This Week In London’s History
Random London Fact Of The Week
London is no stranger to fog and smog, having suffered both the meteorological and pollution-based phenomena for centuries. However from Friday 5th to Tuesday 9th December 1952, the smog that befell London was so severe in its effects that it spurred a major rethink of how the capital’s pollution should be managed.
The word ‘smog’ originates from a combination of ‘smoke’ and ‘fog’, and was first used in 1905 to describe the noxious smoky fog that arose as a result of large amounts of coal being burned in an urban area. Although London had experienced these ‘pea-soupers’ since Roman times, the combination of December 1952’s cold fog and the subsequent heavy burning of coal to combat the cold caused a smog that was extreme, even by London’s standards. The Met Office website describes it thus:
During the day on 5 December, the fog was not especially dense and generally possessed a dry, smoky character. When nightfall came, however, the fog thickened. Visibility dropped to a few metres. The following day, the sun was too low in the sky to make much of an impression on the fog. That night and on the Sunday and Monday nights, the fog again thickened. In many parts of London, it was impossible at night for pedestrians to find their way, even in familiar districts. In the Isle of Dogs, the visibility was at times nil. The fog there was so thick that people could not see their own feet! Even in the drier thoroughfares of central London, the fog was exceptionally thick. Not until 9 December did it clear. In central London, the visibility remained below 500 metres continuously for 114 hours and below 50 metres continuously for 48 hours. At Heathrow Airport, visibility remained below ten metres for almost 48 hours from the morning of 6 December.
Huge quantities of impurities were released into the atmosphere during the period in question. On each day during the foggy period, the following amounts of pollutants were emitted: 1,000 tonnes of smoke particles, 2,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, 140 tonnes of hydrochloric acid and 14 tonnes of fluorine compounds. In addition, and perhaps most dangerously, 370 tonnes of sulphur dioxide were converted into 800 tonnes of sulphuric acid.
The effects of the airborne pollution were grim. During the smog, London’s mortality rate rose to almost a thousand deaths per day – more than three times what could be considered ‘normal’ for that time of year – and remained well above average for the following few weeks. Huge increases in reported cases of hypoxia, bronchitis, pneumonia and other respiratory and cardiovascular complaints marked an estimated 12,000 deaths as a direct result of the smog.
The London smog of December 1952 would later be referred to as ‘The Great Smog’ or ‘The Big Smoke’ (meaningless trivia: Londonist used to be called ‘The Big Smoker’), and would provide an impetus for the Clean Air Act of 1956 and the (rather uninventively named) City of London (Various Powers) Act of 1954.
London’s Weather This Week
Following a very summery weekend, forecasters indicate that the good weather is going to mostly continue for the rest of the week. However most of them agree that there is a fair risk of some rain tomorrow, which, in the reality that is London’s weather, means that you should expect rain at any time this week.
Picture taken from lewishamdreamer’s Flickr photostream under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 license. The text quoted from the Met Office website is Crown copyright - Crown copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen’s Printer for Scotland.