Tag Archives: London weather

The March blizzard of 1952

Warm sunshine looks likely to bring London’s first 20°C this week but the weather 65 years ago couldn’t have been more different.

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.

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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

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