Tag Archives: Rayleigh

30 years on: the January 1987 cold spell

I remember the January 1987 spell like it was yesterday. I’d arranged to stay with my aunt and uncle in a rural part of south Essex. The forecast by Ian McCaskill on the Friday night was for a cold weekend with possible snow flurries near the coast. ‘That’ll do’, I thought.

13jan1987
The upper air on 13th January 1987 was extremely cold. I don’t think it has been as cold since

I caught a mid-morning train from Romford on the Saturday morning. As I disembarked at Rayleigh I was shocked by how cold it seemed to have turned. The wait at the bus stop was made worse as my uncle was delayed in picking me up; a black leather jacket I was wearing at the time was totally inadequate.

No matter, though, as I was soon warmed up on reaching my aunt’s house, helped further by hearty home cooking. Saturday was spent driving round rural Essex: my uncle knew a few farmers and was a keen rambler. We walked a circuit around Hanningfield reservoir.

I think we watched Back to the Future that night. By the time I went to bed I remember there was a dusting of snow on the ground. For some reason I kept waking up, each time looking outside to see the build-up of snow.

snipThere was around four inches by morning and, after breakfast, I went with my uncle for a drive around the same rural spots as Saturday. The reservoir was beginning to ice over and I remember my uncle reading a Fahrenheit thermometer and saying that it was “seven degrees of frost”.

When I left Rayleigh that evening the snow was falling thick and fast and the train seemed to be travelling slower than usual. When it failed to move from Shenfield station after 10 minutes I knew something was up; the guard announced that the wheels had frozen to the tracks. Everyone disembarked and caught another. After leaving Shenfield I noticed that the snow cover gradually decreased, with just an icing-sugar like covering in Romford.

My dismay at having left a winter wonderland in Rayleigh disappeared on waking up on the Monday morning and seeing a good few inches had fallen.

BBC Breakfast presenters gravely told us how bad things were. The Isle of Sheppey was cut off and train services were severely affected – I didn’t go to school once that week because the toilets were frozen. For once the conditions, reflected in this footage from Thames News, matched the hype.

meto
Courtesy of the Met Office

Many people, including members of the Climatological Oberservers Link, also have vivid memories of the freeze.

East London: Ben Bacarisse was living in Mile End in 1987. He said:  “I was living on the 15th floor of a tower block at the time. The prolonged cold caused the main water riser into the block to freeze so no one in nearly 400 flats (there were a pair of blocks) had running
water.  It turned out to be possible to tap into the larger street main
with a stand-pipe. screen-shot-2017-01-08-at-13-35-00

Presumably the constant use kept it running though
I’d have thought it would have to be removed at night.  I don’t recall
how long that lasted but it was more than a couple of days.”

Home Counties: George Booth, who was living in Epping, Essex, at the time, explained how the weather affected him: “On the Monday (12/1/87) I accompanied a group of young scholars to the Science Museum. Despite the cold and snow they were happy to walk to the station (and they behaved themselves). It was a strange sight to see
Exhibition Road covered in that thick brownish frozen dust which occurs
when temperatures are presumably too low for treatment to be effective.
Not so good news for the school roof, however. It eventually had to be
replaced after a water tank/pipe burst after a thaw.”

warblertsGeorge, who ran a weather station in Epping, added: “On 12/1/87 the maximum temperature in Epping was -8.0c and the minimum was -10.0C. The ‘snow depth gradient’ was very steep NW-SE with SE Essex/E London and N Kent receiving much greater falls than places like Epping. However, it was the severe frost that caused many
problems, particularly in older buildings.”

Dave Cornwell, a retired scientist, from Laindon, Essex, said: “I was working as an operational scientist at a sewage treatment plant in Rainham , Essex. (London Borough of Havering, (just east of London). I remember it well because for the first time anyone could remember the sewage was freezing on entering the works through the screening bars, bearing in mind that sewage is flowing underground and starting off quite warm, usually in winter arriving at about 10-12C.

gavs“It was a major engineering problem because the heat was being conducted away by the metal bars and ice building up and blocking the flow. This could potentially have caused backing up of millions of gallons of raw sewage. A smart engineer made some improvised electrical heaters to fit on the bars and we hired massive tarpaulins to put on the north side to try and cut down the wind chill. It worked a bit till the weather turned. I remember taking the temperature at 9.30 am and seem to recall it was  -9.0C.”

top-10
The record cold spell also saw Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley’s Jack Your Body enter the charts at Number 2, a track that more or less launched the UK dance music scene

John Hall, from Cranleigh, Surrey, said: “We had a little snow on the Monday, I think it was, but it didn’t amount to much. We had to wait for overnight Tuesday/Wednesday for serious snow, but then it certainly made up for lost time. On
Wednesday morning, the gritters  must have done a remarkable job on the
roads, as traffic was moving – if slowly – on the B road that runs
through Cranleigh, and I was able to make the 8-mile journey to
Guildford Station.

“But at the station, a railwayman was standing by the entrance
telling everyone: ‘There are no trains. We don’t know when there will be
any trains. We advise you to go home.’ I managed to get a bus back to
Cranleigh, by which time the snow had just about stopped.

“I didn’t measure the depth of the snow, but my subjective impression that Wednesday morning was that it was almost a foot (30 cm) deep.  The wind wasn’t strong enough to cause too much drifting that day, but the following day it became pretty strong, and there was considerable drifting of the powdery snow, with some susceptible local roads becoming blocked. In this southern lowland region I can’t remember another such instance of this ‘delayed drifting’.”
Tudor Hughes, had the added altitude (165m) of Warlingham, Surrey, that made the cold spell even more memorable. “It was just about the most outstanding weather event for me. The 12th was a sunny day with a light NE’ly and a few inches of lying snow and the temperature just wouldn’t rise.
“After a min of -12°C it got up to -9.2°C (12-hr max) which I think is a COL record though obviously not a UK one.  The 24-hr max was -8.9°C, agreeing with the reading from Coulsdon (Ian Currie).
“In the evening some smoky-looking stratus appeared and snow fell from cloud so thin that the moon was visible.  It snowed intermittently for a further 2 days until the level depth was 39 cm.  At the top of the North Downs (Tatsfield) the depth was about 3 times that.”
Tudor added: “The temperature was below -5°C for about 40 hours and below 0°C for eleven days.  I whacked up the heating and opened the loft door.  A burst pipe and frozen tank is the last thing you want.
“The extraordinary thing about January 12th was the lapse rate.  This was no cold inversion – the higher you were the colder it was.  I reckon the maximum at the top of the Downs (877 ft) was -10°C.  There was some relatively warmer air above 700 mb but even so the 1000-500 mb thickness was 498 dam.  Not quite the purple line but well inside the brown one.”
Unlike some cold spells the severe weather was not restricted to the SE corner of England.

The South West: Len Wood, from Wembury, southwest Devon, said: “Even here on the coast this was the coldest spell I experienced since moving here in 1983. We had four successive ice days and my record min of -10.1C was recorded which still stands.

“With quite a biting easterly wind it was hard to keep our bungalow warm.
Cold was coming up through the floors so I blocked the air bricks and we covered the floors with anything we had handy, old carpet, blankets…

“I remember another effect of the extreme cold was to make all the leaves turn black on the privet hedge down the length of our garden. They subsequently fell off. The hedge did recover the next summer though.”

There is a study of the heavy coastal snowfall of January 11-13 by W.S.Pike here.

capture

Some more charts from Smartie on the Google Group Weather and Climate…

2m temperature and snow depth at 12 UTC 12 January 1987 from a downscaled simulation of 10-13 Jan 1987. The ERA Interim reanalysis was used as initial and boundary conditions. Contours of physical snow depth start at 2.5 cm every 2.5cm.

chart-1

chart 2.PNG

The main convergence zones appear quite well resolved at DX ~12km

chart-3

This is the first downscaling grid. It has the latest ‘scale-aware’ convection scheme from WRF (Multi-scale Kain-Fritsch). The deep and shallow components should both be active (haven’t confirmed this).

Hourly output from this is used to initialise nested 6 and 2km grids. On the 6km grid the deep convection should be almost off and shallow convection still active.chart-4

On the 2km grid there is no Cu scheme ie. it’s ‘convection permitting’ in the jargon.

The plots can be compared with the letter by Lumb (Weather, 1988,, V43, 31).

chart-5

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Snow Survey of London (1946 – 2019)

I first wrote this blog in December 2013 not realising that the following winters were going to turn so mild. Winter 2013/14 ranks the worst of any winter I’ve studied in this area back to the snowy season of 1946/47. The following three winters ranked 53rd, 62nd and 42nd – the only ‘top 10’ winter for snowfall of the past 30 years was 2009/10!

Snow is a very rare commodity in lowland Great Britain – even rarer in the Home Counties, and in our part of east London. Pulling back the curtains on a cold winter’s morning to be greeted by a fresh fall of deep, crisp and even snow is something most children experience and hold dear for life. The slush, ice and chaos that inevitably follows all too quickly is forgotten.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy memories of winters in the 1970s and 1980s is that they were far snowier and colder than they are today. But were they *always* cold and snowy? I decided to have a look back through the archives to find out. My first stop was the Met Office’s now defunct Snow Survey of Great Britain. This excellent compilation of reports logged by observers nationwide was printed annually as part of British Rainfall. But through lack of interest and cuts printing ceased after the 1991-92 season. Data continued to be collected though the modern version of the survey uses satellite technology to estimate daily UK snow depths – the spiel on the Met Office website tells us that this is far less subjective than an individual nipping out at 9am every morning to ‘stick in a ruler’ and, those within sight of high ground, to observe where the snow line is. Call me old fashioned but this is not very romantic and does a disservice to the hundreds of observers who down the years diligently logged all their information as objectively as possible. But on to the data…

Regional data was not included in the survey until the 1965-66 season. Though Wanstead isn’t listed I have taken an estimate from data supplied from stations at Eastcote (53m), East Barnet (70m), Charlton Park (46m), Twickenham (13m), Teddington (9m). Because this area is influenced by Thames streamer snowfall that blows in off the North Sea and is funnelled upriver I have also considered readings from Epping (107m), Rayleigh (73m) and Southend (27m). Indeed, in some years Wanstead’s snowfall is much more similar to Rayleigh and Southend than it is to Greenwich and Teddington. Though my site is only 18m it seems to catch the snow much better than surrounding areas – probably to do with the fact that Aldersbrook is surrounded by greenery. People walking down from Wanstead village often remark that Wanstead Park is far snowier than the village a couple of dozen metres or so higher. Before 1965 I have used data from Woburn, Bedfordshire, which at 89m and 40 miles away as the crow flies, is the closest station in that long running series.

The mean temperature of a winter can look cold but it doesn’t always tell the full story. You can have a winter dominated by high pressure over the near continent making things very dry. But the anticyclones that ridge from Central Europe to the Azores can leave us in the ‘warm’ part of the high – and often lead to days of anticyclonic gloom; cold grey, dank and boring weather with little sunshine. On paper a season can look cold but in reality totally unremarkable; it is the number of days with ‘snow lying’ that people remember. For snow to settle it needs to be cold! For this reason I haven’t bothered with ‘snow falling’ data as it can snow at 4C in very dry air – yet nothing settles. Most weather geeks find ‘snow falling’ the most frustrating when it doesn’t stick. So on to the results.

The Top 20 winters in Wanstead, using 'snow lying' and 'mean temperature' in stats. Click the image to view all 67 winters
The Top 20 winters in Wanstead, using ‘snow lying’ and ‘mean temperature’ in stats. Click here to view all 71 winters back to 1946/47

Once I worked out the ‘snow lying’ days I decided to devise a winter index by dividing ‘snow lying’ by seasonal mean temperature. Because the results using Celsius were problematic in that 1962/63 becomes very skewed upwards I decided to use Kelvin. The results are quite surprising. Coming out top, not surprisingly, is 1962-63 with an index of 25.2 and 69 days of snow lying. Second is 1946-47 with an index of 21.1. Third is 1981-82  with an index of 10.5 – surprisingly ahead of 1978/79, the first winter in the series that I can recall; I remember returning home from school one night in December 1978 and the snow being as deep as the twelve-inch step to our house.

The index of 25.2 for the 1962/63 winter and 21.1 for 1946/47 – over double the amount of 1981/82 – shows how ‘off the scale’ those two winters really were. My father, who doesn’t share my enthusiasm for the weather, can distinctly recall the severe conditions of 1962/63. He said the roads were so thick with snow that when the thaw finally arrived in March he’d become so used to driving on snow that he crashed through somebody’s front garden wall, after losing control of his Mini on surface water sat on the ice.

More recent winters, which pale by comparison, rank surprisingly highly. The 2009/10 winter comes in at Number 10, higher than the legendary 1986/87, where the coldest day in recent times was recorded in London, which came in at Number 12. It should be noted that January 1987, when on the 12th the temperature did not rise above -5.5C all day, was sandwiched by a mild December and February.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASomebody asked me if it would snow and by how much over the next three months. The simple fact is I don’t know. While a predicted mean can look chilly on paper it is impossible to decipher how many peaks and troughs there will be. Just by looking at winters with a mean of, say, 5C doesn’t tell you much about snowfall. When you look at 1985-86 (mean 4.1C)  there were 22 days of snow lying at 9am – yet 2005/06 was colder (3.9C) and only 3 mornings saw snow lying – though that winter was particularly dry – the 13th driest in the series.

The median for ‘snow lying’ days in this series is six. The rolling median of the past 30 years, however, is only 2 so, with this in mind, if it does snow you should get out there and make the most of it.

You can view over 70 years of winters in this area, all ranked using my winter index here.

Screen Shot 2017-12-21 at 14.44.05

*It should be noted that a day of ‘snow lying’ only qualifies if there is more than 50% cover at the observation time of 9am. This means that it could snow 1cm at 10am – if that snow thaws by 9am the next day it won’t count. Though 8 winters appear snowless it is possible that these winters did see temporary coverings