Weather in 1947 - something for everyone

1947 was a vintage year for weather. There was a little bit for everyone, something for the whole family. And not just a little bit of everything but a massive dose of all things meteorological, enough to break records or at least come very close.

The winter of 1946-47 was one of the worst on record, and certainly one of the snowiest of the last 150 years. The really wintry weather, however, didnít set in until late January 1947, but once it came it was here to stay! Milder weather didnít return to the British Isles until the middle of March.

The end of January 1947 saw some very cold nights recorded in parts of southern England. On the night of the 28th/29th Writtle in Essex dropped to -20.6C and on the night of the 29th/30th Elmstone in Kent dipped down to -21.3C. Nationally these are some of the coldest nights ever measured in late January.

February 1947 was a very dull month and also a windy and frosty month. For example at Kew Gardens in London the sun shone for just 17 hours the whole month, compared to an average of 61 hours and between the 2nd and 22nd the sun didnít shine at all. The dull weather did have one advantage though - it prevented really cold nights from occurring until the end of the month when parts of southern England, Woburn, Luton and Stratford-upon-Avon for example, dropped to between -17C and -21C.

In spite of the absence of really cold nights for much of the month, February 1947 was nevertheless a very cold month; on the Central England temperature series it is, measuring -1.9C on the series, the coldest February since records began in 1659. Average maximum temperatures for the month were close to freezing in many places and in Oxford temperatures were below freezing from 6pm on the 10th to 6am on the 26th! Further east, ice floes were observed in the sea off Whitstable in Kent. In Dorset, meanwhile, every night between 16th January and 11th March except 2nd and 3rd February was frosty.

March was even worse than February. The first half of the month remained wintry. Blizzards and heavy snow affected the country from time to time. For example, on the 4-6th a snowstorm affecting most of England and Wales deposited 40cm snow in Birmingham and caused drifts close to 5m high in parts of southern Wales. Southern England, meanwhile, was affected by an ice storm. Temperatures dropped sharply during this period and one of the coldest March nights on record followed when lows dipped to -21.1C in Braemar, Peebles and Houghall (all in the northern half of Britain) on the 4th. Later in the month, on the 16th, gales affected the UK and in some parts of southern England gusts were close to 100 mph.

The second half of the month was generally milder and very wet with frequent downpours. The onset of mild weather also led to a rapid thaw of the winterís snow. This in turn caused some serious flooding. Some places experienced their worst flooding in 250 years. In some places, Stratford-on-Avon for example, the floods of 1947 would be the worst until the late 1990ís. Floods in York on the 24th, meanwhile, were the worst since 1831 whilst severe floods in the fenland area of East Anglia led to the setting up of a flood protection scheme. There was, however, even a brief return to winter on the 27th though when snow fell in some places, Brighton for example.

Taking England and Wales as a whole March 1947 is the wettest March on record with 177.5mm recorded on the England and Wales precipitation series. Many parts of the UK record more than 3 times their average March rainfall in 1947, Torquay, for example, recording nearly 3 and three quarters their average March rainfall. Most of England and Wales recorded more than 23 days with rain in March, and Birmingham recorded the greatest number of rain days; 28 in all. Meanwhile, in central London it rained in Camden Square for 122 hours - between 1881 (when records here began) and 1947 only two other months recorded more hours rain - March 1916 (134) and December 1927 (127).

Spring 1947, meanwhile, was the 4th wettest on record on the England and Wales precipitation series - only those of 1782, 1818 and 1979 were wetter. In the case of spring 1947 this wetness is simply due to the exceptional wetness in March - rainfall in April and May was close to average.

The summer of 1947 is the 6th warmest on record in records dating back to 1659. Only the summers of 1976, 1826, 1995, 1846 and 1983 have been hotter.

For the sake of convenience in record keeping as much as anything else, meteorologists take summer as starting on 1st June and ending on 31st August, and the summer of 1947 started with a bang! Between 30th May and 3rd June temperatures reached 31.7C or more somewhere in south-eastern England every day during this period and indeed since 1850 this is the hottest this part of the year has ever been! The heat wave peaked on June 3rd when temperatures reached 34.4C in London and Waddington, and this would in fact turn out to be the hottest day of the whole year!

Between July 14th and 19th there were widespread and severe thunderstorms. Some of the worst downpours occurred on the 16th in parts of Surrey in southern England. Here between 110 and 130mm rain fell in just a matter of hours in the Wisley - Byfleet area. In Wisley just over 100mm rain fell in 75 minutes. Rainfall records in Surrey date back to 1865 and at the time this was a record for the greatest 24 hours rainfall total in Surrey, and this record probably still stands today. This was a very localised downpour though as just 18 miles no rain at all was recorded on the 16th! Further north, Shrewsbury recorded 99.3mm rain in downpours on the 19th.

August was a hot, dry summers month. On the Central England temperature series it is the 4th hottest August on record with a value of 18.6C - just those of 1995, 1997 and 1975 have been hotter since records began in 1659. Average maximum temperatures in many places were between 23 and 27C, and even on the often cooler North Sea coasts up to around 20C. The 16th and 17th were two particularly hot days; Southampton, for example, recording 33.9C both days and Bournemouth also reached 33.9C on the 16th. On the Isle of Wight and the Scilly Isles, meanwhile, the 16th proved to be a record breaking day. The 32.8C measured at both Newport and Ryde on the Isle of Wight and the 27.8C recorded at St. Maryís on the Scilly Isles are the highest temperatures ever recorded on these islands!

Most of August (as well as early September was very dry). Taking England and Wales as a whole it was the second driest August since records began in 1766 - the England and Wales precipitation series value is just 14.4mm. Only August 1995 (9.1mm) is drier, whilst August 1912 (192.9) is the wettest. Some places, Peterborough, Greenock and Aberdeen, for example, recorded almost no rain whilst central London and Oxford were dry from the 5th onwards through the rest of the month and Newcastle was dry from the 7th right the way through to September 11th. Wellingborough, in Northamptonshire, meanwhile, was drier still, recording no rain between July 29th and September 10th, a period of 44 days. In central London there was just 2 hours rain measured at Camden Square, at the time the second least in August since records began there in 1881 - in August 1940 it rained for just 20 minutes in the whole month.

September started off warm and dry and in fact as late as the 15th and 16th temperatures reached 28.9C in Southend (on the 15th) and 31C in Norwich (on the 16th). September 1947 went on to be the 20th warmest in records dating back to 1659.

October 1947 was, taking England and Wales as a whole, the 6th driest October since records began in 1766, and the 3rd driest October in the whole of the 20th century. The England and Wales precipitation series measured 22.2mm compared to 8.8mm in the driest October on record (1781) and 218.1mm in the wettest (1903). In central London, Camden Square measured just 3 hours worth of rain, the lowest since records began in 1881.

November 1947 saw frequent periods of heavy rain in northern and western Britain. The 11th was a particularly wet day with more than 75mm rain falling in several parts of Yorkshire and Lancashire. Widespread disruptive snow doesnít happen all that often in November, but like everything else even this happened in 1947, many places seeing some snow in the middle of the month.

The long periods of dry weather in September and October allowed Autumn 1947 to become the 6th driest autumn on record in England and Wales. Since records began in 1766 only the autumns of 1978, 1817, 1805, 1788 and 1784 have been drier. It was also close to being one of the 20 warmest autumns since temperature records began in 1659.

Given all that happened weatherwise in 1947 the fitting and romantic conclusion should be that the whole country would experience the kind of white Christmas seen only on Christmas cards and in movies. Luckily for a country still recovering from the ravages of the Second World War and the big freeze and great thaw earlier in the year Christmas was mercifully green. The years weather still went out with a bang though, as in Kent thunder was heard on Christmas Day.

1947 in the Netherlands
Of course, the UK wasnít the only country to have such a bizarre yearís weather in 1947. The Netherlands joined in and nationally the winter here was the 2nd coldest in the 20th century (only that of 1963 was colder). The summer, meanwhile, was the hottest and sunniest of the 20th century.

As for individual months that produced some exceptional weather, January was the 3rd sunniest of the 20th century, and in spite of the winter being so exceptionally cold, temperatures in Maastricht reached 17.2C on the 16th, the warmest January day on record in the Netherlands.

During the 20th century only February 1956 was colder that February 1947. Februaryís extreme cold allowed the famous Elfstedentocht to be held on Saturday 8th February. In the middle of the Netherlands, temperatures in De Bilt were below freezing the whole time between 4th and 24th February, the longest spell of ice days here in the 20th century. In the north-east of the country, temperatures in Groningen remained below freezing between 22nd January and 24th February. March started cold and on the 12th temperatures in De Bilt remained below freezing all day, the latest in the winter half of the year that this has happened.

Summer weather started in early May, which was nationally the 2nd warmest of the 20th century, and lasted until mid September. June was also warm, especially on the 27th when De Bilt reached 36.8C, the highest maximum temperature ever recorded here. Further south Maastricht reached 38.4C, the second highest temperature ever recorded in the Netherlands. In July temperatures reached 30-35C on 8 successive days in Maastricht and on the night of the 28/29th July, the temperatures fell no lower than 26C, making it probably the warmest nights on record in the Netherlands. 64 times in the summer De Bilt reached 25C or more, the most this has ever happened in one summer, whilst Maastricht reached 30C or more 30 times, again the most this has ever happened in one summer.

Final ramblings
So, scores on the doors for 1947; over England and Wales 1947 had the worst snowfall in 150 years, some of the worst floods on record in the ensuing thaw, the coldest February since records began in 1659 and the wettest March since records began in 1766. Spring was one of the 4 wettest on record and later in the year August was the 4th warmest and 2nd driest on record. The summer was the 6th warmest since 1659. October, and autumn as a whole, were the 6th driest since records began in 1766.

Clearly an incredible amount of extreme weather over the country throughout the whole year. Makes you wonder what todayís press would have made of it all!

CHING, M. and CURRIE, I. (1997): The Dorset Weather Book. Froglets Publications Ltd., p100.

DAVISON, M. and CURRIE, I. (1996): The Surrey Weather Book. Froglets Publications Ltd., p168.

EDEN, P. (1995): Weatherwise. Macmillan, p323.

HMSO (1949): British Rainfall 1947, HMSO, p203.

OGLEY, B., CURRIE, I. and DAVISON, M. (1997): The Kent Weather Book. Froglets Publications Ltd., p168.

OTTEN, H., KUIPER, J. and van der SPEK, T. (2000): Weer een Eeuw, Tirion, p239.

STIRLING, R. (1997): The Weather of Britain, Giles de la Mare, p306.

WEBB, J.D.C. and MEADEN, G.T. (2000): Daily temperature extremes for Britain. Weather, 55, 298-315.

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Dan Suri, 11 April 2001