Category Archives: Weather

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.

How does Storm Eunice compare with other windstorms?

An early look at the gust readings from Storm Eunice suggests that it was some way off matching the strength of the Burns’ Day Storm in 1990 and the Great Storm in 1987.

It did, however, exceed the strength of the St Jude Storm in 2013, the last comparable windstorm that I can remember in this locality.

Locally the gusts today were slightly less than 2013 but the mean speeds and their longevity were higher. St Jude was far more damaging because trees were still in full leaf.

I will be adding to this as more data comes in.

The barometer, wind speed and wind gust trace for Wanstead during Storm Eunice
The peak gust during Storm Jude was stronger but more isolated

Aviemore’s worst winter ever?

During the winter of 1988/89 the persistence of the Bartlett / Azores / Eurotrash high was painful to watch for anyone desperate to see some snow.

Week after week of high pressure brought a lot of mild, damp weather driven by Atlantic south-westerlies.

‘Balmy Britain’ the tabloids screamed but the savings on home energy costs were little noticed as the age of extortionate gas bills were still a generation away.

I didn’t think the winter would ever be surpassed in terms of its sheer mildness. And, as I write this on February 11th, it hasn’t. And there’s still time for cold weather in the last few days of the month to stop this season being in the same league as 1988 / 89 or the one the year after.

The stats to date reveal that this winter, according to statistics from Aviemore, is 1.8C colder than 33 years ago.

It has also been much drier though more snow days have been recorded.

MeanMaxMinPressure (mb)Precip (mm)Average snow depth (cm)Snow days
1988/895.07.72.01010.5435.77.210
2021/223.26.10.21011.7238.83.815
Above stats refer to December 1st to February 10th

There have been numerous images on various social media of bare mountainsides. One of the most stark images I’ve seen were on Glenshee.

Were the hills this bare during the winter of 1988 / 89?

Seven seasons: modern climate of the south-east

Our weather seems to be all over the place these days.

Spring bulbs shooting up in late November, weather warm enough for T-shirts in December and January, heatwaves in February…
The seasons have become very ill-defined.

A look at local statistics over the last 10 years reveals a climate that can lurch from one extreme to another in a matter of days.

The below list can obviously move forward or back a couple of days from year to year but these dates represent the biggest positive and negative anomaly periods.

Wanstead colder than Aviemore

That’s not a statement that applies much, least of all the second week of January. But the current weather pattern has seen this town in the Highlands subject to the warming influence of the Atlantic, to a higher degree than London.

The above 850mb chart, typical of the past week, shows the warmer air aloft and the south of the UK seemingly cut off from outside influence.

Indeed, lack of solar heating at this time of year ensures that any thermal activity is minimal – with very little mixing of the boundary layers by day.

Wanstead Park, being a frost hollow, has seen this phenomena most days during the past week with this part of London markedly colder than elsewhere in the capital.

By the 16th the 7-day running mean at Aviemore was 2.4C higher than Wanstead!

SMC’s 1978 Scottish Haute Route

This mountaineering challenge was first drawn to my attention by Iain Cameron’s Flickr post featuring the Scottish Mountaineering Club’s week long tour from Balmoral to Glen Nevis.

Courtesy of Iain Cameron / SMC

It’s a fascinating feat that was repeated in 2010 by father and son team, Roger and Finlay Wild. Alas, the weather has not allowed the achievement again, at least on skis.

I’d often wondered about what sort of snow you’d need to complete and recently discovered a feature on Ogimet that can scrape old weather data and place it into a table.

Just look at the snow depths below! As the SMC account says the participants would have been better undertaking the tour a week earlier, rather than starting four days into a thaw. The depths in earlier February, however, illustrate just how good the conditions would have been, compared with today!

A full account of the original tour can be found here.

The Christmas storm singularity

One of the best articles written regarding weather forecasting is Philip Eden’s ‘Does the Weather Have a Memory?’

The crux of the article is that certain weather types can repeat at the same time of year with one having a 100 per cent probability!

The Christmas storm singularity occurs in 84 per cent of years.

While 84 per cent certainly doesn’t mean ‘nailed on’, in the current set up of models being evenly spread between settled and stormy it can be safely guessed at this range that there will be unsettled weather around on the 25th. Whether it will affect the whole country remains uncertain.

The last big snorter of a Christmas storm I can remember in London was 2013. The entry for the 23rd into the 24th reads.

“Cloudy and breezy start grew steadily duller with rain just before noon. Rain grew heavier with some really strong gusts into evening culminating at 2am. Cloud at one point was 10kms thick. Three deaths related to weather.”

There was chaos nationwide with flooding and power cuts.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25512391

The average wind run for this station shows the singularity as well as the mid December settled spell we are now seeing.

Fantastical Christmas day snow modelled

It’s that time of year again! With the midnight run of this model bringing the start of the 25th into range the prognosis for the big day is a rare white one – with snow likely almost anywhere.

But 15 days is an eternity in modelling so we can take this with a council depot load of salt.

It’s often not until 10 days out that models will start to get a firm grip on what the weather will be like on Christmas day.

My guess at this range is a quiet one with fog and frost and a high of 6C in London.

Friday, December 10th

24hrs on and, interestingly, the pattern hasn’t completely flipped to something opposite to above…

Saturday, December 11th

The high is more centrally located over the UK with proper cold air from eastern Switzerland eastwards. Cold, calm with frost and fog in London.

Sunday 12th December

Little change though any colder air is even further east. A Eurotrash high with declining air quality.

Monday 13th December

The models are in a state of flux, more so than usual by the looks of it. No change on my thoughts though.

Tuesday 14th December

Another slack flow with any true, cold air well to the east. My guess remains a dull and cold Christmas day after a slight morning frost.

Wednesday 15th December

Within the much more reliable 10-day range now and the GFS is throwing out quite an odd looking chart. It shows a mass of cold air just to our east, the start of a cold spell that takes us up to New Year’s Eve.

Thursday 16th December

My thoughts on Christmas day still remain the same as they were days ago. Cold, calm with a high of 5C. Beyond that GFS is hinting the Atlantic floodgates will open. I suspect it is jumping the gun by a couple of days and we’ll see a couple of cold days, the 27th being notably cold?

Friday 17th December

The GFS having another hiccup overnight. The situation at 0z hours probably 5C and cloudy in London. But it’s a deteriorating situation with 850mb temps plunging from the north – the conditions that could bring being consistent with the title of this blog. But I’d pay little notice to output like this until it is 48-72 hours away.

Saturday 18th December

A classic battleground scenario on the midnight operational. An even spread on ensembles, too. My hunch is that the high pressure will survive long enough for a quiet Christmas day. After that?

Sunday 19th December

GFS wants to bring 11C, outbreaks of rain this morning…

Monday 20th December

Mild with showers in London.

London Winter Forecast 2021/22

This winter is most likely to be on the colder side of average with near normal rainfall.

While the modelled prognosis for the first half of December looks unsettled with an Atlantic influence evolving from the current chilly NW’ly to a mild SW’ly, local analogues of the climate of London suggest the season could be a bit of a rollercoaster with spells of wet, windy and mild weather alternating with dry, calm and cold.

A large factor to consider this winter is the presence of a slight La Nina that is forecast to evolve cooler.  

Given the uncertainties involved with the influence of ENSO I’ve decided to stick with analogues found in local data that stretches back to 1797.

Overall then the probabilities for the next 90 days are.

MeanProbabilityRainfallProbability
Mild (>5.9C)14%Wet (>178mm)19%
Average (5.1C – 5.9C)38%Average (107-177mm)62%
Cold (<5.1C)48%Dry (>107mm)19%

The above table doesn’t reveal a great deal in that extremes can be hidden in a month or season that finishes broadly average. So I decided to look closer at the winters that were revealed in the analogues.

December

The first month, as already mentioned, looks like it will be on the mild side with possibly a notable storm off the Atlantic before things calm down over Christmas – the period between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve possibly presenting the best chance of any lying snow in this region.

The below graphs are a smoothed representation of the years revealed in the analogues most similar to this autumn.

What is probably most interesting is that the analogues that shared a similar ENSO / La Nina index to this autumn tended to ‘turbo charge’ any yo-yoing in the weather type, be that super-mild or abnormal cold.

December probabilties for maxima:
Mild: 48%
Average: 19%
Cold: 33%

And precipitation.
Wet: 33%
Average: 29%
Dry: 38%

So, the month overall will be mild and slightly dry

January

The first month of 2022 probably represents this region’s best chance of lying snow this winter. A mild start perhaps with a falling off of temperatures in the final third of the month and a cold spell of a week or so. As with December the influence of La Nina could tend to boost the swings in the pattern.

January probabilties for maxima:
Mild: 33%
Average: 10%
Cold: 57%

And precipitation.
Wet: 19%
Average: 43%
Dry: 38%

Greatest chances for January, then, are cold with average precipitation.

February

The second month may see a slight return of the cold spell in January before temperatures recover for a mild and wet spell in the second half.

February probabilities for maxima.
Mild: 33%
Average: 15%
Cold: 52%

And precipitation.
Wet: 38%
Average: 38%
Dry: 24%

The stats suggest on the cold side overall with average to above average rainfall. Perhaps the depth of the cold skewing any very mild second half of the month?


The extremes that no-one can forecast

As well as the very mild winter of 1989/90 the analogues also revealed the very cold winter of 1978/79. There were others but their occurence makes the probability of a repeat at either extreme at less than 10 per cent.

Luke Howard’s aurora sightings

Luke Howard‘s Climate of London volumes provide a plethora of interesting facts and figures about the atmosphere during a time when few reliable records of London weather were made.

Over a period of just over 20 years he mentions the aurora borealis being sighted somewhere in Britain 15 times.

The first, on March 3rd 1807, describes the phenomenon.

The whole hemisphere very red for some time after sunset which we ascribed to the reflection of light from elevated cirri. Our Manchester correspondent, however, states the same phenomenon at the same time as an Aurora Borealis. Additional communications decisive of this point will be acceptable. The phenomenon was repeated on the 21st which with the preceding and following night was windy.

Seven years later, on April 14th 1814, proceedings were described thus.

Aurora Borealis of late years a very unfrequent visitant in these parts appeared last night with no great degree of splendour but with the usual characteristic marks of this phenomenon. About 11pm when my attention was first called to it there was a body of white light in part intercepted by clouds extending at a moderate elevation from the N to the NW with a short broad streamer rising from each extremity. After this it became an arch composed of similar vertical masses of fibrous light which moved along in succession preserving their polarity and curved arrangement. One large streamer in particular went rapidly through nearly the whole length of the arch from W to E. Some of these masses were rather brilliant and one exhibited colours. After some cessation and a repetition of this appearance carried more towards E and W the light settled in the N and grew fainter in which situation at midnight I ceased to observe it 

Further mention is made on 8th February 1817 and later that year, on 26th October, another account.

A little before 8pm I observed from the neighbourhood of Lowestoft, Suffolk, a distinct commencement of Aurora Borealis in the north in white streamers ascending to a considerable elevation which after a minute or two became converted into a still light the latter remaining for an hour or two after was at length obscured by clouds.

And the same year, as shown in the book.

More sightings were recorded on 12th and 17th October 1819 and 14th December of the same year. Also 31st July 1821.

Six years later, on 18th january 1827, an account of the Northern Lights in Epping Forest was noted.

The final case of the aurora of London was made on 25th September 1827.

Further records were noted on 15th September 1828 in Glasgow and 11th December 1830 at Ackworth, Yorkshire