On this day in history….11th February 1895

On this day in history : 11th February 1895 – The lowest UK temperature on record ~ minus 27.2 degrees Celsius ~ is recorded at Braemar in Aberdeenshire….

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Nearly a century later, on the 10th of January 1982, the record was equalled – again in Braemar but accompanied by Altnaharra in Sutherland too…. The coldest temperature ever recorded in England was on the 11th of January 1982 in Newport, Shropshire at a very chilly -26.1°C…. Whereas the highest ever temperature was 38.5°C, at Faversham, Kent on the 10th of August 2003….

We British do love to talk about the weather…. In fact, on average we discuss it at least once every six hours….and 70% of us check the forecast on a daily basis…. Actually, contrary to worldwide belief, our weather is not that bad – it’s usually temperate…. It’s just that when extreme conditions do come along, we are unprepared and ill-equipped. Here’s the problem….it’s unpredictable – where else can you experience all four seasons in one day…?

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It is hardly surprising our weather behaves so unpredictably….we are a nation where war is constantly raging – a clashing of the fronts. Being a group of islands we are battered by winds from all directions….

Artic Maritime from the North – cold;

Polar Continental, North East – cold and dry;

Polar Maritime, North West – cold and damp;

Tropical continental, South East – warm and dry;

Tropical Maritime, South West – warm and wet….

No wonder our weather gets confused…!

Britain lies at the edge of the Atlantic. Storms feed on the temperature difference between the Poles and the Equator. As the cold and warm air rush towards each other and meet, cyclones are formed…. Being at the end of the storm track we get the tail end of them – and sometimes there is a sting in that tail….

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By the way…..the highest ever recorded temperature for February the 11th was 16.1°C in 1939 and again in 1998…. Here’s hoping….

On this day in history….7th January 1928

On this day in history : 7th January 1928 – The River Thames bursts its banks and floods much of Central London…. Fourteen people lose their lives and thousands more are made homeless…. The Tower of London, Houses of Parliament and Tate Gallery are all swamped….

During Christmas 1927 heavy snow had fallen in the Cotswolds, where the Thames has its source…. A sudden thaw on New Years Eve, followed by excessive heavy rain meant there was double the usual volume of water coming down river…. This coincided with a high spring tide – but at the same time a storm surge, caused by a cyclone in the North Sea meant water levels were raised in the Thames Estuary….

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Floods at Reading in January 1928 – showing the impact of the Thames flooding even further down river…. Image credit : Alan Farrow via Flickr

The situation was made even worse by dredging work that had been carried out in the Capital between 1909 and 1928 to deepen the river channel – to allow easier access for shipping in to the Port of London….

The river burst its banks just after midnight – when most Londoners were in their beds…. The first section to break was a 75ft stretch at Millbank – opposite the Tate Gallery…. Water poured into the gallery, up to 8ft deep on the ground floor….18 paintings were damaged beyond repair, 226 badly damaged and a further 67 received minor damage…. Many were by renowned artist J.M.W. Turner….

Westminster Hall and the House of Commons were flooded, as were most underground stations close to the river…. The Blackwall Tunnel was submerged, as was the Rotherhithe Tunnel…. The moat surrounding the Tower of London, which had been empty for over 80 years, was filled…. The flooding extended from the City of London and Southwark right to Putney and Hammersmith….

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A Southern Railway electric multiple unit tackles floods at Kew Bridge railway station Credit : Andy Dingley (scanner) – Public domain

However, the most devastating part of the disaster has to be the human cost…. As the embankment near to Lambeth Bridge broke floodwaters gushed onto the streets of the run-down working-class area between Southwark and Blackfriars, which backed on to the river…. Water poured into the basements….which were the homes of so many of London’s poorer people….

There was little time to escape; police went from door to door, urging people to leave….many did, wearing just their nightclothes….but for some it was too late….

As the water poured into these basements nine people drowned – and another died from a heart attack brought on by the shock…. Alfred Harding later had to identify the bodies of 4 of his daughters:- Florence Emily, 18 – Lillian Maude, 16 – Rosina, 6 and Doris, who was only 2-years-old….

Two more died in Hammersmith, domestic servants Evelyn Hyde, aged 20 and Annie Masters Moreton, aged 22 – who shared a basement room…. Another two people died in Fulham…. 4,000 were made homeless….

The flood peaked at 1.30am, at a level of over 18ft above the Ordnance Datum line….the highest water level ever recorded in the Thames at London…. The water had subsided by the end of the day – but it took a month to pump all of it away…. The damage took several years to repair….many of the old slum areas had to be demolished, Millbank and the surrounding area had to be virtually rebuilt…. Political rows broke out over who should pay for the clean-up operation – was it the responsibility of local or central government…. Arguments also occurred amongst authorities and politicians over the role the dredging work had played in the disaster….

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Thames flood level markers at Trinity Hospital, Greenwich

The embankments had once been marshland but were reclaimed during the Victorian era and had been developed for housing and commercial purposes…. As a result of the 1928 flood the river’s embankments were raised…. Thankfully it was the last major flood to occur in the city – but it came close again in 1953 – when the river almost broke the embankment – and did cause some flooding at Bermondsey and other low-lying areas…. A further flood occurred on the Lower Thames in 1959….

At last the government were prompted to consider flood defence – once again there were disagreements over who should foot the bill…. Plans were made in the mid 1960s for a flood barrier – and in 1974 work finally got underway…. The Thames Barrier officially opened in 1984….

 

A very British storm in a teacup….

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Today I am going to talk about the weather – because I am British and that’s what we Brits do…. In fact, we are rather good at it, it is ingrained into us, we are obsessed with it…. We talk about it at least once every six hours, 70% of us check the weather forecast daily….

Why?

Actually, contrary to Worldwide belief, our weather is not that bad, it’s usually temperate…. It’s just that when extreme conditions do come along, we are unprepared and ill equipped. Here’s the problem : it is unpredictable…. Where else can you experience four seasons in one day….?

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It is hardly surprising our weather behaves so unpredictably…. We are a nation where war is constantly raging – a clashing of the fronts…. Being a group of islands we are battered by winds from all directions:-

Artic Maritime from the North – cold ;
Polar Continental, North East – cold and dry ;
Polar Maritime, North West – cold and damp ;
Tropical Continental, South East – warm and dry ;
Tropical Maritime, South West – warm and wet….

No wonder our weather gets confused!

Britain lies at the edge of the Atlantic. Storms feed on the temperature difference between the Poles and the Equator. As the cold and warm air rush towards each other and meet, cyclones are formed. Being at the end of the storm track, we get the tail end of them. Sometimes, there can be a sting in that tail….

Today, we are being warned to expect one of our rarer phenomenons, we have the possibility of ‘thundersnow’. This occurs when very cold air moves over a relatively warm sea, causing powerful upward air currents. Cumulonimbus clouds form, those that are associated with thunderstorms – if it is cold enough the clouds can produce snow….

We are all aware of the chaos snow can bring to this country ; schools shut, roads become impassable, trains stop running, airports close….

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Today a severe weather warning is in place, as is a public health alert for cold conditions…. Are we over reacting? Quite possibly – but we simply are not used to these extremes! A friend, who lives in Russia, recently told me they have been experiencing temperatures of -35 degrees centigrade. As a Brit, I cannot get my head around that! I find it impossible to imagine what that must be like – that really is extreme! It is no wonder why the rest of the World finds our weather obsession amusing…. All this fuss over a few degrees below freezing and a bit of the white stuff….but it’s just not normal for us!!

It’s the same when the mercury shoots up the other way….we can’t do heat either. We run out of water and hose pipe bans are enforced. Torrential rain means too much water and we have flooding. High winds, we loose our power supplies….and so on….

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So, it is hardly surprising that we complain about our weather so much….but in the next breath we can be equally defensive….and nostalgic! We have a tendancy to look back on summers gone by – the ones of our childhood – filled with long, sunny days. Were they really that perfect? Or is it just that this is how we choose to remember them? The same for Christmas…. Each year we ask the question – “are we going to have a white one?” In reality, we have only had four true white Christmases in the last 51 years….! Ah, nostalgia….!

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Anybody who works outside will obviously have a vested interest in what the weather has in store for us….livelihoods depend on it. We have a very good weather forecasting service in this country – we have plenty of notice when severe weather is expected…. It becomes news worthy – the media feasts upon it and brings it to our attention, which makes us talk about it even more….and talking about the weather helps us to over come our social inhibitions….

How many times has a complete stranger asked you a weather related question, whilst at the same time stating the obvious? “Cold today, isn’t it?” It is an invitation to start a conversation – an ‘ice-breaker’ (no pun intended). Or it might be used to fill an awkward silence, perhaps it may divert away from an uncomfortable subject…. If we start to analyse this and look at social interaction on a deeper level, it brings us to the ‘Politeness Theory’. Developed in the 1970’s and 80’s by researchers at Stanford University, California, the Politeness Theory assumes politeness has ‘faces’ and we in turn have a ‘face’ (wants and needs) :

‘Positive face’ – the desire to be liked and admired, not to be ignored and to maintain a consistent self image.

‘Negative face’ – the desire not to be imposed upon, to protect personal space, be in control, make own decisions….

Britons tend to belong to the ‘negative face’ group; we will play safe when initiating conversation, choosing an unobstrusive topic (such as the weather), it maintains distance, doesn’t give too much away…. Ask a Brit how they are feeling and they will often answer “not bad”…. Ask an American the same question and being of ‘positive face’ you are likely to get a more direct and detailed reply…. The same goes for American ‘ice-breaking’ questions – they will probably entail a more personal enquiry…. “How old are you?” or “what do you do for a living?” This is why the British often find the Americans rude and too forward – where as we can come across as aloof and reserved. Neither side wishes to appear rude to the other – we just have different ways….different ‘faces’….

So, after just hearing the latest weather report on the radio, this Brit is going to go and dig out her snow boots….
That is if she is to believe all the media hype….
Cynicism – now there’s another truly British trait….

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