London Weather Now

London Weather Over the Years

London, UK weather now experiences the least climatic variation in Europe. London weather now averages only 13 thunderstorm days annually, and light downfall is evenly spread throughout the year.

Although London is thought of as being “rainy”, London is among the driest of Europe’s capitals. Across the Atlantic, New York receives about twice as much rain as London, however New York also enjoys almost twice as much sunshine.

Over the course of a year, average temperatures come out about the same, but New York has much greater extremes while London enjoys a more moderate climate.

The term “smog” was coined in 1905 to describe the city’s combination of natural fog and coal smoke. The smog even invaded the world of Shakespeare, whose witches in Macbeth chant, “fair is foul, and foul is fair: Hover through the fog and filthy air.”

Smog in London predates Shakespeare by four centuries. Until the 12th century, most Londoners burned wood for fuel. But as London grew, and the forests shrank, wood became scarce and increasingly expensive.

Large deposits of “sea-coal” off the northeast coast provided a cheap alternative. Soon, Londoners were burning the soft, bituminous coal to heat their homes and fuel their factories. Sea-coal was plentiful, but it didn’t burn efficiently. A lot of its energy was spent making smoke, not heat.

Coal smoke was drifting through thousands of London chimneys combining with clean natural fog to make smog. If the weather conditions were right, it would last for days.

Too many people burned it, and there were no real alternatives. Anthracite coal was much cleaner but too expensive. By the 1800s, more than a million London residents were burning soft-coal, and winter “fogs” became more than a nuisance.

At the turn of the century, cries to reduce the smoke faced a tough opponent. Coal was fueling the industrial revolution. To be against coal burning was to be against progress.

Not until the 1950s, when a four-day fog in 1952 killed roughly 4,000 Londoners was any real reform passed. Parliament enacted the Clean Air Act in 1956, effectively reducing the burning coal. It was the beginning of serious air-pollution reform in England.

London vs Countryside

London and country weather conditions are often very different. London city is usually warmer, less windy, and also drier than in the countryside.

Cities are built with materials that do not absorb water. During the day, roads and buildings are warmed by the Sun.

At night they cool, releasing heat and warming the city air, humidity can be 30 percent lower than in the countryside and this dryness affects temperature.

When it rains most of the water is drained away before it can evaporate and condense again as clouds, and there are fewer plants to return water to the air.

Less of the sun’s energy is used to evaporate water and buildings slow the wind, so the ground in London is heated more strongly.

The River Thames Froze Over

In the past, the Thames could be temperamental, from glassy to choppy, `weltering up and surging’ to almost dry. Without Bazalgette’s Victorian Embankment, it was shallower than now, and much wider.

The winter high tides often brought floods, which made the water so muddy that `you shall take haddock with your hand beneath the bridge as they float aloft upon the water, whose eyes are so blinded with the thickness of that element that they cannot see where to become’. (More modern thought suggests that the lack of oxygen in the mud had driven the poor fishes to the surface, to breathe).

In January 1564 `the river Thames was so agitated that the tide recoiled twice, five hours before its time’.

In 1579 there was a heavy snowfall; when the thaw came `the water rose so high in Westminster Hall that fishes were found there after the waters had subsided’, which must have smelt appalling, although someone had the sense to sweep them up in the palace yard outside `for whoever so list, to gather up’. Just a year before a freak low tide had meant that `men might stand in the middle of the Thames’.

In 1537, when the Thames froze solid, Henry VIII and his then Queen, Jane Seymour, and the whole cavalcade of courtiers had crossed the Thames on horseback, to Greenwich Palace.

There was a famous Frost Fair on the river in the bitterly cold winter of 1564, with archery contests and dancing, and football played `as boldly as if it had been on dry land’, and `all sorts of carriages and diversions’, and `the people went on the Thames in greater numbers than in any street in the City of London’.

Fog must have been a constant river hazard. One evening in 1575, Elizabeth took her barge down-river to see her friend the Countess of Pembroke at Baynards Castle, and stayed later than she meant. By ten o’ clock, `being so great a mist as there were divers of the barges that waited of [for] her lost their ways and landed in wrong places, but thanks be to God Her Majesty came well home without cold or fear’.

The poets liked to dwell on the `crystal stream’ of the Thames. Far from being translucent, it was, and is, a uniform opaque grey because of the silt it carries, but it must have been fairly unpolluted, judging from all the fish in it.