COLUMN: Weather Wise with Gordon Currie

The Clean Air Act has left us with cleaner fog, says Gordon Currie. (S)
The Clean Air Act has left us with cleaner fog, says Gordon Currie. (S)
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Gordon recalls the dirty fogs of yesteryear.

Oh! Such glories to behold

When woodlands teem their pouring gold

Lofty boughs their peaks arise

In gilded radiance to the skies,

Exalted in this treasured world

Leaves of brown, all crisp and curled

Descend on air so sharp and cold

As frosty mantles now unfold;

Sweet silence in their deathly fall,

Strange resignation over all . . . .

Yet, could it be imagination,

We feel a sense of regeneration?

Faint dreams which may be far away

Pictures seen through death’s decay;

Fresh green and newness will arise

Beyond old Autumn’s closing eyes, -

No cause for sorrow, but inward joys

To nurture through long Winter’s ploys,

To muse across this frosted plain –

And count each day to Spring again!

In the thoughts of many people, November comes to us with an unfortunate disposition, having no real seasonal ambitions to cultivate during its thirty days, but bringing with it a definite purpose, that of instilling relaxation and slumber to the countryside’s living world.

There seems to exist a bitter-sweetness about the days of early November, as the last butterflies of summer enjoy their numbered days in a shaft of sunlight upon the ivy flowers, and the scarlet star – shaped flowers of schizostylis sunrise (Kaffir Lily) blaze the final floral heralds in the garden border.

Further afield, we find a diversity of colour however in the fruitfulness of the hedgerows, not least with the elderberry clusters, which transform into a lustre of claret and deep purple, caught in the reflected light of November’s setting sun.

With these pictures in our minds, we capture the true flamboyance of November’s sunnier character, which, supported by weather statistics, has become evident over the past 30 years.

In many instances over recent decades, the increased frequency of westerly and north-westerly weather types, bringing clear, colder polar air across the country have increased November’s sunshine totals by nearly 20 per cent.

Even greater emphasis on these brighter facts of the month have been contributed by one or two noteworthy Arctic interludes, bringing crystal clarity in the blue skies, such as the snowy November of 1965 and of course, all too fresh in the memory, the severe conditions of 2010.

It was interesting to compare some of the colour contrasts between November’s russet leaves and hedgerows and the whiteness of early snowfalls in 1965 and 2010 with the descriptions of Richard Jefferies’s snowy Novembers in the 1880s.

This apparent revolutionary change towards brighter Novembers over the past three decades contrasts very strongly with the drab and gloomy months of the 1940s and 1950s, mostly prior to the Clean Air Act which became law in the mid 1950s.

The frequency of thick fogs across the Vale of York certainly reached a peak with a ten-day blanket of fog in November 1948, which became polluted with soot particles transported on light southerly winds from the industrial areas of south Yorkshire.

A persistent large high pressure system over the British Isles developed a “temperature inversion“, which acted like a warm ceiling in the atmosphere around 1,000 feet, which effectively trapped all the pollutant residue within the fog blanket at the surface.

In the countryside and on the farm, the fields became grey instead of white with hoar frost which clearly showed the presence of soot particles. However, the passage of a few years illustrated the progress of the Clean Air Act, a good example being another thick fog developed in similar circumstances to those of 1948, in December 1962 was much cleaner, with the pure 
whiteness of hoar frost on the fields.