As climate change sends us floods and heatwaves indiscriminately, Time Out swats up on the biggest freak weather events London has ever seen. Even reliable ol’ Fish misjudged The Great Storm of ’87…
1. The 1091 tornado
Imagine the carnage a giant twister would wreak on modern London. Now imagine if it hit the city in medieval times, when most of the buildings were constructed from laths and dung. That’s what happened on October 17 1091.A T8 tornado (the technical term fora flippin’ powerful storm) tore through the city, demolishing more than 600 houses and the old London Bridge in its wake. #Fubar!
2. The Great Frost, 1683-84
As you might guess from the name, the so-called ‘Little Ice Age’ inflicted a fair few killer cold spells on the northern hemisphere between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. This one, in the winter of 1683-84, froze the Thames solid for two months, with ice up to 11 inches thick. On the up side, it was the occasion of one of London’s most celebrated ‘frost fairs’, when the ice was host to stalls and lots of jolly old-fashioned entertainments like pickpocketing and bull-baiting.
3. The Great Storm of 1703
And the award for most severe natural disaster ever recorded in southern England goes to… The Great Storm of 1703. This vicious tempest literally ripped the country apart on the night of November 26, scuppering the Royal Navy and claiming more than 8,000 lives. Here in London, it blew the lead off the roof of Westminster Abbey and forced Queen Anne to shelter in acellar at St James’s Palace as the chimney stacks collapsed.
4. The year without a summer, 1816
Okay, this is a fair description of the last five years, but the non-summer of 1816 was next-level bleak. Snow fell in London as late as May, and the Thames froze as early as September. As for the period in between, it was a familiar combination of cold, wind,rain and the mass drone of the British public whingeing about the weather and making fatuous threats to emigrate if things didn’t improve.
5. The 1928 Thames flood
It wasn’t exactly a doomsday tsunami, but this was still one hell ofa flood. Large parts of the Thames Embankment collapsed, flooding swathes of central London andsending a wall of water through one luckless neighbourhood in Lambeth, drowning 14 people in their basement flats (now called ‘garden flats’, so bear that in mind). Both theHouse of Commons and the Tate Gallery were flooded, and around 4,000 Londoners were left homeless. Still, in an unexpected ‘I-was-there’ tourist opportunity, the Tower of London’s moat was refilled for the first time in 80 years.
6. The 1953 North Sea flood
Compared to other parts of the UK, where more than 300 people were killed, London wasn’t too severely affected by one of the nation’s mostsevere natural disasters. Parts of east London were flooded, but there were no Olympic buildings to protect back then. The authorities leapt into action and built the Thames Barrier… which didn’t actually open until 1984, 30 years later.
7. The Big Freeze of 1963
At the height of the Cold War, winds from Siberia (hmm, suspicious)brought London one of its coldestwinters on record. More than two feet of snow caused chaos in the capital and parts of the Thames froze over. New Year’s Eve was oddly quiet, with few people (apart from visiting Geordie lasses) willing to brave the severe temperatures, which stayed below or near zero until March.
8. The Great Storm of 1987
On the night of October 15, 1987, as TV weatherman Michael Fish dreamt blissfully of a career free from ridicule, a hurricane tore through the south of England, razing woods, demolishing buildings and claiming 18 lives. In London, some of Hyde Park’s oldest trees were uprooted, scaffolding collapsed and thousands of households were left without power. Fish, who had assured viewers that no such storm was on its way, woke up to a grim future of near-perpetual inclusion in TV blooper programmes.
9. The 2003 heatwave
Too hot for you, is it? Pah, this is nothing. Ten years ago the whole of Europe was melting in its hottest summer since the sixteenth century. France bore the brunt of it but in theUK we certainly weren’t spared. London’s highest ever temperature – a sweltering 38.1C – was recorded on August 10 at Kew, and the London Eye was forced to shut for a day because it became too steamy in the pods. Critics claimed that that was just a lot of hot air… (sorry).
10. The 2006 Kensal Green tornado
There are ‘freak’ weather events, and then there are the two-headedlizard- type happenings that you really wouldn’t believe unless you heard them from Jon Snow – such as the Kensal Green tornado. At 11am on December 7, this T4 twister swept through several streets in north-west London, injuring six people and causing around £10 million worth of damage. Londoners were shocked and tough questions were asked, like ‘Where’s Kensal Green again?’
Compiled by Dan Frost