Sunday, 7 August 2022

When weather really was weather

Harry Hopkins has a worthwhile piece in TCW on weather extremes of the past and how we accepted and dealt with them more pragmatically than is the case today. 

1963 and 1976, when weather really was weather

I VIVIDLY remember the winter of 1962-3. It was one of the coldest on record. Rivers, lakes and even the sea froze. I was fortunate enough to be at a school where the teachers were genuinely interested in their pupils: not just from an educational point of view, but from a personal development angle as well. Our headmaster was a silver-haired gent called Charles Mcgregor, a Scot with an artificial leg. He was one of those post-war teachers who, having seen action in the Second World War, was now in a leadership role with us kids. He was a marvellous master and my thoughts of him are filled with affection and respect. He had teachers in his mould too, and they willingly gave up their spare time to us on outdoor hikes and expeditions.

Then there is a more recent example of extreme weather, one I still remember well. 

Fast forward to the summer of 1976. It was considered the hottest summer in Europe during the 20th century. High pressure moved in during late May and stayed there until the first traces of rain on August 22. Three months of scorching weather. During this spell, temperatures exceeded 32 deg C at several weather stations every day for three months; Cheltenham had 11 successive days of 35 C. Roads melted, rivers and reservoirs dried up and standpipes were introduced at various locations. Yorkshire alone had 11,500 of these pipes as people queued for water.

The slogan ‘Save water, bath with a friend’ appeared everywhere and caused much mirth. This 16-week dry spell was the longest recorded over England and Wales since 1727. Large tracts of countryside were cordoned off and the public were not allowed to walk or hike because of the risk of fires, though many did break out and destroyed trees, moorland and property. From mid-summer on, wild fires became a national preoccupation and the news was dominated by the spectacular accounts of ‘pyrotechnics’ when Surrey heaths and the North York Moors went up in smoke.

The whole piece is well worth reading as an example of another extreme - a situation where even the weather is made into a major political issue. 


DiscoveredJoys said...

I was there. Luckily there were fewer cars around in 1962-3 so snow could be moved and piled up in the gutter, and it stayed there for weeks. Curiously I have no specific memories of the 1976 heatwave, it was just weather.

Sobers said...

You can add the winter of 1946/7 to that list, my father (who would have been about 10 at the time) always spoke of it as one of the worst he had experienced. Also the North Sea storm surge of 1953, were it to occur today, would be considered of Biblical proportions, and of course the result of 'climate change'.

Sam Vega said...

Like DiscoveredJoys, I vividly remember the piled up banks of grubby frozen snow in 1962-3, and walking to school through canyons of ice. But although I remember the heatwave of 1976 being mentioned on the news (for some reason the dead yellow grass in Greenwich Park featured quite a lot - probably because journalists could get there to take pictures) it didn't in the least inconvenience me. I was too busy having fun at University.

As ever, the whole issue is about government and administrative expansion. Clearly they can't control the weather. But they can organise responses around disasters, emergencies, and crises. So, disasters, emergencies and crises are what we now get presented with.

wiggiatlarge said...

I had just started junior school in the 46/7 winter and as was the way I walked the few hundred yards to the school and the snow came over the top of my wellies, would not happen today as I would be dropped off from Chelsea tractor.
'76, much is said about the '7 summer, the difference despite to fairly dry preceding winters was that it had a normal year up to June before it started so had a much bigger impact.

With no rain in the foreseeable future this area being the driest region has not had any rain of consequence since the end of March and is on course for the driest year in the last recorded 100 years at this rate, driest spring driest July and a lawn that looks like the Gobi desert, must be time to appoint a minister of drought, it has always worked before.................

James Higham said...

We have truly shocking conditions today, a danger to life and limb. Raging gale of about 10mph, appallingly blue sky with patches of threatening white fluffy cumulus, and the sun has the temerity to beat down upon us and penetrate the windows. About 20C.

I can't recall conditions like this since ... oh ... yesterday. Tomorrow too apparently. Shocking.

A K Haart said...

DJ - I worked in the water industry in 1976 so I remember it well. Lots of supply problems, algal blooms everywhere, lots of testing. Big cracks in our brown lawn at home and sunny weather which seemed as if it would go on forever. Then a drought minister was appointed and it all came to an end.

Sobers - my parents also said winter 1946/7 was worse than 1962/3 and you are right, the North Sea storm surge of 1953 would certainly be blamed on climate change today.

Sam - yes, we seem to be presented with disasters, emergencies and crises because they raise the profile of what bureaucrats do. As if it is mostly a PR profile-raising game to chase headlines all the time. The Met Office certainly seems addicted to it.

Wiggia - I was down near Peterborough the other day and it is very dry round there. Not so bad where we are. Yes, appoint a minister of drought and the rains will come.

James - it has been like that here too. Very pleasant all day, but no official warning from the Met Office, no red warning symbols, nothing.