The hot Olympics of 1948

  • Teams line up in Wembley Stadium for the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games in 1948 in fearsome heat. Photo: Sport and General/S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport.

    The finish of the 800 meter final, won by Mal Whitfield of the USA. Photo: Archive/Press Association Images.

    Heavy rain fell before the final of the men's 4x400m relay. Here Jamaica's Arthur Wint (fourth l) takes over for the last leg. Photo: S&G/S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport.

    The 200m final was also wet underfoot. USA's Mel Patton (second r) wins gold. Photo: S&G/S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport.

    The pole vault, though, was in bright sunshine. Here, Frederick Richard 'Dick' Webster clears the bar for Great Britain. Photo: Barratts/S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport.

    The closing ceremony at Wembley Stadium. Photo: Barratts/S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport.

  • The hot Olympics of 1948
    20.07.2012 12:24


    When London last hosted the Olympic Games they opened modestly but sunnily.

    At 4pm on 29 July 1948 the Olympic Flag was hoisted 11 metres up its pole and 2,500 pigeons were released into a hot and sunny afternoon with nary a film director in sight.

    That day in London there was virtually unbroken sunshine and the temperature soared to 32.8 deg C, as it did on the previous and following days, in the midst of a week-long heatwave across the UK.

    Archived charts reveal that there was a sausage of high pressure from southern Scandinavia to eastern Europe and the Black Sea. Previous days had seen a high pressure centre over the Baltic extend a ridge south-westwards to join with the Azores High, and in that still air the heat had built, with subsequent south to south-easterly flows drawing more hot continental air into Britain.

    This short spell of intense heat was highly unusual for not only the 1940s but the 30s and 50s as well. For a quarter of a century between 1932 and 1957 this was the only year in which the temperature anywhere in the UK reached 35 deg C, which it did at Milford, Surrey, on 28 July.

    Until June 1948, the averaged temperature through 15 consecutive months had been below normal, and July itself was cool before the sudden searing heat at the end. The weather broke down on 2 August and the Games turned wet and much cooler. The maximum temperature on 3 August was only 17.2 deg C, while on 6 August 40.4mm of heavy rain fell.

    The situation was very different around the middle of the month, with low pressure instead of high over southern Scandinavia and the British Isles, making it wet and cool. The Azores High had withdrawn to skulk near the Azores themselves until an atmospheric shift saw it build strongly eastwards after about 20 July, and then north-eastwards in time for the Olympic Games.

    Some similarities can be drawn with the current situation. MeteoGroup forecasters are not promising anything as hot as the 1948 heatwave but there is certainly a significant change in weather pattern coming next week as the Olympics approach, in fact starting as soon as this weekend.

    Instead of moving sluggishly across the British Isles, low pressure systems are going to be forced to take a track farther north as the Azores High builds. They will deliver bands of rain across northern and western regions but the south and east will become drier and warmer than recently, although sharp showers cannot be ruled out as the warmth increases before midweek.

    Tuesday looks like the warmest day for London and the Olympic Stadium through the coming week, with the temperature potentially reaching about 27 to 29 deg C but a sharp shower threatening.

    After that high pressure is expected to disappear westwards for a while but it should hold on for long enough to give a fine day next Friday with highs in the mid twenties. We cannot be completely confident because there will be a slight shower risk again moving into next weekend but at the moment there is a greater probability of the opening ceremony being dry than wet.

    Keep up with the weather during the Olympics - click here for forecasts.


    By: Stephen Davenport