On this day, decades ago, England was engulfed in deadly smog

Starting Dec. 4, 1952, smog took over London, England, for five days.

This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by Chris Mei from The Weather Network, featuring stories about people, communities and events and how weather impacted them.


If you were in London, England, on Thursday, Dec. 5, 1952, you wouldn't be able to see past five metres in front of you. This was a result of cumulative events that occurred the day before on Dec. 4.

It would be the first of five days of killer smog.

A high-pressure air mass over the Thames River Valley mixed with the sudden, cold air that came in from the west.

The city had low temperatures so coal furnaces were blazing across residences. Adding to residential pollution, there was also smoke, soot, and sulphur dioxide from cars, industrial plants, and buses.

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London had recently replaced an electric tram system with steam locomotives and diesel-fuelled buses.

There was a ton of pollution in the air and nowhere for it to go.

Nelson's Column

(Wikipedia) _Nelson's Column during the Great Smog of 1952 Original description: Nelson's Column in December. Foggy Day in December 1952.

On Dec. 4, an anticyclone stalled over London, which was completely windless, causing a temperature inversion with cold, stagnant air trapped under a layer of warm air.

That fog mixed with pollutant smoke and created a thick smog. The stagnant soot particles gave the smog a yellow-black colour, earning the moniker "pea-souper."

Of course, smog is more dangerous than half of its portmanteau makeup, as it has the same restricted visibility and the added respiratory repercussions.

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Between Dec. 4-8, an estimated 4,000-12,000 people died.

London smog

(Paul Lioy, Rutgers University) The above chart shows results by Rutgers University's Paul Lioy that depicts the amount of smoke and pollutants in the London air vs the number of deaths during the week of Dec. 5, 1952.

To hear more about the smog and how it was the topic of an episode in the Netflix series, The Crown, listen to today's episode of "This Day In Weather History."

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Credit: 'When Smoke Ran Like Water', by Devra Davis, Perseus Books