1952 was an eventful year, with two of the most severe extreme weather events of the twentieth century (the Lynemouth flood in August and the Great London smog in December) sandwiching the coldest September of the century. Indeed, at 7.90C it was the second coldest autumn of the century. It was a very sunny winter (208 hours in London).
January. The second sunniest January on record, with an average of 82 hours sunshine across England and Wales. Violent gales with much damage in the far north on the 15th. A westerly first half of the month: wet and mild in the south, cold with snow in the north.
February. Dry, sunny, and anticyclonic. Dundee had 110 hours of sunshine - 50% above average. It was very dry in the east, with some places only having less than 13 mm of rain. Although generally mild, there was a cold spell midmonth, around the time of the funeral of King George VI.
March. There was a remarkable late snowstorm. Most of the month had been warm and sunny, but Arctic air swept south across the country on the 27th. Blizzards then hit southern Britain on Saturday the 29th, giving a widespread cover several cm deep. 25 cm fell at Whipsnade (Beds.), with several cm in central London, and spreading as far north as Lincoln. There were 8' high drifts in the Chilterns. The temperature remained beneath freezing all day. The cold came with 70 mph gale-force easterlies. Villages were cut off in the SE, and buses stranded in snow in the SW. Buses were lost in the snow. The University Boat Race, which took place in a blizzard, was apparently a classic, although few spectators braved the weather. It then remained cold for several days, with a slow thaw in the sunny spell that followed.
April. Another very warm (9.6C CET) April in this run of warm Aprils. However, at the start of the month, some snow remained lying in the Chilterns. It was often unsettled with some thundery days. A sunny month in eastern Scotland and Yorkshire, and very dry in the southeast. On the 19th it reached 25C in the south, and 26C at Camden Square on the 30th
May. Very warm (13.4C CET): the warmest of the century up to that point. 29C recorded in London on the 19th. There were also severe thunderstorms on the 19th, with hail and flooding. 83 mm of rain in 75 minutes at New Maldon, and 73 mm of rain at Wokingham. A small storm at Honiton deposited 1 cm hailstones down the valley of the Umborne Brook, and 65 mm of rain in 50 minutes washed off topsoil and damaged walls. A tornado at Tibshelf (Derbys.) caused damage and hurt one person. The tornado caused damage along a two mile course. High pressure returned on the 20th. There were some frosts at the end of the month. A very dry month in the southeast.
June. A changeable month with mostly westerly winds. There was very little in the way of very heavy rain, and the only truly hot days were at the end of the month, when 31C was recorded locally on the 30th. Warmer and sunnier in the Se and E, dull and unsettled in the NW.
July. A dry month in the south; less than a quarter of the total from the Wash to the Isle of Wight for the month. Some places had no rain between the 12th and 28th. A heatwave at the start saw 34C in Jersey on the 1st. 33.3C was reached at Camden Square, Heathrow, and Southampton. There were some severe thunderstorms across the Midlands and Northern England on the 1st; 1.73 inches fell at Bredbury (Cheshire), and 1.72 inches fell at Ilkeston (Derbyshire) in half an hour. Temperatures dropped from 90F to 60F from the 1st to 3rd at London Airport. It then became warmer again, with 31C at Mildenhall on the 6th. The month was sunny in NE England and SE Scotland.
August. The famous and catastrophic floods at Lynmouth, north Devon, as a result of heavy rain on Exmoor on the 15-16th (after 225 mm of rain fell in 22 hours at Longstone Barrow, draining into the West Lyn river; 275 mm is estimated to have fallen over parts of Exmoor), as the East and West Lyn rivers reached record levels where they converge near the seafront in town. A depression moved north on the 14th. The 21 hours of heavy rain starting around noon on the 15th followed heavy rainfall over the preceding two weeks. It rained most of the day over most of Devon, with a seven hour long intense downpour from late afternoon. The flood came in darkness, with a sudden surge of water. There was a loss of 34 lives, 93 buildings were destroyed or severely damaged, 420 people were made homeless, 38 cars were washed into the Bristol Channel, and 28 bridges were swept away. The water moved large rocks, trees, telegraph poles, and cars. It is possible that even more rain at nearby Simonsbath: up to 300 mm was claimed. This is one of the most extreme weather events of the century. It has recently been claimed that the severe rain was caused by "secret" cloud seeding experiments. Even if this was true, it would have been most unlikely to have had any significant effect on the rainfall. There was also severe flooding in North London this month. On the other hand, it was a very dry month in some places in the northeast: Yorkshire had less than 25 mm of rain all month.
September. The coldest September of the century (10.7C CET), with some notable cold days. At Oxford and presumably many other locations it was the coldest September since records began in 1815. It was cold over much of Europe. There was snow in northern and central Scotland, with it lying on high ground. It was particularly frosty in the middle of the month. -3C was recorded in East Anglia and the Midlands on the 19th and 20th. There were 14 days of ground frost at Thetford. The 7th was the coldest day, with temperatures of less than 10C widespread across the south: at Whipsnade the temperature was only 8.3C. It was quite a cyclonic month. It was twice as wet as average in NE England, but Perthshire and Angus had less than an inch of rain. Only 1674 and 1675 were cooler in the CET series, but the earliest figures are rounded to the nearest 0.5C, and prone to error; September 1807 was also 10.5, so September 1952 was among the coolest of all Septembers. The country frequently lay in Arctic air, a pattern that recurred throughout the autumn of 1952.
October. Cold and changeable, with some night frosts. It was often stormy and with some heavy showers. A tornado hit and caused some damage in Londonderry (NI) on the 23rd. Wet in the west and dry in the east; inly half the usual rainfall in Edinburgh.
November. Wetter than average in the south and east, but drier than average in the north and west. The month had a very cold second half with snow and some severe frosts; very cold overall. Although it started mild, with a temperature of 17C at Totnes, Devon on the 1st, it soon became cold. The first bad weather of the month came on the 6th as a rapidly deepening depression moved quickly SE off eastern Britain - presaging the great disaster of three months later. On the night of November 6, there was a widespread severe NW gale which caused considerable damage. There were gusts of 97 mph at Bidston, near Liverpool, 85 mph at Fleetwood and 75 mph at Felixstowe and Birmingham. The morning minimum was -11C at Dyce, Aberdeen on the 25th with a maximum of only -5C later there that day, and Eskdalemuir on the 29th; there was a maximum of just -4C at Glasgow that day. Heavy snowfalls across four days led to a cover of 15cm on lowland and 30 cm in some places with higher ground across the Midlands as a depression moved east along the Channel. Some snow landed in north London. The Chilterns were impassable. A train got stuck in 3m drifts in the Welsh valleys. In the cold snap, -12C was recorded at Kielder, and -15C at Dalwhinnie. It was probably the snowiest November in England since 1919. It was a sunny month in the NW.
December. Overall mostly cold with a few milder westerly interludes, this month will always be remembered for one great weather event: the great London smog early in the month (5-9th in particular) - one of the most extreme weather events of the century. An anticyclone caused a temperature inversion over London. A combination of fog and air pollution, particularly from domestic coal fires, lead to a catastrophic smog. At the time much of the domestic coial burned in London was cheap and dirty ("nutty slack"), and had a high sulphur content. When burned it produces sulphur dioxide, which forms sulphuric acid in the respiratory tract. There were of course plenty of other irritants too. At its most dense visibility was reduced to 10-20 yards, in places less. The fog was black, and left oily deposits on windows. Around 4000 deaths were initially attributed to this smog, although there is now evidence that the number of deaths was at least 8000 and might have been as high as 12000. At least it led to the 1956 Clean Air Act. The fog duration of 4 days 18 hours is the equal record for low altitude (along with November 1948). Away from the foggy areas the month was sunnier than usual. The fog in the Thames valley had a maximum depth of about 100-130 m, so above this there was very sunny - Whipsnade had 35 hours of sunshine in the same period. The great smog was followed by a brief mild spell, but then there was a heavy snowfall in the second week: 20 cm at Welshpool on the 14th, 30 cm of snow at West Kirby (Merseyside) on the 15th, and up to 40 cm at Bwlchgwyn (north Wales) on the 16th, and 17 cm around Birmingham. Severe drifting in the north: 450 cm drifts on Skye. Villages in Orkney and Shetland were cut off. This was followed by a severe storm on the east coast on the 17th (with a gust of 111 mph recorded at Cranwell, Lincs., probably the record gust for lowland Britain; 91 mph at Stornoway; and 90 mph at Fleetwood, Lancs.) - buildings were damaged in the Midlands and East England. It was mostly a dry month over much of the country.