From Luke Howard’s accounts of ‘electrical fluid’ in Regency times to reports on modern local events; east London has a rich history of probably nature’s most spectacular phenomena.
Although thunderstorms are common their frequency has varied considerably. During the 1980s I remember many nights of interrupted sleep as cells would rumble across the Channel from France, yet from the 1990s until around 2013 the frequency declined. The Met Office average for this area for the month of July is 3.5 days of thunder.
Chronology of convection
1914: Severe thunderstorms at midday on June 14th leaving people dead and a trail of destruction south of the Thames. Lightning, torrential rain, severe flooding and hail ‘the size of walnuts’ were recorded. Some 94mm of rain fell in 3 hours at Richmond Park
1939: One of the worst weather-related tragedies ever to hit the London area happened in August 1939 when seven people, including five adults and two children, were killed and 21 injured during a thunderstorm in Valentines Park, Ilford.
2013: This storm on July 23rd preceded the hottest day of the year when the temperature touched 34C in Wanstead. Two spells of rain fell with rates reaching 60mm/hr together with potent thunder and lightning.
2014: A lively night of storms on July 18th reminded me of the 1980s when multi-celled storms trundling across the Channel from France were common. EssexWeather reported 1809 lightning strikes in two hours for our region.
Further thunderstorms in September occurred on the day of the Scottish referendum. Explosive convection of this storm with associated hail and rain brought much flooding to Hackney, Hackney Wick and Leytonstone.
2016: A multi-cell thunderstorm in June 2016 on the day of the Brexit referendum brought the highest 24-hour rainfall total recorded in Wanstead since at least 1960. Some 60.8mm fell, most of it in two hours, bringing flash floods.
2017: A cloudburst over Aldersbrook on June 2, 2017, saw some 31.2mm of rain fall in little over an hour accompanied by frequent thunder and lightning. Some flash flooding was reported and there was an 8C fall in temperature in two hours.
2018: A spectacular show of sheet lightning lasted for hours across London on May 26th into May 27th. Mostly high-level lightning the accompanying rain, at least in east London, was not as impressive.
A super local thunderstorm on May 28th gave 10.1mm of rain in little over half an hour. This storm, which formed just to the east of Ilford, could be seen from as far away as Southend. With dusk approaching it quickly died as it crossed central London.
While the storms over the weekend were all about lightning this one on Tuesday, May 29th, was all about rain and loud thunder. It was the fourth storm in four days – very unsual given that the average occurrence of storms in this part of the UK is 3.5.