Great Smog of London summary

London is the capital of England and a leading global city. With an official population of 7,825,200 people it is one of the largest in European Union. Aside from the largest city GDP in Europe, London Stock Exchange makes the city rank well among the world's largest financial centers.

People from all over the world come to see the historic monuments, art exhibits or learn about the English culture. Rich in all social segments, London diversity offers something for anyone. During the course of history the worldwide influence of the city increased and decreased over time, but it remained always in the very top of the most developed global areas.

English weather is not very generous, since there are usually large amounts of rain, fog or mist yearly. Londoners were accustomed to thick fog, until the Great Smog event in 1952 changed everything. Considered the worst air pollution crisis in the history of England, the Great Smog was denser, longer-lasting and more deadly than any previous fog. The visibility was reduced to just a few yards, making people unable to drive or travel.

The conditions were so bad that public transport was halted, except from the London underground railway network. The ambulance, the police and all the other usual city services were having difficulties operating in extreme work environment, forcing many people to take care of the problems themselves. Smog easily entered buildings, so social life started suffering greatly.

Industrial smoke and temperature inversion
There had always been occurrences of thick smog permeating the streets of London ever since the thirteenth century when shipped coal was burnt and used as a fuel by the local industry. Most of the people living in London after 1550 began to use the coal for domestic purposes. As the years rolled by, city smog levels gradually worsened since almost every household was now burning coal.

The main problem was misconception that people became sick or die as a result of the unusually cold weather conditions which often accompanied fog, instead of the fog itself. Unfortunately, this mistake was paid with numerous lives in the Great Smog disaster. The weather in London had been unusually cold for several weeks leading up to the event. Due to the cold weather in 1952, the households were burning more coal than usual to keep warm.

The smoke from approximately one million stoves combined with the emissions from local industry was suddenly released into the atmosphere. A light fog had lingered in the city throughout the day of December 5, but no one paid much attention to it. As night came, a combination of light winds, cool air and high humidity at ground-level led to a formation of thick fog.

Because of the temperature inversion, the phenomenon remained motionless and mixed with chimney smoke, containing toxic particulates such as sulfur-dioxide, created the persistent smog. Temperature inversions are normally reversed next morning when radiation from the sun warms the ground below the mist. But the smog proved extremely dense so solar radiation was unable to break through. The Great Smog lasted for 5 days, until the winds dispersed the dense air mass and transported the pollution into the North Sea.

Next: Great Smog pollution effects