Frost Fair on the River Thames near the Temple Stairs. Thomas Wyke. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The way we were: extreme weather

Extracts from memoirs and diaries
January 29, 2020


John Aubrey in London writes in his diary about the Great Frost:

“I went across the Thames on the ice, now become so thick as to bear streets of booths. In the streets, sleds, sliding with skates, a bullbaiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays and interludes, cooks, tippling and other lewd places, so that it seemed to be a bacchanalian triumph, or carnival on the water, while it was a severe judgment on the land, the trees not only splitting as if the lightning struck but men and cattle perishing. The fowls, fish and birds and all our exotic plants and greens universally perishing. Many parks of deer were destroyed, and all sorts of fuel so dear that there were great contributions to preserve the poor alive. London, by reason of the excessive coldness of the air hindering the ascent of the smoke, was so filled with the fuliginous steam of the sea coal that hardly could one see across the street, and this filling the lungs with its gross particles exceedingly obstructed the breast so as one could scarcely breather.”


Thomas Jefferson describes his native state of Virginia:

“A change in our climate is taking place very sensibly. Both heats and colds are become much more moderate, within the memory of even the middle-aged. Snows are less frequent and less deep. The elderly inform me the earth used to be covered with snow about three months in every year. The rivers which then seldom failed to freeze over, scarcely ever do now.”


Caroline Henderson, an Oklahoma native, writes to the US secretary of state for agriculture:

“The wonderful crop of 1926 when our country alone produced 10m bushels of wheat revealed the possibilities of our productive soil under modern methods of farming. I can shut my eyes and feel yet the rush of an almost painful thankfulness when we looked out over our fields that summer and watched our ripening grain bending, rising, bending again in golden waves swept on interminably by the restless wind. Yet now our daily physical torture, confusion of mind, gradual wearing down of courage, seem to make that long continued hope a vanishing dream. For we are in the worst of the dust storm area. There are days when for hours at a time we cannot see the windmill 50 feet from the kitchen door. Now we are facing a fourth year of failure.”