Tag Archives: Ulysses Storm

Extreme Weather in 1903


By Paul Homewood

I reported on the Ulysses Storm, but it was far from being the only extreme weather event that year.

After a wet spring, June turned out to be particularly wet, especially in the south and east of England. In its usual understated fashion, the Met Office at the time noted the month’s “remarkable character”:

The late Philip Eden, the leading weather historian of his time, summed it up well twenty years ago:

Not all Junes in southern England have been as warm, dry and sunny as this month. Exactly 100 years ago there was a prolonged downpour and flood without precedent in London’s meteorological history. In over 300 years of rainfall recording in the capital June 1903 ranks as the wettest individual month, yet there was no rain at all during the first week, nor during the last ten days. In other parts of the UK it was a very dry month with less than 25mm of rain in parts of the north Midlands, Lincolnshire, western and northern Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

The wetness of a wet June, at least in lowland Britain, usually derives from torrential short-lived dowpours, often localised and thundery, and frequently accompanied by great heat. In 1903, by contrast, June’s wetness was a consequence of long-continued steady rain lasting for many hours at a time, unaccompanied by thunder, and associated with unseasonably low temperature. It was the sort of rain more appropriate to autumn than to midsummer.

At Kew Observatory 183mm of rain fell during the middle fortnight of the month – over three times the normal amount for June, and nearly 30mm more than the next wettest. Even more rain fell in north and central Surrey, including 197mm at Waddon New Road in Croydon, 204mm at Addington, 206mm at Brimstone Barn, near Croydon, and 226mm at Carshalton. It is estimated that the rainfall averaged over what now constitutes Greater London was approximately 161mm, which converts to 288 million tons or 64 billion gallons of water, and that is more than 10,000 gallons per person.

Throughout the period a complex depression lay over France, southern Britain and the Low Countries, while high pressure was centred between Scotland and Iceland. The resulting north-easterly airflow fed very moist but very cool air from the southern North Sea across southeast England, so daytime temperatures rose little above 10C on the wettest days. During the middle of the wet period, from lunchtime on the 13th until late evening on the 15th, it rained continuously in central London for a period of almost 59 hours. This is the longest period of unbroken rain ever recorded in a populated part of the United Kingdom.


Record Rainfall in Brentford


The Met Office noted that July was “scarcely less remarkable”:

It remained wet in August, and the Met Office noted that rainfall in London for the first eight months of the year was already higher than the annual average:

Still the rain fell, and adding to the misery was a gale of unusual severity on 10th September:

But the worst weather was saved for October. Again the Met Office monthly report did not convey the full impact:

The simple reality was that October 1903 was by a long way the wettest of any months in England:


Rainfall totalled 191.3mm, in comparison to the 170.8mm in November 2009, the wettest month this century.

I have no doubt that the Met Office will attempt to paint the weather this year as “Extreme”, even though we have experienced nothing out of the ordinary so far this year. After all, they do the same thing every year. They’ll mention one of their storms with a silly name, point to some mild weather and a couple of hot days.

But if anybody wants to know what extreme weather really looks like, they only have to look back to the weather 120 years ago.