London weather: The story behind the capital’s ‘killer’ fog that was so thick fog you could barely go outside – MyLondon



Extreme weather stories often go down in history.

The Great Freeze of 1963 was the last time the River Thames fully froze over. Just a few years ago in 2018, the Beast from the East hit the capital, bringing bitterly cold weather and a lot of disruption to deal with as a result.

The year of the thick “killer” fog is no exception, especially because a lot of tragedy went along with it.

It was December 1952. King George VI had sadly died that year and the young Queen Elizabeth II had taken over, getting ready for her coronation that would come in the following year.

On December 5 was the first day of five days of a fog unlike anything that had been seen before.

Londoners are used to fog but this was different (Image: George Tsiagalakis/Wikimedia Commons)

Us Londoners are used to foggy days and, unfortunately, pollution in the air, but this was on another level.

For a full five days, a fog that had dangerous pollutants in it covered the capital.

It wasn’t a small issue at all. More than 150,000 people were in hospital after breathing in the toxic air.

Initially, it was estimated that around 4,000 people died, but more recent research suggests that number was closer to 12,000 people and lots of animals.

The question over what caused this deadly fog remained unanswered for a long time, and even now scientists can’t be certain of the exact components of the fog.

At the time, it was broadly known that the fog had something to do with the burning of coal. London had coal-fired power stations in a number of places, including Fulham, Battersea, Bankside, Greenwich and Kingston.

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A number of scientists from the UK, US and China looked into the possible components of the fog. Leader of the study, Renyi Zhang, determined that sulfate and sulfuric acid particles, formed from sulfur dioxide that’s released from burning coal, were both elements of the dangerous fog, reports CBS News.

It looks as if it happened because the process of sulfur dioxide turning into sulfuric acid was facilitated by nitrogen dioxide, also a product of coal-burning, and it occured initially on the natural fog that had formed because of the weather conditions.

The fog itself eventually evaporated but left an acidic cloud covering the city.

The unusually cold weather at the time and the onset of an anticyclone, a large scale circulation of winds, created the right environment for the fog.

Essentially the exact right weather conditions combined with the burning of a lot of coal caused this deadly fog.

The disaster led to the Clean Air Act being passed in 1956 and an event in history that is still to this day considered one of the worst air pollution disasters in Europe ever.

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