In a recent article about the Summer Index in Central England, summer 1954 came in at the bottom of the table with the worst possible scores for temperature, rainfall and sunshine since at least 1929. In researching for this article by looking back in the online archives of the Royal Meteorological Society, I did find that 1931, 1922 (mental note to find out why the summer of 1922 was so cold) and 1912 all rivalled 1954 as the worst summer on record, but I have a special affection for 1954 because it was in the summer of that year I was born. Here are the headlines for the months of the extended summer of 1954 that I’ve grabbed from the Monthly Weather Report for each month that the Met Office make available online (they are Crown copyright – so I hope they don’t mind).
- May 1954 Mainly dull and wet, with frequent thunderstorms; large variations of temperature.
- June 1954 Mainly dull and cool; periods of rain, heavy at times.
- July 1954 Notably cool and dull; wet in some areas.
- August 1954 Cool and dull, mainly wet in England, Wales and southern Scotland.
- September 1954 Cool and unsettled; wet in most areas; sunny on the whole.
To begin with I thought that I would just look back at the circulation patterns of the summer using the reanalysis MSLP data from NOAA, so the next three charts are the mean pressure for each meteorological month of the summer, followed by three more anomaly charts for June, July and August. As you can see from the first three charts the summer was dominated by a west or northwesterly flow, which during July was quite strong.
The monthly anomaly charts for each month all show an anomalous low to the northeast or east of the British Isles, with mean pressure between -5 and -9 hPa lower than the monthly long-term average.
And here are the 1200 UTC surface temperature anomalies also from reanalysis data which show how cool, if not cold it was, not just across the British Isles but also the near continent through each of the summer months.
Here for good measure are the mean temperature anomalies for the entire summer courtesy of the Met Office.
The British Isles were in quite deep (for the time of year) cold air for long periods during the summer of 1954. I count 49 of the 92 days of that summer when sub 552 dm partial thicknesses (the green blobs) covered all or some part of the British Isles.
Of all the information and graphics that I have packed into this article, none of them conveys as much as the next graphic just how exceptional the Summer of 1954 was. It’s a chart of daily Central England Temperatures [CET] and anomalies for the entire Summer. The fifth chart from the top displays cold or warm spells that have lasted for four days or longer and were +/- 2°C above the long-term average for that day, and as you can see in the entire summer there were only three warm spells, and all of them spells of high night-time minima rather than day time maxima.
Here is a list of the coldest summers in the CET monthly series since 1659. Although 1954 was cold, coming in at the 17th coldest with a mean anomaly of -1.19°C, there have been colder summers including that of 1922 with an anomaly of -1.72°C.
And finally a look at the daily rainfall totals for England and Wales from the UKP data series that are maintained and made available by the wonderful Met Office yet again. It was a wet summer and according to the figures it was over 40% wetter than average. It looked very wet from the 5th of June for at least ten days or so, with wet spells again in late July and again through the first three weeks of August.
In writing this article I’ve finally come to realise that I have developed an amazing set of applications to display climate data, but charts, tables and maps aren’t the be all and end all of what makes an interesting article about past weather events. To glue all those disparate images together you need meaningful textual information about whatever event your article is about, and if that event happened over sixty years ago like this one did, when you were either perhaps too young or not even born, then you can’t always write about it with the benefit of first hand experience.