Heavy Fog Envelops Parts of Europe, Canceling Flights

LONDON — Dense fog caused scores of flights to be delayed or canceled early Monday across three of the world’s busiest aviation hubs — London, Amsterdam and Frankfurt — and shrouded London landmarks like St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament in a thick mist that was remarkable even by the capital’s standards.

Heavy fog — in essence, a cloud at ground level — is not uncommon this time of year, but it was so dense that even fog-hardened Britons used Twitter (where #foggy was a trending topic) to share photographs of the opaque vapor. A prominent newscaster, Eamonn Holmes, wrote on Twitter that he could not get to work because his flight from Belfast, Northern Ireland, had been canceled. Fog was also believed to be responsible for the death of a motorist on Sunday in the West Midlands.

The fog, which by midday Monday had started to lift, created havoc for thousands of commuters. Dozens of flights were canceled at Heathrow Airport in west London, Europe’s biggest flight hub, where visibility was reduced to as little as 100 meters, or 328 feet. Other airports in the London area — Gatwick, Luton and Stansted — also reported significant flight cancellations and delays, as did Orly Airport outside Paris.

“It’s unusual, particularly to have, two days in succession, so much delay across so many airports,” said a spokesman for Eurocontrol, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under agency rules. The agency estimated that flights over Europe would experience 140,000 minutes of weather-related delays on Monday, compared with 10,000 last Monday.

Eurocontrol, the Brussels-based agency that coordinates air traffic operations across much of the Continent, said that the low visibility, which began on Sunday, was exceptional.

“High pressure has brought light wind, enabling skies to clear and temperatures to drop,” Emma Sharples, a meteorologist at the Met Office, Britain’s weather forecasting agency, said in a telephone interview. “We had quite a lot of rain last week, particularly over the Midlands and northeast England, where the fog is thickest at the moment. When the temperature drops, moisture condenses, forcing the moisture out of the air.”

The proliferation of images and videos online suggested the extent to which fog, which as recently as the 1950s was feared as a deadly miasma, has taken on more innocuous connotations.

“The fog we have today is quite magical-looking: It’s white, not black, green or yellow, as a London peasouper would have been in the 19th century,” said Christine L. Corton, a scholar at Cambridge University whose book “London Fog: The Biography” was released by Harvard University Press, as it happens, on Monday. “It also doesn’t smell very much, whereas the earlier fog would have been supercharged with coal smoke, been very oily, soiled your collar and made your mouth taste of sulfur. You wouldn’t have been able to see your hand in front of your face, much less know where you were going.”

London fog — the natural variety, turbocharged with toxic coal particles — was at its worst in the 1880s, and it significantly eased only after the government adopted tough air-pollution controls in the 1950s, in response to public health concerns as well as to the rise of travel by car and plane.

“Now, visual media like film and TV tend to use London fog to denote murder, mystery, suspense — especially works set in the 19th century,” Dr. Corton said in a telephone interview. “But back then, many people did see it as positive. If you had London fog, then it meant industry was thriving, and you had coal on your fire.”

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