Murphy’s winter and weather prophets

It is 180 years ago this month that Patrick Murphy shot to fame after successfully predicting one of the coldest Januaries on record.

The month, which had started mild, completely changed during the weekend of the 8th as a SE’ly wind set in. Hard frosts and snow became a daily feature with considerable falls across Scotland, disrupting mail and causing hardship for people and livestock.

By the 20th some of the lowest temperatures of the 19th century were recorded in London. At Greenwich -16C (-11C at midday) was reported at sunrise, while Blackheath saw -20C and Beckenham -26C. By the 27th the Thames at Greenwich was completely covered with ice at high water and elsewhere in the estuary ice floes were reported.

In some parts of northern Scotland, snow was noted to fall on most days between January 8th and May 3rd. Snow was also noted in upland areas of NE Scotland in June.

‘Murphy’s Winter’ as it became known made the astrologer from Cork a small fortune from the sale of an almanac, the contents of which also successfully listed the actual date when the frost would be at its most severe.

It was possibly the first long-range weather prediction that people through the ages seem to love, whether they are right or wrong.

Many characters have emerged over the years. Yorkshire’s Bill Foggitt, who used natural signals and animal behaviour during the previous autumn, was popular in the 1980s especially when he made a prediction of a harsh winter.

Others, including the Daily Express, who probably shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as Foggitt, are more about the clicks they hope to generate for their publishers than any earnest attempt at being right.

  • The mean temperature locally in January 1838 was -1.5C, the second coldest January in a series going back to 1797, and as cold as January 1963.
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