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Gordon Hensman's Weatherview

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: December 26, 2013

  • Antarctica, where a new record low temperature has just been recorded

  • A classic Dickensian London pea-souper

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The Black Country –

Birthplace of Industrial Revolution

WILL IT SNOW FOR CHRISTMAS?

CHRISTMAS trees with branches bending under the weight of glistening snow, a jolly robin red breast gawping cheekily at you – perhaps with a sprig of holly or mistletoe in its beak, a glistening sleigh pulled by reindeers, a gigantic plum pudding (always spherical in shape – ours never were) with slurps of white custard (our was always pale yellow) creeping down its sides, gleaming and glistening Christmas cards and rooms bestrewn with holly, ivy and mistletoe with frost crusted window panes through which gigantic snowflakes can be seen to fall.

These are the scenes which come to mind when we think of Christmas. However, they scarcely reflect the reality of Christmas in North-West Europe. Of all the great English speaking countries, I can only think of Canada where this is the normal Christmas weather, where our friend in Saskatoon will be snugly insulated against temperatures hovering around -20, -4F.

The Kiwis, Aussies and Springboks will be basking in the hot sun on the 25th, and where possible they will be heading off to the beach. I feel sorry for them having to endure such heat with the ever present danger of sunburn. Their Christmas festive experiences in a hot climate are very far from ours which, in truth, are scarcely 200 years old.

BLAIRM THEM VICTORIANS –

THEYM TER BLAIRM!

Christmas festivities are largely the creation of Charles Dickens and Prince Albert – which one is more culpable is difficult to ascertain.

Now to reality – a typical Christmas in these blessed islands enjoys dull, cloudy, damp, drizzly weather, with perhaps, near freezing night time temperatures – this is revealed by the records meticulously kept by eccentrics like me, who have nothing better to do with their time!

THE STATISTICS

Over the last 41 years in the Black Country, snow has fallen on Christmas Day on 10 occasions: 1967, 1970, 1978, 1980, 1993, 1995, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2004.

There were fewer days with snow lying at 9h (50% of the ground covered) amounting to 6 occasions. 1970, 1.5cm; 1979, 0.5cm; 1981, 19cm; 1995, 0.5cm; 2009, 1.5cm; and 2010, 11cm.

These are the figures for the Black Country Ridge at an altitude between 700-800 feet. The figures will be markedly less for the lower lying parts of the Black Country.

NEW WORLD RECORD

LOW TEMPERATURE

The Antarctic Ice Sheet takes the form of a gigantic dome. However, it is far from smooth, as in places there are high points rising almost imperceptibly from the blindingly white surface. Two such spots are the Dome Fuji and Dome Argus, and in a ridge between the two on 10th August 2010 the lowest temperature ever recorded on the surface of the earth was registered. It was -93.2C.

PAST DECEMBERS

21st 1796 I wonder how many readers know about this invasion attempt by the French. It was arranged by Wolfe Tone, the father of Irish Republicanism. He planned to end English rule in Ireland with the aid of the French Fleet of 43 ships carrying 14,000 troops. The fleet had left Brittany a week earlier and with the English forces run down and ill-prepared they would have had a very good chance of success.

However, as on so many occasions in our history, the weather intervened. A storm separated the flag ship which was not seen again. It took the rest of them five days to sight the coast of Ireland where they anchored in Bantry Bay. During the night another severe gale, this time with snow separated the ships, sweeping half the fleet out into the North Atlantic. They were obviously in no position to invade so they beat a retreat back to France.

1665 A severe frost set in with the River Thames frozen over in London by Christmas Day.

22nd 1962 Fog caused the postponement of eighteen League football matches, and eighteen were abandoned after kick-off when the goal posts were obscured by the thickening fog.

1991 So you think that wind turbines are a new thing – well you may well be surprised to read that the first were at Delabole, Cornwall. Delabole was formerly a large slate quarry, and I remember vainly searching for a particularly rare fossil amongst the countless fragments of green slate on a geological field course many years ago. The scientific name escapes me at the moment, but it is known locally as the 'Delabole Butterfly'. As far as I know there was no opposition to this pioneering green energy venture.

Dickens wrote about Dingley Dell in The Pickwick Papers, and he began his famous story on this date (actually 1830 seems more likely). They enjoyed "... ale and brandy to enable them to bid defiance to the frost that was binding up the earth in its iron fetters."

23rd Set in foggy London, Bleak House by Dickens, is a masterpiece of setting the scene for the transactions of the Chancery Court before its reformation in 1842:

"Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire too deep, to assort with the groping and floundering condition which this High Court of Chancery, most pestilential of hoary sinners, holds, this day, in the sight of heaven and earth.

"On such an afternoon, if, ever, the Lord High Chancellor ought to be sitting there – as he is – with a foggy glory round his head, softly fenced in with crimson cloth and curtains, addressed by a large advocate with great whiskers, a little voice, and an interminable brief, and outwardly directing his contemplation to the lantern in the roof, where he can see nothing but fog ..."

24th 1841 Great Britain gave the world railways – a form of transport which superseded the use of the horse, and revolutionised transport. However, it was not without its setbacks, and as might be expected mistakes were made and accidents occurred.

On this date a cutting through a hill at Sonning, Berkshire, weakened by heavy rains, collapsed onto Brunel's Great Western Railway. A train crashed into the masses of rock and soil causing the death of eight passengers.

The carriages were all open-topped, and passengers were simply thrown out. After this tragedy the President of the Board of Trade made covered carriages mandatory.

25th 1796 A very severe frost developed in the south east. The temperature fell to -21, -6F, in Marylebone, and -19,-2F, in Mayfair.

1836 A classic snowstorm blocked practically every road in England and Wales, apparently causing great loss of life. The snow was reported to be 5-15 feet deep, with drifts of 10-20 feet deep. It was caused by a slow moving depression over the English Channel producing easterly winds of gale force strength. Deep slow moving depressions, moving eastwards along the English Channel are responsible for practically all our major snowstorms in the southern half of the British Isles.

1927 Another snowstorm of blizzard proportions with strong easterly winds raged throughout the 25th and 26th. There was a general depth of 2 feet with enormous drifts over 20 feet. The open exposed Salisbury Plain was badly affected. It was due to an Atlantic depression moving from Ireland to the English Channel, then south-eastwards across France to the Mediterranean.

About 18.00 hrs on Christmas Day rain in the south turned to snow, so heavy that roads were hopelessly blocked by midnight. Central London had 15cm, 6 inches of snow.

1937 Charlton Athletic were playing Chelsea at the Valley when a murky fog enveloped the pitch – not uncommon in those days. Charlton's goalkeeper was Sam Bartram who patiently waited for 20 minutes for a Chelsea attack. At long last a figure appeared through the enveloping gloom and Sam braced himself for the expected attack. Much to Sam's surprise it was a policeman who enquired as to what Sam thought he was doing – "didn't you know the game was abandoned a quarter of an hour ago?"

1962 A ridge of high pressure stretched from the southern Baltic to south-west England, allowing very cold Polar Continental air to spread across the country. A front, moving southwards, brought rain which turned to snow as it moved southwards. It left 7cm, 3ins in Glasgow on Christmas Day.

There was widespread snow on Boxing Day, with over 30cm, 12ins lying in many places. The coldest winter of the 20th century had begun, and it lasted until the beginning of March.

COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS

We all like to grumble at times, and it probably does us good to get it off our chests. However, on the other hand, there are times when I think we do not know how well off we are.

Imagine life for ordinary folk if we did not have the National Health Service. My own parents were crippled by medical bills only one year before the NHS was created. To treat our medical conditions when treatment is needed – without worrying about money – is of the highest moral order, and I worry when I see that the NHS is suffering from creeping privatisation, introducing the profit motive again.

NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH

If you look at the United States – the richest and most militarily powerful nation on earth – you see a society where something like 60 million people do not have medical insurance and, as a consequence, rarely if ever see a doctor.

A highly reputable science magazine has just published some alarming facts about the state of health of poor Americans. There is a virtual epidemic of diseases which are associated with poverty, especially the NTD's – Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Don't forget that most of the USA has far hotter summers than North-West Europe, and this is conducive to disease. There are "an estimated 330,000 US citizens, maybe 1 million, carrying the parasite that causes Chagas disease. It is a chronic, silent infection that leads to lethal heart or gut damage in 40% of cases. It is the most common parasitic disease in the Americas, and can be treated – if the doctor is aware of it. Most US doctors aren't."

The poor, who are mostly affected, can't afford the doctor. Then there are the parasitic worms. Toxicariasis affects 1.3 to 2.8 million cases. Stongyloidiasis 68,000-100,000, Ascariasis 4 million, Cysticercosis 41000 – 169,000, Schistosomiasis 8,000. Chagas disease 330,000, Toxoplasmosis 1.1 million, Trichomoniasis 7.4 million. Finally, as if that is not enough, Dengue fever 110,000-200,000.

These diseases can all be cured, or at least treated, but as they mainly affect the poor, attempts at control are lacking. It seems that the only ray of hope is 'Obamacare', fiercely opposed by a substantial number.

I write once more – thank goodness for the NHS! Yow doh know 'ow well off yow am!!

My humble opinion is that a nation with such problems should think twice before spending more on military hardware and instead, solve their health problems. Of course, they are not alone – India and China are spending money on space exploration when vast numbers of their people lack basic hygiene and the simplest health care. And of course, our own government is set to spend something like 60 billion on replacements for the Trident submarine missiles, when social security for the poorest is being cut back.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Healthy, Prosperous New Year, and we must not forget to keep reading the marvellous Bugle!

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