Tag Archives: London weather

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 12 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 that 5 of the top 7 maxima were recorded 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.

 

april updated 1959

SJP april

heathrow apr

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

The cold spell of January 1826

This weekend marks the start of a cold spell that brought widespread wintry conditions across Britain.

Entries in Luke Howard’s Climate of London detail several instances of the wintry weather reported nationwideScreen Shot 2018-01-06 at 01.41.17.

In London the freeze lasted 10 days, briefly losing its grip on the 19th, before returning in the final week. At its lowest on the night of the 14th the temperature fell to 10F (-12C). Despite the intense cold their was little precipitation in this area. However, across the country came reports of deep snow and hardship for shipping.

Gale force easterly winds were reported in Plymouth, Falmouth, Liverpool and Portsmouth on January 7th and 8th. On January 9th a ‘hard ENE’ly gale’ was reported at Deal, Kent.

A report reads: “It has continued blowing strong from the eastward all this day. On Thursday morning between one and two o’clock as a person was passing through Paternoster Row he observed the watchman on that beat in a state of complete paralysis and insensibility occasioned by the frost.

“He had him immediately removed to the watch house of Farringdon, within where he had not long arrived when a fellow sufferer was brought in by two of the patrol who found him in his box in Stationers Court, Ludgate Hill, absolutely frozen and unable to articulate a syllable.

“Both were immediately placed near the fire the influence of which combined with the administration of warm cordials shortly restored their suspended faculties. The thermometer at the Royal Exchange yesterday at 12 o’clock stood at 28F.”

An entry on January 14th, nearly a week into the freeze, reported a Thames “choked up with ice”.

“The river is so completely choked up with ice that the fishing boats with fish dare not come higher up than Limehouse. Putney Bridge arches are choked up with ice formed by the ebbing and flowing of the tide to a great height. At one o’clock yesterday afternoon (16th) the fog in the city was as dense as we ever recollect to have known it.

“Lamps and candles were lighted in all the shops and offices and the carriages in the streets dared not exceed a foot pace. At the same time five miles from town the atmosphere was clear and unclouded with a brilliant sun.

“Fahrenheit’s thermometer stood at 14F at 8 o’clock in the morning.

Around Britain

Newcastle: on Sunday morning last a severe frost set in here and has continued since. A considerable quantity of snow has fallen during the week.

Sunderland: the river Wear has been frozen over for the last four days down to Hilton Ferry within four miles of this town. The navigation above that place is entirely suspended.

Carlisle: a smart frost set in here on Monday morning and has continued gradually increasing up to this day Friday in severity. The river Eden is more than half frozen over near the bridge and many persons are diverting themselves on its surface. On Tuesday we had a partial fall of snow which still continues.

Westmorland: on Stainmore the weather has been more severe during the last week than it has been known for four years past. The frost is not only more than usually intense but the snow lies in fearful drifts and the wind on Friday and Saturday blew a perfect hurricane rendering it extremely difficult if not dangerous to travel.

Chester: the frost during the last week has been intensely severe and the wind is gentle and blowing almost constantly from the eastward. The thermometer on Saturday morning stood at 17F or 15F below the freezing point.

Manchester: on Friday last the temperature in the city was as low as 16F and this in the very centre of the town where the crowded buildings and immense fires kept in the manufactories must have had some effect on the atmosphere. On the 18th of January 1814 the extreme temperature was 22 below the freezing point. On the 21st of February 1810 it was the same.

Liverpool: the weather during the last week has been intensely cold, the thermometer for the last few days having been lower than during the past five years. A self registering thermometer denoted the extreme of cold on Saturday night to have been 19F and yesterday, Sunday morning at half past seven, it stood at 20F. It is very probable the present weather may continue several days as it commenced with the new moon.

Bridgewater: our river is so completely frozen over as to impede the navigation fortunately there is a good supply of coals in the town.

Canterbury: On January 17th the river Medway is frozen over and the navigation is stopped. The merchants have advanced the price of coals six shillings a chaldron.

The Royal Military Canal being now completely frozen over numerous parties are daily skating thereon. It is not unusual to take a breakfast at Hythe, a luncheon at Rye (about 20 miles glide) and return to Hythe to dinner.

On the continent

Elsineur:  the sound is full of ice and the navigation suspended. (January 14th ).

Hamburg: the frost is very intense and every appearance of its continuance. Extract from a private letter dated ‘Cadiz Jan 24’: ‘We have had terrible gales at this place so violent that upwards of two hundred and fifty vessels were driven on shore.

Rotterdam: We have had frost again from the 25th but very moderate and the ice has but little increased. The wind prevails from the eastward and there is no appearance of a thaw.

Antwerp: the river continues full of drift ice. An easterly wind took place on the 25th January. The ice decreases very fast (31st) and if the thaw continues for which there is every appearance the river will be navigable in two days.

The mean temperature for the month finished 0.7C, the 14th coldest January in London back to 1797. Just 5.1mm of precipitation was recorded, the second driest January in the series. Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 22.31.39

Poor start to June? That’ll be the Euro monsoon

Widespread heavy rain and gales across the UK have made the start of summer feel very unseasonal. But the conditions, which follow an extended period of mostly dry weather, are very typical for early June.

june rainfall with record
The pattern for June over the past 10 years reveals the month often starts unsettled before drying up in the final week

The ‘NW European monsoon’ is one of the most reliable ‘singularities’ on the annual weather calendar. Though it sounds very unscientific that the atmosphere can remember how it behaved on a certain date in previous years much statistical work over the past 170 years highlight tendencies for unusual weather at particular times of the year. These tendencies were first identified by the German climatologist, A.Schmauss, in 1938.

While the pattern isn’t set in stone statistics show that the probability of the euro monsoon occurring between June 1st and 21st is 77 per cent.

GFS rain to 15th
The GFS operational run suggests an unsettled outlook

One of the most notable inclement spells of weather in June happened during the D-Day landings in 1944.

With the changes in ice at the North and South Poles, together with the massive positive temperature anomalies last winter,  it would be thought logical that this would have some bearing on the general pattern this year. But polar ice is only one variable to consider when trying to predict the world’s climate.

 

 

The March blizzard of 1952

The period after the vernal equinox in 1952 was anything but springlike.

180029031952
This chart shows the Synoptic setup at 1800h on 29th, the peak of the blizzard with F5 – F6 easterly winds, courtesy of the Met Office

A cold easterly airflow on March 29th and 30th 1952 affecting the southern half of England brought heavy snow whipped into drifts up to 6ft deep in parts of the Chilterns.

According to the Royal Meteorological Society’s weather log the snow varied from 3 to 6 inches and reached 10 inches at Northolt.

Squally winds, which gusted to 60 mph, blocked 330 main roads across the south. In places the temperature on the 29th remained below freezing all day – the snowstorm was probably the worst to affect southern England in late March since 1916.

The wintry weather followed a dry and fairly non-descript winter and must have been quite a shock at the end of what had been a fairly mild March.

Bernard Burton, of Wokingham, has a clear recollection of the event: “I remember the day very well as the Oxford/Cambridge boat race was held that afternoon. I was 14 at the time, and my brother-in-law gave me a ticket for a place on a launch to watch the race.

“My home was in Tooting at the time, and I took the bus to Westminster pier to catch the launch. I recall sitting upstairs on the bus with a thick layer of snow covering the front facing windows, but the roads and pavements were mainly slushy.”

Bernard, who runs Wokingham Weather, added: “I then spent one of the most miserable afternoons I can recall. There was a ‘lounge’ on the boat, which was warm, but was also full of diesel fumes and was very noisy. I alternately stood outside on the deck until the cold got too much, or went below for warmth until the fumes got the better of me.

“I recall bleak views of London with snow on roofs, in a poor grey afternoon light, but I think it was mainly dry at that time, although there may have been slight sleety rain.

“The boat race itself was a close one, but the crowds that usually lined the banks of the river were absent, just a few hardy stragglers, and by the time of the race I had a headache, probably brought on by the fumes. For my part, I couldn’t wait to get back to Westminster and back home to thaw out.”

John Hall, who was three at the time, said: ” I, sadly, don’t have any memory of it at all. That’s in spite of the fact that we apparently moved house from Cranleigh to Effingham (about 15 miles away) on the day of the blizzard.

“According to my father it snowed all day but the following day – which he reckoned was the 1st of April – the weather was glorious and all the snow was gone by noon. I don’t think his memory is quite in accordance with the facts, but of course that’s common with memories of past weather.”

The snow didn’t last long. March 31st saw temps rise to 5C; much of the snow had melted in the strong spring sunshine by April 1st. By the 3rd an Atlantic ridge of high pressure had moved in, raising temperatures to over 10C.

kew
Stats for Kew suggest there was 21cm of level snow

1952 produced two more weather shocks. On August 15th and 16th over 220mm of rain fell on the hills above Lynmouth, Devon, leading to flash flooding of the village and the loss of 34 lives.

Months later, a large anticyclone during the last of five days of December produced the notorious ‘pea souper’ fog that contributed to the death of thousands of Londoners. This fog, initially freezing, became very dense and was directly responsible for the Clean Air Act enabled in 1956.

You can find an analysis of the unfolding pattern that produced the blizzard here. And here’s Xmetman’s take on the event.

Months of snow on way? It’s too early to tell

Sections of the tabloid media have been going into overdrive these past couple of weeks with tales that the UK will soon be in the grip of an Arctic freeze – one headline in the Daily Express boasted that parts of the UK were in for FOUR MONTHS OF SNOW.

excess
The Daily Express ‘forecast’ was published at the end of September

These stories are nothing new though they seem to be published earlier and earlier in the autumn. By the time we reach November – once the traditional time when winter forecasts started appearing – the tabloids have already turned their attentions to spring. Much of it is just ‘clickbait’ – a means for publishers to prove their stories are being read to keep their advertisers happy, a symptom of an industry in financial dire straits.

There will be snow somewhere in the UK during the next five months but predicting heavy snowfall in a given area, such as London, is impossible. But given the outrageous claims at such a long way from the start of the season on December 1st I decided to have a look to see if there is anything wintry on the horizon.

I started by comparing a range of historic datasets, including quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO) and el niño–southern oscillation (ENSO), against monthly mean temperature and rainfall anomalies. Because ENSO data only goes back to 1950 the findings are obviously far more restricted than my winter forecast method which uses local data going back to 1797.

The results of my data trawl are underwhelming. The best fit years were as follows:

analogues

For anyone who likes snow the above is not encouraging, however, given the past year which has seen several daily and monthly records shattered, including a record warm December, who’s to say that recent warm temperatures will suddenly swing the other way.

The above table would also suggest that the coming winter will be colder and snowier than the previous three – but that gives little away given how mild the past three winters have been.

scand
October 2016 has seen a strong blocking high become established over Scandinavia, the earliest this has happened since 1881.

A study of mean temperature anomalies in London since 1950 suggest that sudden swings, both positive and negative, are becoming more likely. Last month was the fifth month in a row that I recorded a positive anomaly – the longer this goes on the more likely it is the mean could turn negative – though bear in mind that I have recorded 12 months in a row of positive anomalies, from February 2011 until January 2012.

Current weather also suggests that something maybe afoot with the earliest establishment of a strong anticyclone over Norway (the fabled Scandinavian high) since 1881! This weather pattern gives the south-east its best chance of snow with the feed of cold air often coming all the way from Siberia. Time and again, however, I’ve seen these patterns break down in November just as everyone starts talking about an imminent severe winter. There is more than an element of truth to the saying:

Ice in November to bear a duck, rest of winter will be slush and muck

In conclusion, while the early figures look bleak for snow in the low-lying south-east, it is still far too early to tell if the coming winter will be mild or cold.

 

 

Winter 2015/16: Very mild with average rain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Although sunshine was around average there were 24 sunless days.

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

A full weather diary is available for the months of December, January and February. To view full stats for each month follow this link:http://1drv.ms/1kiTuzv

 

Winter forecast review

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

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

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

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

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

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

express

top 20 winters
Top 20 warmest winters