1991-20 series can be released.

numberof years that exceeded 30-year average annual mean CET by 1.1C

With reference to the London graph below showing the number of occasions that the 30-year average has been exceeded in each period by 1.1C or more merely confirms that the level of the anomalies have increased but, as already mentioned, there are probably far more outside influences affecting the outcome such as UHI, population growth, further industrialisation etc.

The accelerated warming is a worry in terms of how London would adapt should summer temperatures greatly increase, though, of course, it remains to be seen if the anomalies will advance even further from current levels.

Global temperatures are on the rise though our part of the globe may not be as adversely affected as elsewhere.Size of margin when years exceeded 30-year average annual mean temp by at least 1.1C at Greenwich* The CET dataset is the longest instrumental record of temperature in the world. The mean, minimum and maximum datasets are updated monthly, with data for a month usually available by the 3rd of the next month. A provisional CET value for the current month is calculated on a daily basis. The mean daily data series begins in 1772 and the mean monthly data in 1659. Mean maximum and minimum daily and monthly data are also available, beginning in 1878.

For more information on CET follow this link.

Flood risk sandbags City in the East plan

Plans to build 200,000 homes in East London over the next 20 years 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 Environment Agency’s Flood Plan map of the Thames illustrates how much of the land that is designated for development is at risk of flooding

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 new 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. 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.

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’s readings 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: another area of east London that is traditionally flood plain

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 iconic Spillers’ Millennium Mills building has been redeveloped

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.

Climate change: Forever a pressing issue

Every so often the UK experiences severe weather which shocks a population that is very used to our mostly benign climate.

Newspapers and media agencies, in an age where a culprit must be found to blame, are quick to connect every gale, flood and snowstorm with climate change. To say it is just ‘weather’ doesn’t compute with the average news editor.

falkirk herald
The year 1868 saw months of extreme weather that led newspapers on a mild and rain-sodden Christmas Eve to first ask the question: ‘Is our climate changing?’

A look back through archives from the 19th century reveal that this is not a new phenomenon. Though extreme weather events, including the heatwave of 1808 and widespread floods of 1811 and 1828, were always well documented, it wasn’t until the advent of reliable meteorological readings in the mid 1800s that scientists could analyse what was happening to the atmosphere with any authority. This, coupled with an explosion in literacy rates and the British fascination with the weather, helped build an appetite for news stories that went beyond covering each gale, flood and blizzard.

The year 1868 saw months of extreme weather that led newspapers on a mild and rain-sodden Christmas Eve to first ask the question: ‘Is our climate changing?’ The year had been the warmest for 34 years. The CET mean for 1868 was 10.4C, a figure nearly 1.3C above the 1831-1860 average. To put that into perspective 2014 was only 1C above the 1981-2010 average.

A review of weather in 1868 in the Falkirk Herald said the year had started very wet – a farming diary kept in Connaught, Co Mayo, said that January was so wet it was impossible to plough the land. The very wet weather lasted until the last week of March. In the Armagh record, all three months had well-above average rainfall, with the three-month total of 363 mm representing around 180 per cent of the long-term average.

By contrast the summer of 1868 was very hot and dry, with some of the highest temperatures ever recorded for the second half of July occurring in this year. There was a remarkable spell of hot days, with temperatures over 30C in England. For the south-east specifically, a maximum temperature above 32C was recorded in each of the months from May to September, and in July, the temperature exceeded 32C on 9 days. It was regarded for many years, until 1976 at least, as the longest (because of a lack of rainfall) and hottest in the instrumental record for England.

Although not accepted under modern methods, because of problems of comparison between Glaisher stands and Stevenson screens, the maximum temperature recorded on July 22nd, 1868 at Tonbridge, Kent, is still remarkable: 100.6F (38.1C). It is thought that this value, when compared with a standard Stevenson screen, is about 1.5C or 2C too high.

The subsequent ‘standard’ winter (December, January and February) became the warmest winter in the CET series which began in 1659, a record that still stands today.

The mild temperatures suggest a highly zonal, westerly pattern held sway from late November 1868 until at least February 1869. Snow was scarce in 1868 – with the only heavy falls on March 3rd and 8th and November restricted to northern England and Scotland.

Gilbert White, in his journal Natural History of Selbourne, tells of a visit to London in January 1776 when the metropolis was completely embedded in snow. He says that snow remained on houses in the City for 26 days - these days we're lucky if we see snow fall at all in the centre
Gilbert White, in his journal Natural History of Selbourne, tells of a visit to London in January 1776 when the metropolis was completely embedded in snow. He says that snow remained on houses in the City for 26 days – these days it is unusual for any snow to fall in the centre

The Falkirk Herald  goes on to point out that winters, for the past 25 years, were mostly mild and wet – any bitter spells were short-lived. The piece cites Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selbourne which tells of a scene in January 1776 when “narrow roads were filled with snow to the tops of the hedges”, stopping road wagons and coaches in their tracks. White, regarded as England’s first ecologist, remarks that on a visit to London on the 22nd the metropolis was completely embedded in snow. A frost on the 27th lasted four days and was so intense that the Thames froze sufficiently enough for crowds to run about on the ice. More tellingly the snow remained on houses in the City for 26 days – these days we’re lucky if we see snow fall at all in the centre.

The paper professes that an increased occurrence of gales in mild winters were preferable to the ‘wave of death’ that accompanies bitter winters:

To the strong and hearty the frosts and snows of a bitter winter may seem genial and invigorating ; but they bring death with them to the weak, the ailing, and the aged.

It had been nine years since Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species and many people were starting to turn away from the popular theory that many weather disasters were the work of God.

top 10 warmest and coldest years
Nine out of ten of the warmest years have occurred since 1989

Less than 5 years later the question ‘Has our Climate Changed?’ was being asked again. An article in the Fife Herald on January 30th, 1873, reported that winters were milder and that summers were colder – less frost and snow and much more rain. The month had been mild, nearly 2C above the 1841-70 mean, but the rain was more notable: 80mm, 136% of the EWP average. The wet January was a continuation of the previous 12 months which had been the wettest on record: 1284.9mm, a record in the EWP series that remains to this day. There has been a wetter 12 month period just once – April 2000 to March 2001.

The wet conditions extended across Ireland too; in the Armagh record, the 12 months from February 1872 to January 1873 saw 1251 mm of rain fall, which represents about 150 per cent of the long term average for this station. A farming diary in Connaught, Co Mayo, stated that the persistent wet weather caused considerable distress through loss of harvests and difficulty of working the land.

By the time the question: “Is our climate changing?” was asked again, 16 years later, the climate had turned much colder with the return of snowy winters. Snow fell on 16 days in February 1889 – a storm on the 10th and 11th dumped 20-30cm of snow widely across England. Days later the Hull Daily Mail reported a statement by Professor Cleveland Abbe which said that the climate of the earth had not changed in 2,000 years.

The comments of Professor Abbe, today considered the father of the US National Weather Service, were drawn from a report in the US magazine, The Forum, and referred to temperature, rainfall, early and late frosts, freezing of rivers, periods of cold winters and hot summers, the opening of navigation and the temperature of the earth. He said:

The study of each and all of these phenomena has failed to establish that there has been any sensible change in the climate at any point of the earth’s surface during the past 2,000 years.

It is not clear if Professor Abbe’s words were taken out of context but it is interesting that such a well-respected scientist had the confidence to make such a statement.

Top 10 wettest and driest years
Rainfall shows a much more even spread of records through the years than temperature

The year 1888, part of a string of colder than average years that followed the huge Krakatoa volcanic eruption in Indonesia in 1883, had seen other extreme events. In July ice is reported to have disrupted the fishing fleets around the Faroe Islands, implying cold conditions at these latitudes, probably extending to at least the Shetland Isles. It was a notably cold summer; a mean of 13.7C puts it just outside the ‘Top 10’ of coldest summers in the CET series. In London the summer was 1.8C cooler than average and rainfall was 139 per cent of normal for that period. It was also the dullest on record.

Two decades were to pass before the question: ‘Has our climate changed?’ appeared again following a fairly mild and wet winter. The Dundee Courier, on April 9th 1908, suggested that winters had grown milder but admitted there was no known cause. It said that the Thames had not frozen over for nearly 100 years but that this was partly caused by the fact that London Bridge was replaced 80 years previously, totally changing the tidal flow of the Thames.

Five months later a soggy Dublin Horse Show prompted the Wells Journal on September 10th to report on findings by the meteorologist Sir John Moore featured in the Geographic Section. He looked at Rev William Merle’s writings from the 14th century and observations made in Greenwich from 1774.

The facts prove that within the last six centuries at all events appreciable change has taken place in the climate of the British Isles. There is no scintilla of evidence to show that such change has taken place in the past or is likely to take place in the future.

On Boxing Day 1908 the Gloucestershire Echo cited an ancient weather report featured by Sir John Moore. In 1341 the month of April saw continuous frost from 6th to the 13th while the following autumn saw spring-like weather persist from September to December: “Our climate hasn’t changed in 600 years.” was the claim.

A poor summer in 1909 that began with the coldest June for over 230 years once again prompted the question ‘Is our climate changing?’ to be asked again by the Wells Journal on August 5th, 1909. The report says that the climate of Europe is growing colder – with periodic cold summers. It goes on to say that cold summers have happened in the past, mentioning the following years: 820 (cold and wet – most crops perish), 1033 and 1044 (cold and wet, caused famine), 1151 (rain falls in France continuously from end of June to middle of August), 1219, 1315, 1423 and 1512 (cold and wet summers) – in 1512 several people, accused of causing bad weather, were burned at the stake. Other years: 1596, 1639, 1641, 1667 – all had very cold Junes.  The years 1809, 1812, 1813, 1816 all had cold summers.

bonacinaAround the country there were some notable readings. On June 6th a high of just 10C was reached in Oxford and Bath. It was notably cold and wet with significant thunderstorms from 10th to the 12th and 20th to 28th. In London the Trooping the Colour ceremony on 24th was cancelled because of poor weather – one of only four occasions it has been cancelled due to weather since its inception in 1895. It was also a very dull month with no sunshine at all in London from June 2nd to 6th.

The year 1911 produced more remarkable weather and some violent thunderstorms. On May 31st, as the Titanic was being launched in an overcast Belfast, some 17 people were killed by lightning strikes across London and four horses died on Epsom downs on what was the day of the Derby. About 62mm of rain fell in 50 minutes on the Downs and there were 159 lightning strikes in 15 minutes around 5.30pm.

The summer season that year was the warmest for 65 years with many areas having less than half their normal rainfall. July was spectacularly sunny with an average of over 10 hours of bright sunshine over much of southern England: 384 hours of sunshine were recorded at Eastbourne and Hastings, East Sussex, during this month, and these are thought to be the highest sunshine totals recorded anywhere for July in the UK.

August 9th, 1911, saw the first incident of 100F (37.8C) being recorded in London. The record beat the previous high of 97F. The report also makes mention that many areas recorded at least 97F
August 9th, 1911, saw the first incident of 100F (37.8C) being recorded in London. The record beat the previous high of 97F. The report also makes mention that many areas recorded at least 97F

For the SE of England, with something like 300-350 hours of bright sunshine, this month (with July 2006) is regarded as the sunniest month on record. The month was also exceptionally dry and is still among the ‘Top 5’ dry Julys in the EWP series. August was also warm: the 9th produced the first occasion when 100°F was recorded in London.

During the autumn of 1911, the Shields Daily Gazette on Wednesday, October 25th, was reporting that ‘weather prophets’ were predicting that the UK was in for an exceptionally cold winter. The predictions were based purely on the fact that the country had not had a bad winter in more than 15 years, the last occasion on which the Thames was partly frozen over in the early part of 1895.

“If very cold winters come on an average once every twelve years, an old-fashioned winter is certainly overdue, for there is no ground for supposing that our climate is changing. But it is not the case that cold winters follow hot summers as an invariable rule. They sometimes do so, but the contrary would seem to be as often the case, for the hot summers of 1868 and 1887, to quote two examples, were followed by comparatively mild winters.

The law of averages is certainly on the side of a severe winter this year, but in the case of the weather it is never safe to argue from any law, and as the price of coal is going up, everyone must hope that this time, at all events, the Clerk of the Weather will be merciful.

In the event the Clerk was merciful and winter was mild.

Top 10 warmest and coldest winters
Warm winters are often thought of as a modern phenomenon but there were plenty in days past

This mild theme continued for a period prompting the Dundee Courier on Monday, January 2nd 1922 to ask: “Where are our winters? Is our climate changing?” The leading article goes on: “Here we are in January, and so far we have had no snow to speak of. Yes, our climate is changing, and has been for many years. We do not need weather records to tell us that. Our memories provide striking comparisons. In our boyhood days we greased our boots, tucked our trousers in, pulled the ear-flaps of our caps (you remember the style) down tight, wrapped mufflers around our necks (but not for fashion sake), then stood by the big fire to warm up before starting to plod our way through deep snow school.

“Who can forget the snowball battles after school; the hustle home for skates and to the ponds until nightfall; and then some? In those times we planned skating parties, and we were not disappointed. Do we need the records of thermometers and snow gauges to remind of the days of stinging cold and streets “piled high with snow ?

Anyone who says our climate is not changing has not been on this earth long enough to know. The severe winters left indelible marks upon our grandparents and great-grandparents, and the weather developed strong constitutions. They tell of successive winters of heavy snow and intense cold, beginning early in November and lasting until late in March. The snow often was piled up from four to six feet deep on the level.

top 10 wet n dry winter
There’s been far more wet winters than dry winters in modern times

“The seasons in those times were evidently well marked, for frequently made of their definite beginning and ending. Winter evidently was the season that concerned our ancestors most, for only slight mention made of any unusual summer.

In Britain the last few years winter temperatures have been higher than the average. The cold period has several times occurred in the autumn and May is showing a tendency to become the most pleasant month of the year, and so we are again reminded that the climate is changing; while statisticians say that average temperatures have remained practically the same for the last 600 years.

“A change in climate does not necessarily involve a change from the average mean temperature. It frequently happens that a warmer winter and a cooler summer or vice versa, or even a moderate winter and an unusually hot summer leave the average practically the same, while climatalogically very decided changes have taken place.”

Six years later a very poor summer prompted the Dundee Evening Telegraph on Tuesday, July 3rd 1928 to again ask the “eternal question”: Is Our Climate Changing? “With days of wind and rain that have made June and July days seem more like March and at times, even November, we are still awaiting our real summer. It is not uncommon to hear people speculating as to whether, after all, our seasons are not in process of changing.

“It is interesting, even if is not comforting, writes a correspondent, to know that people were speculating on exactly the same matter many years ago, and that in 1892 the author of Dundee and Dundonians Seventy Years Ago, when writing on Olden Rime Storms, Floods and Droughts, thought to ask: “Is our climate changing?”

warm and cold summers
Five of the ten warmest summers have occurred relatively recently

“In a climate like ours,” says the writer of that interesting little book, the weather is a never-ending topic. Warmer and Colder. I have often heard old people speak of the weather changes that had taken place since their young days, as they expressed it. The summers, they said, were then much warmer, and, as an instance, they said that barley would be above the ground in forty-eight hours after sowing. It was then, they admitted, the last grain that was sown.

The summers then were so hot that the cows could only be put out to pasture in the early morning and evening, as they were driven mad by the ‘glegs’ or horse flies biting them. Then the winters were almost arctic in their severity and length. The seasons were also more sharply divided, approaching those of Russia and North America in their rapid seasonal transitions.

“I know that many about my own age have the same ideas of what has taken place in their time. A very hot or a very cold season or two may, as we get older, come to assume the general character of that far-off time, still I cannot but think that for a good many years past there has been more of a mixing of summer and winter than was the case fifty years ago, winter now being often found in the lap of spring, and summer-like weather about the new year.

“On a New Year’s Day – I can’t remember the date – I gathered blossom from our gooseberry bushes to show to a friend.”

On February 5th 1929 the newspapers were promoting a “new series of talks entitled ‘Is Our Climate Changing'”. The first speaker was a Mr Gordon Manley of the University of Durham. The paper said that the talks, in view of the widespread interest in weather conditions and forecasts, should prove of rather more than usual interest.

wet n dry summers
Three of the ten driest summers have occurred recently though it is notable that 2012 ranks 4th wettest summer

Manley later became probably the best known, most prolific and most expert on the climate of Britain of his generation. It took him 30 years to assemble the Central England Temperature (CET) series of monthly mean temperatures stretching back to 1659 – the longest standardised instrumental record available for anywhere in the world.

In the Dundee Courier on Wednesday, July 29, 1931, a report on a recent article “Has our climate changed?” had aroused considerable interest. David Grewar, the well known Glenisla authority, who has a long experience of the glens, gives his views below.

“Such variety of opinion exists as to whether or not our weather has changed. Some say that it has, others that it has not, and that any supposed change is due to the exaggerative effects of memory. These differences of opinion do not only exist among laymen, but among scientists as well.

Making all due allowance for changed habits and the tricks of memory, the older among us are undoubtedly correct when we say that the seasons now are different from our younger days. Then our winters were more severe, our summers better; now there’s more of a levelling up between the two.

“Mere meteorological records of temperature and precipitation cannot be taken as proof of what popularity constitutes severe winter. Suppose, for instance, that a heavy fall of snow is experienced in December, and is slightly augmented now and again for the next two months, and that never more than a few degrees of frost are registered, records would represent that as a mild winter; whereas reality it would be a severe one, because the ground would be deeply covered with snow for the whole winter. On the other hand, we may have a winter of severe frost, with little or no snow, claimed as a severe one.”

Eighteen months later and the Gloucester Citizen, on Friday, January 6th 1933, asked: “Is our climate changing?” The sub heading “January mends its manners” again enquired about whether the persistent succession of mild Januaries in the present century suggested something in the nature of a change in climate?

In the French Revolutionary calendar the division of the year from the middle of December to the middle of January was the month “Nivose” or “snowy”. The Anglo-Saxons called January “Wulfrnonath” because the weather was so intense that wolves, emboldened by hunger, left the forest and invaded the villages. The Dutch used to call January “Lauw-maand” or “frosty month”.

Today, in many parts of the country, particularly in the south and west, amateur gardeners have the delightful rare experience of seeing standard and rambler roses in full bloom, primroses blooming in rich clumps, stocks, polyanthus, indeed, show off flowers usually retarded by frost until the spring.

This changing character of “January freeze-the-pot-by-the-fire” is commented upon by a writer in the current issue Nature:

“January, the coldest month of the year in England, is proverbially associated with snow and ice. During the twentieth century, however, January has not lived up to its name but has been much more open, mild and stormy. with few prolonged frosts.

“At Greenwich the mean January temperature during the decade 1921-30 was 41.3Fs, more than two degrees above normal and probably five or six degrees higher than in some of the decades of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This persistent period of mild winters has extended over the whole of western and central Europe and is associated with a greater frequency of south-westerly winds and may almost be regarded as a change of climate.”

Within five years, in 1938, Guy Callender produced a paper that developed a theory that Earth temperatures had been rising in line with increasing concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide. It was the first time that somebody had made this connection: the birth of the science of man-made climate change.

treewp
If the oak before the ash…

In 1942, the Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press, on Saturday, February 21, was discussing old weather rhymes.

“The speaker gave the following to us as among the most reliable weather verses:

“Livening red and morning grey, are surest signs of a very fine day.”

“When the dew is in the grass, rain will never come to pass.”

“There was a flicker of reason, he said, in the rhyme “rain before seven, fine before eleven”.

“Is our climate changing? Dealing with the question of our climate changing Mr Pettipher observed that people’s idea that the old-fashioned type of weather had gone forever, and that some such solution as the diversion of the Gulf Stream was the cause of the winter warmth, received a rude shock in the early months of 1939 and 1940, which, with the exception of 1929 were probably more severe than anything since 1895.

“Hot summers seemed to have been rather less frequent than in years past ; but our land was not really one of perpetual fog and gloom some novelists would have us believe, nor as bad as American thought when he wrote :

Dirty Days hath September, April. June and November ; from January up to May, the rain it raineth every day ; all the rest have thirty-one, without a blessed gleam of ; and if any of them had two and thirty they’d be just as wet and twice as dirty ! (Laughter.)

“In terms of Buckingham rainfall the speaker emphasized the necessary practical value, especially to sailors, fishermen, agriculturists and sportsmen, and now to our airmen, of weather study and manv observations with regard to rainfall described the Air Ministry’s organisation of 6,000 observers in the different parts of the country, of whom he was one, pointing out that the work had been described as of “national importance” because of its practical value.

“He emphasized that it was not a dry, hot summer that caused anxiety regarding water supplies; but a dry winter season. Buckingham’s average rainfall over a 20-year period was 25.43 inches. During the remarkable thunderstorm of May 19th when the roof of Buckingham Hospital was set alight by lightning 1.01 inches fell in thirty minutes, the percentage of 2.02 inches in the hour qualifying for a place in British Rainfall for a fall of unusual intensity.”

wileyMuch has been written about climate change in newspapers and scientific papers since the war. For a long period during the 1960s and 1970s the concern was about global cooling. But this changed in the 1990s when it became scientists identified that the Earth was beginning to warm.

A search of Wiley, the publisher shows a sharp increase in incidences of articles and papers that feature climate change. It is surprisingly just how big the increase has been since the beginning of the 1990s.

ft articlesLooking at the last 10 years the Financial Times mention of the phrase ‘climate change’ is much more variable, perhaps reflecting the world financial crash of 2008 when concern was deflected away from the environment and on to the economy.

Concerns over climate change today have moved on immeasurably since those first lines of concern were vented in newspapers in 1868. But the socio-economic and geo-political arguments that are associated with the science deserve a blog all on their own. The long-range models that are still being developed, together with further study of ocean sediment, ice cores, tree rings etc illustrate that there is so much more we need to learn about this fascinating subject.

News editors would do well to take a moment the next time they report a hurricane, tornado, flood or snowstorm and realise that ‘freak’ events do happen and that it is not necessarily climate change that is the cause of that particular event in time.

As Mark Twain apparently said in 1887: “Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.”

* Articles featured in the British Newspaper Archive were referenced in compiling this blog

CET

ewp rain


	

Hot and bothered by London heat escalator

mean temp 23.5
Total days where the mean temp was 23.5C or higher

There are 2.5 times as many hot days during summer in London as there were 100 years ago – that’s the result I have found while looking at data for Greenwich going back to 1851.

Very hot conditions, where the mean daily temperature is 23.5°C or higher, as defined by the Met Office’s Heat-Health Watch System, have been achieved in this area on 199 days since 1852.

The Met Office, and other meteorological agencies, use 30-year averages to smooth any spikes of hot and cold years – so the result, in my view, is quite remarkable – even though it is just one dataset.

Looking at the data overall it can be seen that while average maxima has decreased by 1.6°C since 1881-1910, minima has increased by 2.1°C.

new max min 30 yr
30-year hot day max / min average since 1881

The decreased maxima is possibly explained by the fact that the sun shines, on average, just over an hour less than it did a century ago. The reason for this could be because of increased air pollution and aircraft contrails?

The increased minima, on the other hand, could be being caused by the fact that vast tracts of suburban front and back gardens are now paved over – along with the loss of the shade of many trees. This, and increased road and house building, acts as a huge radiator, keeping nights warmer than they would have been a century ago.

Experts would question the hybrid nature of my dataset, even though my observing sites are very close to those of Greenwich. It is a shame that many of the first climatological stations, such as Camden Square set up in the early 19th century by George Symons, are not still around as they would now offer an unquestionable insight into just how much London’s climate has warmed.

Sunshine hours have decreased since the 19th century
Sunshine hours have decreased since the 19th century

You could argue that there is no doubt that the warming in these data is man made though, perhaps, paved gardens keeping summer nights warmer would be a lot easier and cheaper to solve than fulfilling the carbon capture policies of many of the world’s governments. But that is an argument for another post.

For now, as the capital’s population continues to increase, it is vitally important that planners get the next generation of property developments right to keep the population cool when a heatwave strikes. Extreme heat severely affects public health, not least the suicide rate – a study has shown that above 18°C, each 1°C increase in mean temperature has associated with a 3.8 and 5.0% rise in suicide and violent suicide respectively. Planners cannot just leave it to energy-hungry air conditioning to bring relief – developments should incorporate plenty of shade and natural cooling in their designs to help counteract the health impacts of future heatwaves.

* There were hot spells before the period in this post but I have excluded these: Luke Howard’s maxima observations from Plaistow, Stratford and Tottenham were taken under non-standard conditions and may be on the high side.

** I have focused my investigation on data recorded at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. For some reason the data during a couple of years in the 1950s was incomplete – to fill in these gaps I used official data gathered at Kew. The data is completed up to the present day using my own observations taken since 1988.

Veteran trees that make Wanstead Park

As the trees in Wanstead Park start bursting into life it is interesting to note that the oaks seem to be beating the ash trees into leaf.

One of the magnificent oaks that provide the backdrop to Music in WansteadPark was in leaf on Friday, April 11th.
One of the magnificent oaks that provide the backdrop to Music in WansteadPark was in leaf on Friday, April 11th.

After the dry vernal equinox period this could be another sign of a dry summer to come as the saying goes…

If the oak before the ash then we’ll only see a splash.

If the ash before the oak then we’re sure to get a soak.

The story behind the mature trees in Wanstead Park – several of which will turn 200 this year – is a fascinating one.

The park is virtually on my doorstep and it’s like watching a living painting as the trees change from season to season. Spring is my favourite time of year, as the character of the park transforms so quickly. Chalet Wood bursts into colour with a carpet of bluebells, and leaves once again clothe the trees.

Magnificent specimens of oak, horse chestnut, sycamore and holly stand alongside half-rotten victims of gales over the last 200-odd years. But despite storms and floods, the biggest nemesis to these trees was the former owner of the park, William Long-Wellesley. As well as demolishing Wanstead House in 1823 to help clear his debts, Long-Wellesley also sold thousands of mature trees, despite local opposition and a court injunction brought by Sir Edward Sugden, who was seeking to restrain Long-Wellesley’s depredations on his children’s inheritance.

A court report from the time states that Long-Wellesley had marked 2,000 trees for sale, which would have included hardwoods, such as oak, chestnut and elm and perhaps walnut and lime. To quantify that figure, it should be noted that the last full tree survey of the park, not including Bush Wood, in April 1990, listed just over 800 trees.

Richard Arnopp, committee member of the Friends of Wanstead Parklands, said: “There is general agreement that Long-Wellesley left the park more or less devastated, but the wooded areas subsequently regenerated within their former footprints, helped by later planting and management by the Corporation of London.”

It is not clear who bought the trees, though oak was especially valuable at the time for shipbuilding, which was still some decades away from the shift from timber to iron. Britain was at the end of the first Industrial Revolution and timber suitable for making masts, a crucial requirement for any sailing ship, and one that often had to be replaced after storms or wear, was difficult to find.

This graph shows the monthly mean temperature for the periods 1814-1825 (series  1, blue line) and 2004-2015 (series 2, orange line). Notice how much colder most winters were 1814-1825
This graph shows the monthly mean temperature for the periods 1814-1825 (series 1, blue line) and 2004-2015 (series 2, orange line). Notice how much colder most winters were 1814-1825

It was also a cold period. Just over 10 years previous the Thames froze over for the last time and winters were frequently very cold and snowy. Wood was one of the principal methods of keeping warm – house fires would have been burning through the winter – anyone with a wood stove would know just how much wood you can get through, even in an average winter.

As well as selling timber, Long-Wellesley reportedly sold the topsoil of Wanstead Flats to nurseries as potting compost. Most of the mature trees in the park today would have been saplings in the 1820s, thus escaping the attention of Long-Wellesley. According to the Debois survey from 1990, the cedar tree near the Ornamental Water has this year reached its 200th birthday. Also 200 years old this year are the three magnificent oaks next to the Temple, one of which has increased in girth from 319cm to 372cm since 1990.

The trees were protected for future generations when the Epping Forest Act was passed in 1878. Since that time, the Corporation of London has managed their welfare and a new initiative will soon step up this care and reinstate even more of what was lost during Long-Wellesley’s tenure.

* There is much more detail at the site http://www.wansteadpark.org.uk/

** The author has studied forestry and arboriculture at Capel Manor College in Enfield

Flashback to a period of flash floods

storm2The Met Office, earlier this week, warned us that extreme summer rainfall may become more frequent in the UK because of climate change. The research, produced in collaboration with Newcastle University, says that while summers are expected to become drier overall  intense rainfall producing serious flash flooding could become several times more frequent.

I hadn’t thought much about the story until, as part of my attempt to find out what this summer is going to turn out like, I discovered some fascinating details of several events during the summers of 1811 and 1828. Many have remarkably similar characteristics to the Boscastle flood in 2004 – the kind of episode the Met Office tells us could become far more common by 2100.

The entries for 1811 in Luke Howard’s book The Climate of London once again shows that extreme weather is nothing new and serious flash flooding was actually more common all those years ago.

May 20 1811 A severe thunder storm came on at Ingatestone, Essex, accompanied with a deluge of rain. In ten minutes the water ran about three feet deep in the streets. The same night at Potter street on the road to Newmarket hailstones nearly as large as pigeons eggs fell accompanied with the most terrific thunder and lightning.

May 27, 1811 Hereford: We were visited by a dreadful storm of thunder and lightning accompanied by torrents of rain very destructive eastward of this city. It commenced about three o’clock in the afternoon and continued with little intermission till past eight. This storm and the consequent inundation of several thousand acres of land destroyed a number of lives and much property.

June 8, 1811 A severe storm of rain hail and lightning took place in Birmingham and the neighbourhood. The hail or rather pieces of ice which fell are described as of prodigious size and considerable damage has been done to the windows.  Worcester this day another most tremendous storm of thunder lightning and rain took place about 11am equal to that of the 27th except the hail.

A storm was also experienced June 28 at Bury and its neighbourhood. The lower part of the houses were filled with water which lay in the street 5 feet deep. The hail stones 5 8ths of an inch in diameter broke near five thousand panes of glass. About twenty six head of cattle were killed last week by the lightning at Bisby and Walsham in Norfolk.

July 2, 1811 In the neighbourhood of Wonersh near Guildford after one of the most sudden strokes of thunder a deluge of rain took place so instantaneously as to carry away or destroy every thing which impeded its progress. The damage is estimated at not less than 1,500.

July 21, 1811 A heavy fall of rain did much damage at Stamford. In the meadows about Barrowden, Wakerly, Harringworth, Thorpe, Caldecot and Bringhurst immense quantities of hay were carried away. Several thousand loads it is supposed have been destroyed in addition to which the injury sustained by the land has been very great. The water rose thirteen feet in less than four hours in Wood Newton parish.

View from Greenwich Observatory toward the Royal Naval College
View from Greenwich Observatory toward the Royal Naval College

In 1828, a spring that was also similar in terms of temperature and rainfall to this year, more entries in Climate describe flash flooding events.

July 8, 1828 Extensive rains on Tuesday afternoon the 8th instant about four o’clock a storm of wind rain and hail accompanied with thunder and lightning broke over the town and neighbourhood of Taunton with a degree of violence never before remembered by the oldest inhabitant. The thunder in heavy peals was heard simultaneously from the east and west and the wind at one period of the storm blew a perfect hurricane. At Kingston the banks were thrown down for several miles and three rams the property of Mr Welch valued at thirty pounds were killed by the lightning. The corn is sadly levelled by the storm. The hailstones were of uncommon thickness and in their descent destroyed much glass in the windows of private dwellings and outhouses. Various statements of mischief have reached us from our correspondents for many miles round all representing the storm to have been of unqualified violence.  Taunton Courier

The inundations occasioned by the constant heavy rains in Flintshire and Denbighshire have proved most injurious and in some instances destructive to the iron works in those counties. The Coed Talon works belonging to the Welsh Iron Company have sustained very considerable injury, the bridges, dams and culverts belonging to those works were all carried away by the tremendous torrents and bursting of the springs. On Thursday night week the waters in the immediate vicinity of the works rose to the extraordinary height of 22ft above their ordinary level and in a few hours extinguished the furnaces such was the impetuosity of the flood and the influence of opposing elements of fire and water that the most serious apprehensions were entertained that the furnaces would have been blown into the air.

Wanstead Flats by Scott Whitehead
The Met Office says summer deluges and intense rainfall will become more common

Happily the buildings sustained the shock and no lives have been lost. It is stated by the oldest inhabitants in the neighbourhood that such awful effects from impetuous torrents were never before witnessed by them. Throughout a great part of Oxfordshire and Worcestershire the wheat and barley have suffered considerably by the late heavy rains Friday afternoon, a solitary dark cloud passed over the north end of Winchester towards the valley of Itchen Abbas the sun shining from the opposite part of the horizon. The spot whereon the cloud appeared to rest seemed to be enveloped in total darkness whence shot a stream of electric fluid accompanied by a short but tremendous crash of thunder and hailstones of considerable magnitude. So violent was its force that it killed two fine horses belonging to Mr Twitchen of Itchen Abbas and struck the carter to the ground where he lay in a state of insensibility for some time, his frock was singed by the lightning. About the same time a cottage occupied by the shepherd of Mr Twitchen s brother at Mitcheldever experienced its violence by being greatly shattered and the shepherd’s wife struck instantly dead. During the same day three horses belonging to Mr Budd of Hatch Warren Farm, near Basingstoke, were struck dead by the electric fluid and a man who had charge of them was so dreadfully injured as to render recovery hopeless. Bath Chronicle

The list goes on… I’ve had a look at all summer rainfall since 1797 to see if 1811 and 1828 were particularly wet years but the records I have, taken by Luke Howard at Stratford, are nothing out of the ordinary.

The summer of 1811 in London saw a mean temperature of 16.1C (1.5C cooler than the current 1981-2010 average) while rainfall was 211mm (just under 150% of the current average). The summer of 1828, however, was warm for the period – at 17.5C. Rainfall was high at 317mm (218% of today’s summer average). Of course totals in the areas affected in the articles would have been much higher.

So when the Met Office says climate change is going to bring more flash flooding in summer I wonder if it is the climate cycling back to a period where we’ve seen it all before.

This graph of summer statisitics shows a regular series of peaks and troughs for rainfall. The mean temperature is generally 1C warmer than it was 100 years ago
This graph of summer statisitics shows a regular series of peaks and troughs for rainfall. The mean temperature is generally 1C warmer than it was 100 years ago

*For  those interested below is a continuation of summer flooding events that plagued the country in 1811, 1828 and possibly many other events of records we have probably sadly lost.

 

Sussex The accounts from the western part of this county both on the coast and in the weald concur in stating that the effects of the thunder storm of the 3rd instant were most severely felt. So severe a storm has not been experienced since 1821. The storm on the evening of Thursday night was most violent in the neighbourhood of Chichester and lasted from eight in the evening till nearly four in the morning, the electric fluid entered a cottage at Birdham and shivered a bedstead rolling its occupier with the bed on the floor lut who escaped without injury. Brighton Herald

The almost constant rain which has been experienced in Penzance and its neighbourhood has been very detrimental to the hay harvest West Briton PL

July 10, 1828 We regret to state that the floods in this neighbourhood still continue and the waters indicate by their colour how great the mischief is amongst the hay. The Welland and the Nene are of the hue of strong tea proceeding from the essence of the hay which is entirely washed out of whatever was not stacked before the 10th instant. –  Stamford Mercury

Cambridge The late heavy rains in this part of the county have laid and much injured the corn crops and likewise considerably impeded the hay harvest Bury Herald

July 17, 1828 Sheffield In our last publication we alluded to the long continuance of hot weather which had been experienced in this neighbourhood. On Tuesday, however, a change took place and on Wednesday the rain fell more heavily and incessantly than it is remembered to have done at the same season for several summers past. Indeed not only were our two rivers remarkably high but the springs of many wells which had failed at the usual time experienced a temporary refluviation. Sheffield Iris, July 17

Malton, July 17 Every hour brings fresh accounts of the extensive losses sustained by the occupiers of land bordering on the Rye and Derwent. Hay has been floating in swarth and in cock of all sizes and the loss in various kinds of grain and potatoes is incalculable. Such a weight of rain and such a flood were never known at this season of the year. On Sunday morning last Sunderland was visited by a thunder storm. The lightning was remarkably vivid the peals of thunder were tremendous and the rain fell in torrents. The Wear was also much swollen. Great quantities of hay came down the river. From our correspondent at Durham dated Sunday afternoon: Since early on Saturday morning Durham and the neighbourhood have been visited with a succession of heavy rains insomuch that the river Wear is swollen to a dreadful height and has done and is still doing frightful damage to the adjacent fields which are overflown to the extent of many hundreds of acres many of which are meadow some just mown some in pike and some standing uncut – Tyne Mercury PL, July 17

Doncaster, July 19 I have within a few days been over a considerable tract of land in this and the adjoining county for the purpose of ascertaining the effects of the late floods on the crops. A great portion of the country through which the Derwent runs as well as the other rivers which empty themselves into the Humber has been overflowed to a very considerable depth and the consequence has been the complete destruction of the greater part of the grass which was cut and those crops which were not cut will not be worth the trouble. We regret to state that in this town and neighbourhood the weather has continued extremely unfavourable throughout the week. Scarcely a day has passed in which we have not been visited by heavy falls of rain accompanied in some instances with thunder and lightning. We have not heard of any further injury being done in the vicinity by floods but we fear that the wheat and other crops as well as fruit and vegetables will suffer greatly from the long continuance of wet weather. –  Manchester Mercury PL, July 20

Although within the last few days several thunder storms have fallen in this immediate neighbourhood we have not heard of any serious injury to life or property. On Wednesday week 9th at Great Houghton during a thunderstorm the lightning descended through the sky light which it destroyed in the roof of Mr Brook’s house and through the ceiling into an upper apartment and shook down the tester of the bed on which Mrs Brook was reposing without, however, inflicting any injury further than the alarm into which she would naturally be thrown. Its course was then along a passage in which there was a cupboard whose contents of glass and earthenware were partly demolished and the door of the cupboard dashed along the passage at the extremity of which was a young female who happily escaped unhurt. – Doncaster Gazette PL, July 21

Newark July 21, 1828 You cannot possibly have an idea of the effects of the late stormy weather and the consequent inundation of the large tract of country unless you were to see it. All the country from this place situated on the banks of the Trent down to the Humber has been completely overflown and has borne the appearance of one expansive sea.

Bedford July 22 In consequence of the dreadful and continued rains every thing in the neighbourhood of this town is in the most frightful state. The Ouse has overflowed its banks in every direction as well below as above the bridge and for miles nothing is to be seen but a weary waste of waters with islands of hay or haycocks. The early season for hay gathering in the northern counties was favourable in the extreme and a great quantity of hay out of the abundant crop was secured in capital condition. About the middle of the last week the barometer sunk rapidly and torrents of rain fell day after day till the rivers became swollen and on Sunday and Monday last vast tracts of land particularly in the southeast part of this county extending from Doncaster to Hull were inundated. Even in the neighbourhood of Wakefield the hay was seen floating in the fields and near Barnsley a great deal was either washed away or rendered useless except for litter. The corn crops have also been much beaten down by the heavy rains and potatoes in low situations have suffered from the floods. – Leeds Mercury

Whitby From the 8th to the 13th instant a succession of heavy rains has been experienced at Whitby and its neighbourhood which did considerable damage to the bridges on the Esk. On Sunday morning the platform of the elegant suspension bridge at Ruswarp belonging to James Wilson Esq MP was wrenched from its abutments and together with the cast iron pillars was thrown into the stream. The small stone bridge recently erected by Edmund Turton Esq on the new line of road was also carried away likewise a bridge at Cock mill and another in the neighbourhood of Egton. The neat bridge at East Row has been so far injured as to be passable only by foot passengers. Great quantities of timber, hay were washed away and the fields and gardens completely flooded. From all parts of the country accounts pour in of the disastrous effects produced by the late uncommonly heavy rains. From Ganstead and Withernwick in Holderness to beyond Driffield a distance of from twenty five to thirty miles the country presents an almost unbroken sheet of water. The quantity of hay corn and potatoes destroyed and likely to be so is beyond all calculation thousands of acres of the latter are literally rotting in the ground. From Doncaster down to Gainsborough and the low grounds at the junction of the Ouse and Trent the inundation is stated to have been still more destructive than in this immediate neighbourhood. – Hull Advertiser

The south western districts of Scotland appear to have been visited by the same excessive quantity of rain that has been experienced so generally over England. It would appear, too, that the crops there are in general good and that the wheat in particular promises to turn out better than in the south July 30.

 August 1828

Deal Aug 9 The wind has blown very hard the whole of this afternoon at intervals almost a hurricane. Wind WSW

Brixham (Torbay) Aug 9 At three o’clock this morning it came on to blow quite a hurricane from the SSW and continued unabated until four this afternoon since when it has been more moderate.

Falmouth Aug 9 It blew a heavy gale here last night and continued until noon this day from the SSE to WSW

Penzance Aug 9 The wind has blown a perfect hurricane from SW all this morning. Accounts of damage.

Noon. PL The storm still continues with unabated fury. Great numbers of trees have been blown up by the roots and many mows of corn in the fields are quite upset and the sheaves blowing about in all directions PL

The Thames was higher on Wednesday last than has been known at this season for twenty seven years. All the low land about Goring Pangbourn Mapledurham, Caversham, Sonning &c was under water. – Berkshire Chronicle