The cold October of 1881

I get the distinct feeling that October 2016 is going to be an unusual month as far as weather is concerned in the British Isles. The reason I say this is down to the early intense Scandinavian anticyclone that initially formed on the 3rd of the month, and the first substantial block we’ve had in the circulation pattern across the British Isles for some considerable time. As usual I always call on the aid of the central England temperature [CET] series to help me out , and this time is no different. Here’s a table of the coldest October’s in the CET series. You’ll notice that I’ve highlighted 1881, I did this because 1881 was the best match that I could find to the start of this October in the Objective Lamb weather type [LWT] series. The October of 1881 was the eleventh coldest since 1659 in the monthly CET series, with a percentile of 4 (i.e. one of the top 4% coldest) and a mean temperature of 7.06°C, which was -3.45°C below the 1961-1990 long-term average.


This is a graph of all Octobers since 1659. There has been a slow warming over the centuries in October’s, with many more warm than cold since the World War II. As as you can see the last notably cold one was in 1992.


Below is a more detailed look at the CET of Autumn 1881 and the one thing that striked me about it how quickly a long period of cold can suddenly give way to a long period of mild, before flipping back to cold again.


The month of October across the British Isles was very anticyclonic in nature. It started in a very similar way to October 2016 with a large anticyclone over Norway, which eventually gave way by the 10th to allow a low pressure system to run and intensify from Iceland and into the Norwegian sea and into the Baltic before filling and being replaced by a transient high pressure cell on the 16th. The high migrated to Scandinavia and before you know it the 19th of October looked a lot like the first day of the month again. That high remained for the rest of the month, it retrogressed NW’ward from the 20th to allow low pressure to take up residency across the SW of the British Isles and produce another spell of E’lys from the 19th to the 30th of the month.  The low over the SW gradually filled as high pressure built from the north from the 25th, and by the end of the month an anticyclone sat over the country.


Here are the 0000 UTC weather charts for October. Please note that the LWT table uses 1200 UTC data so they are not perfectly in synch.

I would have included a graph of  rainfall for October 1881 but the daily totals only go back as far as 1931, and the regional monthly totals only go back to 1910 so they’re of no use, so we are left with the total from the monthly England Wales [EWP] rainfall series of 82 mm, which was 94% of average. It’s surprisingly difficult to glean much information about past weather across the country, and 1881 is just a little too early to be included in the daily and monthly weather reports of the Met Office.

In Conclusion

Well what was all that in aid of? Well it’s been almost 25 years since we experienced a really cold October, and I suppose I’m still vaguely looking to find some kind of analog between the October of 1881 and 2016. I know I’m totally delusional, but what the hell.


About xmetman

I am an exmetman who is passionate about all things to do with weather and climate. I have no axe to grind, and am continually upsetting people on both sides of the global warming debate with the articles that I publish, hell, I'm even banned from commenting on the Met Office's own blog! What I do fight for is the freeing up of climate, observational and forecast data collected and created on our behalf by the Meteorological Office.
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