Six Months in England – Weather
I’ve been told that to be accepted by the British one has to complain about the weather. My father taught me that trying to understand the weather was preferable to complaining about it. Nevertheless I’ve found complaining about the weather in England is not optional – it’s compulsory!
Dad worked for 40 years at a chemical plant in Texas that produced carbon black (soot basically) by burning crude oil and methane. Today carbon black remains a key ingredient in automobile tires (excuse me, tyres), plastics, dyes, etc. No need for a chemistry lesson here – elemental carbon is used in almost every product you buy. But the process of making carbon black is messy to say the least. Today chemical plants control their airborne emissions in compliance with strict government standards, but back in the 1950’s this wasn’t the case. Although filters were used at my Dad’s plant in the 50’s and 60’s, they weren’t adequate to prevent micron size particles of carbon filling the air above the plant. Depending upon the wind speed, direction, relative humidity, etc., very fine particles of carbon would settle on the farmhouses in the countryside surrounding the plant. Every day the plant manager would get a phone call from one or more farmers who felt they were getting more than their share of soot that day. The plant manager was mildly annoyed – my Dad was fascinated!
Having only a 7th grade elementary school education, Dad maintained all the instrumentation used at this plant, mostly through self-study and trial and error. Since weather affected these instruments (many were unsheltered outside), so he also noticed that very local weather observations seem to coincide with heavier than normal soot fallout at certain neighboring farms. Having no weather station data closer than 30 miles away (and 24 hours behind), he decided to collect his own weather data using crude instruments he cobbled together in his shop. There were no computers or data-loggers in those days – wind speed, direction, relative humidity, and barometric pressure readings had to be collected manually several times a day. The eventual result was decades of weather data for that plant’s location that predicted quite accurately which of the surrounding farms was going to get “dumped on” that day. Dad could tell the plant manager in the morning which of the local farmers would be calling him that afternoon to complain. As the technology improved, so did my father’s enthusiasm for understanding what made the weather different from one day to the next.
What does all that have to do with the weather in England, you ask? Apparently Dad’s decades of passion for understanding the weather rubbed off on his only son. I find the weather in England quite fascinating and definitely worth a bit of study. The United Kingdom straddles the geographic mid-latitudes between 49–60 N (51 N where I am). It is on the western seaboard of Eurasia (the world’s largest land mass) and the eastern edge of the northern Atlantic Ocean, warmed by the Gulf Stream.
Moist maritime air and dry continental air are constantly converging at this location. The large temperature variation creates atmospheric instability, which is a major factor that influences the often-unsettled weather experienced in the UK. The weather here is seldom uncomfortably hot, and seldom bitterly cold, and seldom the same from one hour to the next. The terms “moderate” and “variable” have new meanings here. If you want to delve a bit deeper read “A newcomer’s guide to English weather” at http://www.vegemitevix.com/2012/10/26/understanding-english-weather/ , e.g., “Sunny – means the sun will rise and set. It might even show up for a minute or two. Sunny does not mean you will be reaching for the sunscreen. As Miss Fliss asked the other day ‘Why doesn’t the sun feel warm over here?’ Answers on a post-it note please.”
This month I’ve installed a Davis Weather Station at the top of an 18-foot pole in the back garden, which wirelessly transmits data to a console 75 feet away inside the house (where it’s warm and dry). Obviously it’s early times, but I’ve already observed hourly swings in barometric pressure that are amazing, measureable rainfall every day in January, and wind gusts of 17 to 22 miles per hour almost daily. Today we had blue skies at 12 noon, a driving rain from 12:20 to 12:45, and blue skies again at 1:00 pm. I’ve never seen clouds move across the sky the way they do here except with time-lapse photography. The good news is that the “bad weather” for this winter (snow & ice) hasn’t yet arrived. Maybe in February. Can’t hardly wait!!