50 years of Queen's rain

Jubilee weather history
by Philip Eden

The predicted rain held off in London yesterday, much to the relief of the organisers of the Golden Jubilee parades, and of course to the million or more people who were watching.

Coronations and jubilees have a dreadful reputation when it comes to the weather they bring. The Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977 occurred in one of the coldest and wettest Junes of the twentieth century, and celebrations culminated on June 6 - the jubilee bank holiday - on a day of strong winds and sudden downpours. The pageantry and colour of the Queen's coronation in 1953 enlivened an otherwise chill, drab, damp June day, and George VI was crowned on a similarly grey and cold day in May 1937. Much earlier, Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee was marred by dramatic hailstorms, thunder and lightning, during midsummer week in 1897.

Twenty-five years ago, the jubilee bank holiday provided an early opportunity for getting out to to the country or the coast for anyone not attracted by the prospect of street parties and bonfire building. There was also a full programme of sporting events. However, meteorological conditions were about as unfavourable as it is possible to get in early summer. Following a prolonged anticyclonic spell during the second half of May the weather turned much more unsettled during the opening days of June as the high pressure system retreated to mid-Atlantic. Then on the 4th - the Saturday of the long weekend - a depression tracked south-eastwards from Iceland to Norway introducing a gusty northwesterly airflow to the UK. A second depression developed south of Iceland on the Sunday, and it followed a circuitous route across the British Isles during the following 48 hours; this depression became an unusually intense feature for the season, the central pressure dropping to 980 millibars off Edinburgh on the Monday ev ening. The wind backed southwesterly and strengthened on Sunday night and Monday morning, veering northwesterly again by the end of the day. Belts of rain, heavy in places, crossed the whole country.

Bank holiday Monday was the windiest day of the entire summer of 1977 over the southern half of the country. Sustained winds of 30-35 mph were widely reported, and gusts of 50 mph were recorded at RAF Manston (near Ramsgate) and at Dungeness, with 49 mph at St Mary's in the Isles of Scilly. The squally winds and rough seas disabled several craft in Channel waters, and over twenty people had to be rescued by the coastguard. Inland there were blustery showers, and it was cold enough for snow to fall - and to settle - over the slopes of the Scottish mountains and on the highest peaks in the Lake Districts and Snowdonia.

On June 2, 1953, a depression was centred over Holland and strong northerly airflow covered the British Isles. Thick clouds blanketed much of the country, a chill wind nagged away all day, and there were sporadic bursts of heavy rain especially in east and southeast England. In London the heaviest rain was early in the morning, and it held off during the procession from palace to abbey, but the rains returned later on. Throughout the day the temperature hovered around 11-12C, a thoroughly miserable level for a June day.