How about that weather, huh?
In Finland the weather is characteristically of the varied kind, but this year it has fluctuated exceptionally fiercely from one extreme to another. A newly-published book talks about the heatwaves and the storms against the backdrop of the history of independent Finland.
By Risto Nevanlinna
A new book that charts the Finnish weather history starting from the time the country gained its independence in 1917 reaches beyond the confines of living memory.
It is always fun to chat about the weather, but the author Markus Hotakainen’s work seems particularly apposite this year when the weather has swung crazily from one extreme to another.
In July 2010, several weather-related records were rewritten, and some were completely blown to pieces.
Towards the end of the month a new maximum temperature record was set for Finland in Liperi, at the airport which serves the eastern city of Joensuu, where the mercury rose to 37.2 degrees Celsius, or 99.0°F.
The previous record, a mere 35.9°C, was recorded in Turku on July 9th, 1914.
In many areas of the country the July just past was the warmest at least since 1844, when regular meteorological measurements were commenced in Finland.
This year, for instance, Helsinki’s new highest-ever mean temperature of +21.7°C for the month of July was recorded at the Finnish Meteorological Institute’s Kaisaniemi weather station.
Puumala, one of "the usual suspects" whenever the weather turns warm, had the entire country’s highest mean temperature for July of 23°C, breaking the previous monthly mean record, set back in 1925.
Hotakainen’s book Suomen säähistoria (”The Weather History of Finland”) goes through the significant weather and climate related phenomena year by year since Finland declared itself independent from Russia.
The facts are derived from the Finnish Meteorological Institute’s weather archives.
Hotakainen also describes Paavo Salmensuu, the primogenitor of the Finnish television meteorologists, who used to appear on the TV screen smoking a pipe while forecasting the weather; the launch of the first weather satellite into earth orbit in 1960, and the 2005 Athletics World Championships in Athletics held in Helsinki in torrential rain that continued more or less for the duration of the games.
Hotakainen is at his most inspired when recalling the 1958 tricky political crisis between Finland and the Soviet Union, the “Night Frost” nickname of which was coined by none other than Nikita Khrushchev himself, and comparing the episode with the actual weather conditions at the time.
It turns out that a warm air mass that flowed in from the southwest, in fact caused the politically glacial November to be a good deal milder than average.
During the Winter War, on the other hand, intensely cold weather - for real this time - further worsened the plight that the country was in.
When Finland commenced its main offensive in the so-called Battle of Raate Road on January 5th 1940, the mercury indicated a temperature of -30 degrees Celsius.
The weather continued to get colder, and in February a temperature of -42°C was measured in Sodankylä in Southern Lapland. Even colder temperatures were recorded during the fighting on the front on the Karelian Isthmus.
When a peace treaty signed in Moscow put a stop to the hostilities on March 13th, the weather got milder and the southern and central parts of the country even received some fresh snow.
Does this summer’s heatwave have a parallel in history?
”Well, the country’s all-time heat record was rewritten this July and in certain areas there were no fewer than 30 days [out of 31 possibles in the month] when the temperature was above the magical “hot weather” limit of +25°C. So, no, there isn’t an exact parallel in history, but for example in the 1930s there were some hot summers”, Hotakainen explains.
"This summer as a whole there has been an exceptionally large number of days with temperatures above +25°C, and also exceptionally widely almost throughout the entire country. And the hot weather seems to continue still.”
An unusually long period of hot weather was also experienced in July 1925, helping to explain that earlier record noted above.
At that time for example in the city of Mariehamn in the Åland Islands in the southwest there were nearly four times as many days with temperatures above +25°C than normally.
In the Lapland village of Inari the figure was five-fold: ten “hot” days instead of the average of two.
The exceptional weather also increased the greater public’s interest in climatic phenomena: in the following autumn the weather charts by the Meteorological Watch Office - the predecessor of the Finnish Meteorological Institute - became more and more visible in the press.
By nature, Finland’s weather conditions are of the alternating kind, but in Hotakainen’s view the warming of the weather caused by climate change can already be detected.
The warmest summers and the mildest winters in recorded history primarily concentrate in the 1990s and 2000s.
“The climate is clearly changing. But Finland’s varied weather type ensures that we may still have cold winters and cool summers in the future as well. Still, their number has declined – and will continue to do so.”
This year the weather has fluctuated exceptionally fiercely. An exceptionally cold and snowy winter that many felt would never end was wiped away by a short warm spring, followed by an unusually steamy summer that just went on giving.
On the other hand, nobody could describe July as "changeable". Finland enjoyed a quite extraordinarily long period of unchanging conditions when the hot weather just continued and you could plan a picnic days in advance. Shorts and swimming trunks were the only sensible garb, electric fans sold out in a flash from hardware stores, and Finns actually began to think of installing air conditioning in the home.
This summer, besides heatwaves and heavy rains, also other exceptional weather phenomena were experienced.
Towards the end of July the smoke that spread into Finland from the forest fires in Russia weakened the air quality to the level of "extremely poor", and in many areas the small particles caused visibility to turn hazy. But the situation was even worse in the summer of 2006, when the concentration of smoke particles in the air was twice as high as this year.
July’s hot weather was balanced out by the ensuing storms that tore through the country, causing havoc in many areas.
For many the storms were reminiscent of the 1982 freaky weather phenomenon known as the “Mauri storm”.
In Northern Finland, Mauri blew in and felled millions of cubic metres of wood and caused two people to lose their lives.
On Sunday August 8th, Hotakainen experienced the storm that rolled into the capital area from the Baltic States while safe at his home in Espoo’s Nuuksio district.
“After nine o’clock a sharp cloud edge appeared on the southern sky rising fast indicating a rolling thundercloud. Soon the wind picked up to beyond gale force, the sky turned almost black, and the rumbling of thunder started getting close at a prodigious speed."
The pictures of the storm cloud leave nothing to the imagination - this was weather on a practically biblical scale.
It remains to be seen if an Indian summer like the one we had in 1951 will follow to continue this year's run of superlatives.
Back then, for example in the west coast city of Vaasa a temperature of +27.5°C was recorded on September 1st.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 17.8.2010
Previously in HS International Edition:
Intense storms hit Helsinki area and Pori (9.8.2010)
Thousands in rural areas of Eastern Finland still without electricity after Friday storm (2.8.2010)
Readers´ storm pictures boost traffic to Helsingin Sanomat online pages (12.8.2010)
Winter War 1939-40 (Wikipedia)
Finnish Meteorological Institute