Severe weather is nothing new

I’m currently reading a book which contains this section on the farming conditions in Devon in the second half of the 19th century:

[I]n 1879 it simply rained without ceasing throughout the whole of the summer, turning much of the English countryside into a desperate, oozing mire. It continued to rain until the end of 1882, causing an epidemic of pleuro pneumonia and liver rot in sheep, while the crops collapsed in the fields. The middle of the decade was marked by severe droughts and catastrophic frosts. S. G. Kendall, the West Country yeoman farmer who kept a detailed diary of the weather, vividly describes the year 1879 and the following five years of appalling summers. The persistent rain that summer, he wrote, was accompanied `by a damp, dark, cold atmosphere which struck a chill almost into one’s bones, bringing ruined crops with widespread devastation in their train … We had no barley crops at all that season on heavy soil’, and the wheat ‘turned blighty and black and seemed to shrink back in a different way yet not dissimilar to the barley two months earlier’.

Another diarist, George Rope, describes the floods that summer: ’23 Aug. Began cutting tolavera – slightly sprouted as it stood – from continual rains for the last fortnight. The wettest season since 186o and similar, but not so cold – about two-thirds of the hay and clover spoiled – and a large quantity carried away by floods – on 22nd July we had the greatest flood I can ever remember.’ He goes on to describe cows drowned, houses flooded, and how people had travelled by boat from farm to farm.

At the end of 1879 Kendall wrote: ‘This dismal, wet, dark, never-to-be-forgotten year is now at an end; may the coming eighties bring with it better luck and greater good fortune.’ But 1880 was if anything worse – bad weather and disease carried away five million sheep in England; and 1881 brought fresh disasters including a blizzard lasting forty-eight hours. G. E. Mingay, who has chronicled the weather during this period in his Rural Life in Victorian England, summarizes the continued disastrous weather thus:

The following summer was wet, and 1882 had a very wet autumn so that little wheat could be sown. The summers of 1885 and 1887, by contrast, were dry, with shortages of roots for the stock … the early nineties saw fresh disasters. The great blizzard of 8-13 March 1891 brought twenty-foot snow drifts to parts of the West Country, and claimed over 200 lives on shore and at sea. The farmers suffered great losses of livestock – some sheep were blown over the cliffs into the sea – as well as devastation in orchards and woodlands. The summer of 1891 also produced a wet harvest, and 1892 and 1893 brought very severe droughts. In [the West Country] hardly any rain fell between February and July 1893, and there was almost no grass for haymaking. On the heavy land the harrow marks of April could be seen right up to harvest. Then came a most bitter and persistent frost in the winter of 1894-5, when drifts of snow from six to fourteen feet deep covered the ground for weeks.

I’m posting this mainly to counteract the view of a rather dim BBC presenter who, the other day on television, opined in the context of global warming that “the weather is definitely getting more extreme”.

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19 thoughts on “Severe weather is nothing new

  1. I’m posting this mainly to counteract the view of a rather dim BBC presenter who, the other day on television, opined in the context of global warming that “the weather is definitely getting more extreme”.

    Name names. All BBC presenters would say that as its the party line.

    ‘Extreme weather’ is in any case not forecast by the IPCC, and indeed, according to them, is not happening.

  2. Reading that extract I would say that this proves that the weather in Mud Island has been quite consistent over the last 150 years.

  3. Reading that extract I would say that this proves that the weather in Mud Island has been quite consistent over the last 150 years.

    Heh.

  4. Also, in a BBC quiz on electricity:
    Every day there are around 8 million lightning strikes around the world and due to climate change, this could rise.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zt3bsrd?intc_type=mixedcards&intc_location=terrificscientific&intc_campaign=iplayerfooter&intc_linkname=guide_electricityquiz_contentcard11

    They just can’t help themselves.

    This is, of course, not forecast by the IPCC. but rather made up by the BBC (or maybe the Met Office).

  5. Every now and then I comment on a blog about the scam that is Global Warming. Then I receive a lecture from some broad – perhaps equipped with a degree in Contemporary Dance and Mime – to the effect that I wouldn’t believe that if I had spent some time in the company of scientists.

  6. Can certainly see why everyone was so keen to leave farm life behind and go work in an indoor cotton mill

  7. Twas them new-fangled steam engines causing climate change back then. In the 60s and 70s my granddad was convinced the US and Soviet Space programmes were changing the weather.

  8. I saw this and immediately thought of Krakatoa… From Wiki because I can’t be bothered to dig out my text books,

    “In the year following the 1883 Krakatoa eruption, average Northern Hemisphere summer temperatures fell by as much as 1.2 °C (2.2 °F). Weather patterns continued to be chaotic for years, and temperatures did not return to normal until 1888.”

    Switzerland was hit had by the lack of Summer, but it appears that Devon got of lightly.

  9. What is ‘tolavera’?

    I have absolutely no idea. Hopefully John Square’s answer is enough to satisfy you!

  10. I’d also mention 1816, the year without a summer as it was called in North America and Western Europe. There had been a number of major volcanic eruptions in the previous years, culminating in the Tambora eruption in 1815.

    “The summer of 1891 also produced a wet harvest, and 1892 and 1893 brought very severe droughts.”

    There was a severe drought in parts of Russia in 1891, which led to the country’s worst famine in the 19th century.

  11. There was a severe drought in parts of Russia in 1891, which led to the country’s worst famine in the 19th century.

    Russia seems to suffer worse famines than other countries, for some reason. I was recently reading about the 30 Years War, and stumbled upon the period called The Time of Troubles:

    Extremely poor harvests were encountered in 1601–03, with night time temperatures in all summer months often below freezing, wrecking crops; see Russian famine of 1601–03.[1] The probable cause of climatic changes was the eruption of Huaynaputina volcano in Peru in 1600.[2][3][4] Widespread hunger led to the mass starvation of about two million Russians, a third of the population.

    Kinda sucked being born Russian for most periods in history, didn’t it?

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