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Bonfires on thick ice on the Thames

Minus 14 degrees Fahrenheit indoors

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13 Jun 11 - Reader Sonya Porter provides a comment on the article by Dr. Velasco on a possible new Maunder Minimum:

Recently I've been reading an old book, The Natural History of Selborne, a collection of letters written by the Vicar of Selborne, a small village in southern England over a twenty year period at the end of the 18th century.  

The book is mainly about birds and animals in the area but the Vicar also talks about the weather and at one point he records that in January 1678 the weather was so cold that it was minus 14 degrees Fahrenheit indoors!   The following year there was an earthquake in Herefordshire (another nearby county) and so much rain that a landslip in Selborne buried a farm and barns.

Nor did the weather get much warmer over the following couple of centuries.   There were Frost Fairs held on the Thames until 1814 where, because the ice was so thick, they could even set bonfires.  

And the reason that so many English Christmas cards show masses of snow is that they were first invented in the middle of the 19th century which shows that the cold winter weather continued until at least that time.


Sonya Porter
Woking, Surrey, England

If I remember correctly, H. H. Lamb mentioned bonfires on the Thames in his 1982 book "Climate, history and the modern world."

Hubert H. Lamb, an English climatologist, founded the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in 1972.   

According to Wikipedia, he became known as the "ice man" because he predicted global cooling and a coming ice age.

I imagine that he'd roll over in his grave if he knew to what levels his beloved CRU has sunk.                     - Robert


Just wondering …. How could the vicar note that the temperature indoor in January 1678 was -14 Farenheit when Gabriel Farenheit did not propose the scale until 1724?        - Meir Zohar

Good question, Meir. According to his biography, Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit was born in Danzig, Germany, on May 14, 1686. That would have made him 12 years old when the good vicar supposedly wrote those words.                          - Robert

I am amused at the pickiness of some people.  Your reader Sonya Porter states quite clearly that the letters written by the Vicar of Selborne were written "over a twenty year period at the end of the 18th century."  This would mean they were written during the period 1780 - 1799

The Fahrenheit scale was proposed in 1724, so the letters were written some fifty or more years after the Fahrenheit scale was proposed, and they would have been based on the good vicar's recollections.

Now, the question really should have been  "How would he have known or remembered that it was minus 14 degrees Fahrenheit indoors??" 

It is quite simple really.  That is the temperature at which the snow starts to "squeak" under your boots.  When you walk on snow, your boots apply pressure.  If the snow is warmer than about minus 14 degrees Fahrenheit, the pressure partly melts the snow, which “flows” under your boot instead of breaking.  If the snow is colder, it does not melt, and your boot crushes those innocent ice crystals, accounting for that plaintive squeaking or "scrunching" sound. 

I can verify this as I lived in Edmonton, Alberta for five years and survived 49 days of consecutive sub zero (Fahrenheit) weather in the late 1960's  There were all sorts of little factoids in the local media at that time about what happens at what low temperature and this was one of them...

Alan Stover
Saltillo, Mexico







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