Category Archives: weather in the media

Hurricane force in the Georgian era

Such was the force of the wind that the masses of masonry were carried 30 feet beyond the base of the tower penetrating not only the roof of the church but also the floor and breaking through the vaults to the foundation.

The account of a windstorm that severely damaged St John’s Church in Edinburgh in January 1818 was carried in the second volume of Luke Howard’s Climate of London.

1889 view looking east along Princes Street, with the church to the right in front of St Cuthbert’s Church and Edinburgh Castle public domain

Thursday morning 15th the barometer had fallen eight tenths of an inch it then blew very hard and during the whole course of the day slates and chimney pots were flying about in all directions. In the evening the gale increased and about five o’clock it blew a perfect hurricane.

The ‘perfect hurricane’ was referring to the Beaufort Scale which had been written just over a decade before in 1805. Obviously anemometers were not around at the time – the scale was merely to describe sea conditions to help sailors. A modern interpretation of hurricane force 12 estimates mean speeds 72 – 83mph.

The church in Howard’s account had only just been built, it’s dedication being completed on March 19th the same year. Howard continues:

In houses fronting the west a good deal of mischief was done in breaking the panes of glass, stripping the lead from the roof, dashing the cupola windows from their frames and shivering them to atoms. In the course of the fore-noon two of the small minarets on the top of St John’s Chapel at the west end of Princes Street gave way and fell without doing any material damage to that beautiful building . Not so, however, the effects of the evening the violence of the wind carried off the whole of the minarets, large and small, leaving the summit of the tower a perfect ruin.

Later the same year storms struck the south coast of England.

Ryde, March 5 One of the severest gales of wind that has been felt here for the last 37 years was experienced last night. It commenced about 4.30pm and continued with increased violence until 11pm during which time the greater part of the pier and several houses were demolished. The supposed damage is estimated at between four and five thousand pounds (£500,000 in today’s money) No lives were lost nor any damage done to the shipping.

Dartmouth We experienced a perfect hurricane last night at SSE.

Some four years later the storms were back.

On December 5 Howard reported that the barometer had been low for an unusually long period of 23 days, a mean of 29.4 inches with southerly and westerly winds.

Norwich The Mercury reported that the city experienced one of the most tremendous gales and heavy rain in living memory.

The gusts which followed each other were most terrific and threatened the safety both of the houses which actually rocked to and fro from the violence and their inmates. By the tremendous gale of wind on the night of Thursday last a brick wall of between seventy and eighty feet in length at Ipswich was completely blown down.

Brighton At 7 o’clock on the 5th a small squall came on from the WSW and raged until 9.30am during which the rain descended in one incessant torrent and the roar and fury of the wind is not to be described.

Considerable alarm was excited by it in many parts of the town several houses were nearly unroofed and one not quite finished five stories high in Russell Square was levelled with the ground. The chain pier works sustained further injury but not to the extent which had been anticipated. Fortunately there were no shipping in this part of the Channel last night or we might have had many wrecks at this time to have particularized. Several vessels were wrecked during the storm on Thursday night. At Dover many houses were injured by the tempest and some tenements were blown down.

Manchester The Guardian reported on “one of the most terrific gales of wind with which this town has been visited for many years”

It commenced about night fall from the south west afterwards veering round to the west and gradually increased in violence until about 12am when it blew a perfect hurricane accompanied by heavy rain. By 10pm the town was left in almost utter darkness the greater part of the gas lights being blown out and those which escaped extinction were so violently agitated by the wind as to afford but little light. Many families passed the greater part of the night by the fire side not daring to retire to rest until the gale had abated.

Warrington The cupola of the church near the George Inn was blown down and part of the roof destroyed. A windmill in the neighbourhood was also blown entirely down.

Liverpool The Mercury reported that a “remarkably strong gale of wind was experienced here accompanied with rain, sleet and hail which continued with little intermission until after 9pm when it increased in force and destruction bursting against the higher buildings of the town in sudden and stunning gusts.

The alarm was general and accounts are now pouring in upon us from all quarters of the melancholy effects of the storm both on shore and on the river

Falmouth A “tremendous gale from SW and WSW” was reported.

We scarcely recollect seeing a more heavy sea running between the castles of Pendennis and Mawes.

Monmouth Among the casualties in Wales was a huge elm tree situated in the grounds of Raglan Castle.

The venerable tree which formed a happy termination at the east end of the terrace measured 26ft in girth and from whose trunks the two limbs which grew from the head of it spread their protecting shade 22ft fell a sacrifice to the fury of the elements, being blown from its commanding situation into the mead below. During the violence of the late storm twelve fine elm trees of large dimensions were torn up by the roots in front of and in the grounds of Trevallyn Hall, the seat of George Boscawen Esq. One of the trees that grew in the centre of the lawn is much to be regretted. It was a very handsome ornamental tree whose branches spread over a large extent of ground and which was the admiration of those who noticed it. The circumference of the butt is 12ft and contains in measurement 322ft of solid timber it was planted about the year 1760 by the late Mr Boydell of Trevallyn.

Halifax A large chimney was blown on to the roof of a house next to the Sportsman Inn at Greetland. It burst through three floors taking along with it two children out of the middle room and depositing them in the cellar. Amongst the ruins were the father and mother and three children who all survived.

Bristol reported a “most tremendous gale of wind from the SW”. The Birmingham and Oxford mail coaches reported that roads were strewn with trees and branches while in the north of Staffordshire the wind gradually rose accompanied with showers and blew with terrific violence during the night.

The Salopian Journal reported on a “hurricane of ten hours continuance”. In Shrewsbury the driver of the Holyhead mail coach spoke of 90 trees blown down in Powys Castle.

Cloudburst at Brettenham, Suffolk

I hadn’t heard of Brettenham before this Suffolk village recorded over 100mm of rain from the convergence line event on the afternoon of Sunday, July 26th.

A former Environment Agency observer recorded 181.3mm in 1hr 40mins (1640-1820).

Notable on its own but even more so given that Wattisham, an official station 7.3km to the south-east, recorded just 2.4mm at the same time.

Whilst intensely isolated events happen, and often go unnoticed if they occur in uninhabited areas, this one seems more severe than what has previously been recorded.

The greatest 24hr rainfall recorded, according to Robin Stirling’s Weather of Britain, was 279mm on July 18th 1955 in Dorset. The rainfall far more widespread than the event on Sunday.

The event in Suffolk was covered by the East Anglian Daily Times. A report that mentions ‘rain falling in sheets and roads turned into rivers’ can be found here.

England’s gloriously rainy omen

What’s the most ridiculous omen for an England win in the European Championship final against Italy on Sunday? After hearing this on the radio this week I decided to try to find one.

Readers of this blog will know my theories of how the weather and big events seem to be tied together. So it is no surprise that I’ve indeed found one.

Last month, I wrote about summer washouts. The one last month that began on the 17th saw 28mm fall, possibly contributing to what was a dull spectacle; England’s 0-0 draw with Scotland at a rain-soaked Wembley.

While putting together the July list of washouts one of only six events since 1959 began on July 19th 1966. Over 20mm of rain fell, coinciding with England’s group game with France. The Three Lions won the tie thanks to a brace from Liverpool’s Roger Hunt. Days earlier they had been panned after a dull 0-0 draw with Uruguay. No-one, apart from Alf Ramsey, fancied our chances. Yet by the end of the month they were world champions.

So, in terms of football singularities, England’s is one title every 55 years? We’ll know by 11pm on Sunday.

Euro 2020, weather and Wimbledon

Collapse of the Weisshorn glacier in 1819

Two hundred years ago this December a huge part of the Weisshorn glacier in Switzerland crashed down several thousand feet to the valley below.

saas fee glacier
A glacier above the village of Saas Grund, Switzerland. Viewed from below I am always struck by how precarious they look.

At 6am on December 27th 1819 the villagers of Randa, near Zermatt, were awoken as millions of tonnes of snow and ice swept away boulders, rocks, gravel and mature larch trees. Though the debris missed the village the force of the slide created a blast of air that moved entire buildings and their contents, burying 12 people, all but two of whom escaped with their lives.

Eyewitnesses described the noise of the falling mass as the loudest thunder and said a bright flash accompanied the slide before darkness once again enveloped the village.

First light revealed the utter devastation of the avalanche that have covered an area of pasture 2,400ft by 1,000ft by 150ft high.

It was not the first avalanche to bring disaster to Randa. In 1636 the village was destroyed by a similar avalanche when 36 people were killed. It is said that that occasion saw a much greater chunk of the flacier fall from the slopes of the mountain, at 14,783ft the 5th highest in the Alps.

Two other less serious falls happened in 1736 and 1786 but not precisely in the same place. This time only a small part of the glacier fell down.

Could a similar disaster happen again? With climate change and the nature of the Alps being constantly on the move it is possible. Earlier this month it was reported that part of a glacier on the Mont Blanc Massif, just 40 miles away as the crow flies, was on the brink of collapse.

I don’t have local figures but a look at the recent climatology in London shows that anomalies during the past couple of years – warmer than average summers and low rainfall – have been similar to what happened in 1819.

summer mean

summer rainfall

Of course the difference between now and 1819 is that we have early warning systems in place that can help prevent loss of human life in the event of a catastrophic avalanche.

weisshorn
The Weisshorn in the far distance seen from the slopes above Grächen

The night London slept out in the heatwave

Sleeping in heatwaves is never a great prospect even in an age where fans and air conditioning units are becoming more and more common.

In 1948, however, residents of Kensington and other areas of London were so hot and desperate to escape oven-like houses caused by temperatures well into the 90s that they decamped en masse into the streets and local parks to get some kip.

A report published in the Aberdeen Journal on Friday 30th July describes how folk down south were coping with the heat.

“The metropolis last night was like a large restless household—with all the lights ablaze, doors and windows thrown open, the family fretful, and endless pots of tea brewing far into this morning.

aspro heatwave ad Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Wednesday 13 August 1947“Perhaps one in ten among the 8,000,000 of us slept after midnight. For the rest, we tossed and turned and saw out this heatwave night, when temperatures were never below 71 degrees, a variety of ways. About midnight I walked past the gaunt old Edwardian mansions in Kensington. With the exception the lights that burned from every window, the scene was reminiscent of the early days of the Blitz.

“Families trekked across the roadway in varying stages of undress to their little bits of ornamental gardens. With them went camp beds, bed linen, umbrellas, “in case,” the children, and the household pets, choose a cool open-air camping spot and feel wonderfully adventurous and spartan in the process.”

“At regular intervals the adolescent members of the squatting colonies were dispatched to the tea and coffee stalls on the corner, and perhaps for the first time in years these traders ran out of stocks. On the Kensington-Chelsea boundary, where life becomes noticeably less inhibited and on occasions less swish, a mixed group of young artists was sleeping on the pavement off Fulham Road.

“Round the next corner, where many theatrical and film stars live, several had slung hammocks on their meagre front lawns – one actually suspended between the bathroom windows of two adjacent houses. Midnight street wear for both sexes was cool if unconventional —silk pyjamas, bath robes, tennis shorts, and one in kilt and bathing costume top who could have gone straight into the arena at Lonach.”

The temperature at Westminster that night never fell below 23.3C (73.9 F), a record for July that still stands.

The column goes on to describe the situation in the House of Commons where the heat had reached “almost Turkish bath intensity”.

“Some members were in natty tussore silk suitings, but this helped little, and it was many of their number who appealed to the Speaker to have more windows opened. The Speaker, panting like the rest of us, said they were all open. If they wanted more cool breezes from the Thames, members would have to smash the windows.”

This hot spell and others features in my Premier League of Heatwaves.

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London winter forecast 2018-19

Long range modelled forecasts have been all over the place of late and, looking at the underlying signals, it is easy to see why.

When I’ve produced these forecast in the past, in terms of QBO and ENSO data, there’s usually a lot of analogues to compare with. This year, however, seems to be an exception.

Considering QBO first I looked back over data to 1950 and found nothing similar for October. However, looking over the whole series the cyclical nature of this circulation may give some clue.

bestfit

Some 20 months were revealed, ranging from June 1959 to June 2015.  Using NOAA’s  Niño 3.4 region I narrowed this list down to the few that had an ENSO value of around +1 with a rising trend. With NOAA’s forecast of a Modoki El Nino (one that occurs in the central Pacific) this narrowed the list to just 1 period: June 2015. Considering maxima anomalies this would give the following winter.

winter 2018-19 max anomaly.PNG

The above would suggest there being a general cool down through December with a cold spell starting just before Christmas into the new year? And another cold spell end of January into the first week of February?

winter 2018-19 precip anomaly

The above precipitation anomaly chart would suggest a wetter than average December,  January and February, though February by much less so.

It’s been a very busy autumn so I’m keeping this short.

The below figures, particularly January and February, may be different in the event of an SSW occurring. In all then.

The mean:
December: +0.8C
January: -1.2C
February: -1.7C
Overall: -0.3C (broadly average)

Precipitation:
December: 158%
January: 155%
February: 120%
Overall: 134%

 

More hot air on bank holiday records

The media are up to their old tricks of flagging up their usual ‘hottest ever’ line; this time the May Day bank holiday.

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Today’s Guardian

Today’s Guardian informs readers that Monday could be the warmest ever May Day bank holiday, the quite unremarkable record high of 23.9C was set in 1999.

A closer look, however, reveals that dates of the holiday, which only began in 1978, are always moving. Like Easter the date shifts and can fall on any day between the 1st to the 8th. Only six early May bank holidays have occurred on the 7th. It is therefore difficult to compare like with like.

A more correct approach is to compare date records which, for the 7th since 1978, the highest is 27.1C in 2016. The highest temperature for the 7th going back 60 years is 28.5C in 1976.

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Past weather to rescue future reporting

“Worst floods ever!” Hyperbolic reporting of weather events is nothing new; whenever the UK is hit by the latest named storm breathless news anchors often try to portray atrocious conditions as ‘unprecedented’. This may soon change thanks to a project that uses citizen science.

Operation Weather Rescue, the citizen science project which last year processed Ben Nevis and Fort William data from between 1883 and 1904, has now recovered thousands of European observations from past Daily Weather Reports compiled from 1900-1903.

Though reanalysis data of the northern hemisphere back to 1851 have been available for some years the maps don’t give enough detail to be able to compare if an old storm has the same pressure characteristics as a modern storm. Evidence of impacts is restricted to fixed observations such as temperature, rainfall and archive press reports.

Weather Rescue: “We want to learn about the frequency of intense storms in the past to compare with now and these rescued observations will significantly improve our understanding.”

The latest release of data features pressure plots from June 1903 that tie in with the record-breaking 59-hour deluge that left much of the London Borough of Redbridge underwater. The following October, nationally, was the wettest month ever recorded in the UK.

Further recovery of these archived data, with the help of thousands of volunteers, will prove invaluable to our understanding of high-impact weather, and if storms are getting worse.

This latest example of Big Data could also offer huge benefits to the insurance and reinsurance industries, as well as planning engineers, as the resolution of climate models steadily improve.

But on a purely weather reporting scale it should also be possible to one day provide the media with a quickly accessible database of weather events going back over a century, enabling them to judge whether the latest storm really is the worst in 100 years.

In this age of clickbait journalism, however, I’m not holding my breath!

rescue