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Winter Chills : The Great Winters of 1947 and 1963 in the UK

This is archived content that used to be on the Met Office website, but isn’t anymore so I decided to resurrect it for posterity, adding my own comments and adaptions. It’s a page to refer to when people talk about the harsh winters of 1946-47 and 1962-63, the two UK winters that are used as benchmarks for how bad winter can get.

Rarely in the UK – or anywhere, for that matter – is a train completely buried in snow. But that’s exactly what happened on Dartmoor in March 1891 and in northern Scotland in January 1978. The winters that produced such phenomenal snowstorms were not, however, generally snowy – unlike the remarkable winter of 1947, the snowiest since 1814.

picture of a car stuck in snow at Hebden Bridge – 1963

Fig 1: A car stuck in snow at Hebden Bridge – 1963

Severe winters

Since daily meteorological records began in Britain in the 17th century, there have been a number of severe winters. The coldest of all was probably 1684, when the diarist John Evelyn took a coach to Lambeth along the frozen River Thames. Frost Fairs were frequent as the flow of the Thames was restricted by the bridges, slowing it down and making it more susceptible to freezing over.

There was an exceptionally cold and protracted winter in 1739/40 when, between November 1739 and May 1740, snow fell on 39 days in the London area. January in both 1795 and 1814 were colder than January 1740, and the month of February in 1855, 1895 and 1947 were colder than February 1740.

England and Wales would have to wait 223 years for a winter as cold as 1740: this came in 1963.

But what was so remarkable about the 1739/40 winter however, is that the mean temperatures of both January and February were below freezing (0 °C) in the Midlands and southern England. The only other known instance of two successive months with mean temperatures below freezing took place in December 1878 and January 1879.

Before the brutal winter of 1962-63, there was also the equally notorious winter of 1946-47.

The serious snowfall in 1947

Although there were many shorter wintry interludes before Christmas in the winter of 1946-47, the ‘famous’ part of the winter didn’t really get going until the last third of January (see below).

From 22 January to 17 March in 1947, snow fell every day somewhere in the UK, with the weather so cold that the snow accumulated to a great depth. The temperature seldom rose more than a degree or two above freezing, which meant that very little melt occurred and snow just piled up, layer upon layer, until great depths were evident.

There were several snowfalls of 60cm or more, and depths of level snow reached 150 cm in upper Teesdale and the Denbighshire Hills. Across Britain, drifts more than five metres deep blocked roads and railways. People were cut off for days. The armed services dropped supplies by helicopter to isolated farmsteads and villages, and helped to clear roads and railways.

The Calm Before the Storm

In mid January 1947, no-one expected the winter to go down in the annals as the snowiest since 1814 and among the coldest on record. After two cold spells that had failed to last – one before Christmas 1946, the other during the first week of January – the weather had turned unseasonably mild.

0600 UTC on 31 January 1947. A low near the channel islands and high over southern Scandinavia, a typical pressure situation during the 1947 winter. Occlusion giving snow over southern counties of England

Fig 2: 0600 UTC on 31 January 1947. A low near the channel islands and high over southern Scandinavia, a typical pressure situation during the 1947 winter. Occlusion giving snow over southern counties of England.

During the night of 15-16 January, the temperature at Leeming in North Yorkshire didn’t fall below 11.7 °C. The following day, maximum temperatures close to 14 °C were recorded in Norfolk, Herefordshire and Flintshire. All this was soon to change.

An area of high pressure moved northwards from France on 18 January. Two days later, the anticyclone was centred off north-west Norway. It then drifted south-east to southern Scandinavia, and dominated weather over the British Isles for the rest of the month. The first night frost came on the 20th and the winter began in earnest on the 23rd, when snow fell heavily over the south and south-west of England. Even in the Isles of Scilly, a few centimetres of snow fell. The blizzard in south-west England was the worst since 1891; many villages in Devon were isolated.

1947’s Unrelenting harsh weather

  • The cold, snowy weather continued through February and into March. Any breaks in the cold weather were short-lived.
  • On no day in February 1947 did the temperature at Kew Observatory top 4.4 °C, and only twice in the month was the night minimum temperature above 0 °C
  • The mean maximum temperature for the month was 0.5 °C (6.9 °C below average) and the mean minimum was -2.7 °C (4.6 °C below average)
  • On 26 of the month’s 28 days, snow was lying at 0900 UTC
  • South of a line from The Wash to the River Dee, mean maximum temperatures were everywhere more than 5.5 °C below average and, in some places, more than 7 °C below average
  • Mean minimum temperatures were more than 4 °C below average everywhere in the south and south-west of England, and almost 6 °C below average in some places

February 1947 was the coldest February on record in many places and, for its combination of low temperatures with heavy snow, bore comparison with January 1814.

One notable feature of February 1947 was the lack of precipitation in parts of western Scotland. Because of the persistent anticyclonic conditions, some places that were normally very wet had no rain at all. A completely dry month in western Scotland is unusual. It was unprecedented in February.

Another unusual feature of February 1947 was the lack of sunshine in the Midlands and south of England – a complete contrast to the north-west of Scotland, where the weather was unusually sunny.

At Kew, Nottingham and Edgbaston, there was no sun on 22 of the month’s 28 days. At Kew, there was none at all from the 2nd to the 22nd. Hardly anywhere in the Midlands and southern England did the sunshine totals for the month exceed 40 per cent of average.

When skies did clear, night-time temperatures plunged. A minimum of -21 °C was recorded at Woburn in Bedfordshire early on 25 February. Without the cloud, the month would almost certainly have been even colder than it was, certainly at night.

March 1947 : More snow, flooding and then gales

In some parts of the British Isles, snow fell on as many as 26 days in February 1947. Much of the snow was powdery and was soon whipped into deep drifts by strong winds.

If February hadn’t been enough, March was even worse. In the first half of the month, there were more gales and heavy snowstorms.

A picture of a bus driving through water during the flooding of 1947

Fig 3: The flooding of 1947

On 4 and 5 March, heavy snow fell over most of England and Wales, with severe drifting. On 6 March, drifts were five metres deep in the Pennines and three metres deep in the Chilterns. In some places, glazed frost occurred. On 10 and 11 March, southern Scotland had its heaviest snowfall of the winter, and the snowstorm reached the Scottish Highlands, where, on 12 March, drifts more than seven metres deep were reported.

Meanwhile, mild air with a temperature of 7-10 °C edged into the extreme south-west of the British Isles on 10 March, bringing rain. The ensuing thaw was rapid. By the evening of 11 March, vast areas of southern England were under water. After weeks of frost, the ground was frozen hard. The rain and meltwater couldn’t soak into the ground. Surface run-off was the only option.

The warm air spread northwards and eastwards. Meltwater from the Welsh mountains poured into the valleys of the Severn and Wye, flooding Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. The rivers of the English Midlands burst their banks. By 13 March, Fenland rivers were close to overspilling.

On 15 March, a deepening depression from the Atlantic approached the British Isles, bringing rain and severe gales. During the afternoon of 16 March, mean winds over southern England reached 50 knots, with gusts of 80-90 knots.

Buildings were damaged and waves were whipped up on floodwaters. In East Anglia, where the major rivers flow north-eastwards, the south-westerly wind drove water before it and waves pounded the dykes. Water levels rose and the dykes gave way. Most of Fenland was inundated. Troops were called in, but they could do little to stop water pouring through the breached dykes.

River levels rose relentlessly. For example, the banks of the Trent burst at Nottingham on 18 March and hundreds of homes were flooded, many to first floor level. When floodwater reached the tidal part of the Trent, it was impeded by a spring tide, and the whole of the lower Trent valley was flooded.

The floods in the West Country subsided after 20 March, but rivers continued to rise in eastern England. The Wharfe, Derwent, Aire and Ouse all burst their banks and flooded a huge area of southern Yorkshire. The town of Selby was almost completely under water. Only the ancient abbey and a few streets around the market place escaped inundation. Seventy per cent of all houses in the town were flooded.

A graph of Maximum and minimum temperatures Edgbaston, Warwickshire 15 Dec 1946-16 Mar 1947

Fig 4: Maximum and minimum temperatures
Edgbaston, Warwickshire 15 Dec 1946-16 Mar 1947

The cold and snowy weather had, at last, ended, but the misery of the floods continued into the spring. And to make matters worse, the severe difficulties caused by the winter of 1947 were aggravated by the fuel and food shortages that remained after the Second World War.

1962-63 was the coldest winter since 1740

The winter of 1962/63 was the coldest over England and Wales since 1740. As in 1947, anticyclones to the north and east of the British Isles brought bitterly cold winds from the east day after day. As in 1947, depressions followed tracks to southward of the British Isles and their fronts brought snow to England, Wales and the southernmost parts of Scotland.
Mean maximum temperatures for January 1963 were more than 5 °C below average over most of Wales, the Midlands and southern England and in some places more than 7 °C below average. Mean minimum temperatures over this area were equally far below average. The story was much the same in February.

The winter began abruptly, just before Christmas in December 1962. The weather in the first three weeks of December was changeable and sometimes stormy, but not particularly snowy. From the 4th to the 6th December, London experienced its worst spell of fog since the Great Smog of 1952.

Ten days later, the weather was particularly wet and stormy, with a gust of 88 knots recorded at Blackpool during the night of 15/16 December, the strongest since records began in 1946. The weather situation changed markedly on 22 December. On the 23rd, high pressure extended all the way from the southern Baltic to Cornwall, bringing cold easterly winds to much of England and Wales.

A belt of rain over northern Scotland on 24 December turned to snow as it moved south, giving Glasgow its first white Christmas since 1938. The snow belt reached southern England on Boxing Day and became almost stationary. The following day, snow lay five centimetres deep in the Channel Islands and 30 cm deep in much of southern England.

Weather chart showing the start of the winter: the cold front that brought the snow to England on 26 December 1962. Chart for 0600 UTC on 26 December.

Fig 5: The start of the winter: the cold front that brought the snow to England on 26 December 1962. Chart for 0600 UTC on 26 December.

A blizzard over south-west England and south Wales on 29 and 30 December brought snowdrifts 6 m deep. Villages were cut off, some for several days. Roads and railways were blocked. Telephone wires were brought down. Stocks of food ran low. Farmers couldn’t reach their livestock. Thousands of sheep, ponies and cattle starved to death.

From Boxing Day 1962 to early March 1963, much of England was continuously under snow. Unlike the winter of 1947, however, 1962/63 was sunnier than average in most parts of the area affected, considerably so in some places.

Manchester’s sunshine total for January was more than twice the average. Even in the south of England, where snow fell frequently, sunshine totals were above average in most places.

The most remarkable feature of the 1962/63 winter was not so much its snowiness as its coldness. The winter of 1947 was snowier than 1962/63, but not as cold.

In January 1963, there were 25 or more air frosts almost everywhere in southern England and south Wales. In February 1963, air frost occurred every night at Durham, and almost every night in the English Midlands. At several stations in southern England and south Wales, mean maximum temperatures were below 0 °C in January and little higher in February. Mean minimum temperatures were well below freezing almost everywhere in England, Wales and Scotland away from coasts. Extremely low temperatures were recorded – for example, a minimum of -22.2 °C was recorded at Braemar on 18 January.

A graph of Maximum and minimum temperatures Leckford, Hampshire 8 Dec 1962 - 9 Mar 1963

Fig 6: Maximum and minimum temperatures
Leckford, Hampshire 8 Dec 1962 – 9 Mar 1963

Lakes and rivers froze. Ice formed on harbours in the south and east of England. Patches of ice formed on the sea. Huge blocks of ice formed on beaches where waves broke and the spray froze. Coastal marine life suffered severely.

As in 1947, so it was in the winter of 1962/63: brief thaws occurred from time to time, and winter didn’t fully relax its grip before early March. In the last few days of February and the first few days of March 1963, sunny weather brought afternoon temperatures of 4 or 5 °C, but clear skies allowed temperatures to plummet at night. Frosts were moderate or severe.

At last, on 4 March, a mild south-westerly flow of air reached the British Isles. There was occasional rain that day in most parts of Britain, and further rain the following day in the west and north, this time prolonged. On 6 March, there was no frost anywhere in the British Isles and the temperature in London reached 17 °C – the highest since 25 October 1962.

The coldest winter over England and Wales since 1740, and the coldest over Scotland since 1879, had ended. With the thaw came flooding, but nothing like the scale of the 1947 floods. Soon after the winter of 1962/63, life returned to normal.

photograph of a boat stranded and surrounded by ice in a harbour in southern england ring the winter of 1962-63

Fig 7: Coastal areas were affected by ice
Photo © Lynn Tait Gallery

River Wear burst it’s banks : this time it’s 1950

Discovered this one today, via Facebook (credit Julian Harrop and the Beamish Archive). It shows a guy cycling through floodwater in 1950 (unknown exact date). The riverside was a bit different then. The bus shelters can be seen to the right of the photograph (Gypsy Queen, Diamond and Hammel bus stops).

Some of the worst floods ever in Durham were in 1793 and 1903. Here’s some data for the 1903 episode.

8th October 1903

Extensive flooding on Tyne, Wear and Tees and also on some smaller tributaries with much urban flooding especially in Sunderland (Details from Echo not provided since it is a prolonged rainstorm.) A depression moving from the Bristol Channel to the Wash brought heavy rain to NE England accompanied by an E to Se gale especially around Newcastle giving rise to floods and interruption of telegraphic communication. Totals decrease inland. Tees flooded in many places including the roads at Croft and Neasham. Yarm was flooded for the first time in 11 years affecting High Street and the Skinyard. Widespread floodplain flooding.

Rainfall: Heavy continuous rain; Middlesbrough Albert Park 2.29”; Middlesbrough Ormesby 2.81” (1.95” in 12 hours); Stockton Rimswell 2.30”; West Hartlepool 2.90”; Hurworth Burn 3.45”; Hart resvr 2.45”; Durham Observatory2.51”; Waskerley Resvr 2.52”; Smiddy Shaw Resvr 2.67”; Seaham Dalton PS 3.14”; Fencehouses 3.25”; Seaham Harbour 2.48”; Ryhope PS 2.84”; W Hendon 2.59”; Sunderland Fever Hosp 2.72“; Claxheugh Grove 3.03”; Sunderland The Cedars 2.94“; Newcastle Clifton Rd 2.67”; Newcastle Lit & Phil 3.66”; Newcastle Northumberland Rd 2.29”; Newcastle Claremont Rd 2.68”; Newcastle Leazes Pk 3.25”; Newcastle Town Moor 3.68“; Jesmond Welburn 3.34”; N Shields 2.58”; Tynemouth 2.50”; Angerton Hall 2.69”; Morpeth Bothalhaugh 3.22“; Morpeth Longhirst 3.45”; Cockle Park 2.87”; Cragside 2.58”; Alnwick Castle 2.68”
Source: BR; Sunderland Daily Echo Oct 9

– from Chronology : NE website

September 2019 was mostly dry, but still wet!

The headline says it all. September 2019 was really dry and quite pleasant for the first three weeks before the rains came back.  Only 8.1mm fell in the first three weeks, as pressure remained high. Remarkable that the total for the month ended up at 81.0mm, making it a ‘wet’ month overall. That just shows how monthly statistics can completely mask what lies within.

Temperature was very equable, with no really warm days, but no really cold ones either. The warmest temperature came in a short 3 day spell grouped around 20th, when 21.9 degC was reached. The coldest was the morning of the 8th when temps dropped to 3.5 degC.

September’s overall mean temp (mean max+mean min/2) was 12.8 degC, which is slightly below the 1981-2010 mean. This has been rare in recent times.

 

Durham Weather August 2019 – The Wet Summer Continues

After June and July gave us above average rainfall, August continued with the theme. There were brief spells of real warmth, but no real sustained anticyclonic spells. Thunderstorms were quite frequent in the disturbed weather patterns which came mainly from the Atlantic. We were on the North side of the Jet Stream for long periods.

The opening week was reasonable, with temps in the low 20s, but things quickly deteriorated to give 51.7mm of rain over the 9th-12th period. Temperatures dropped too and 20 degC wasn’t breached at all between the 10th and 20th, with rain every day. In fact August had rain on 21 days in total.

Summer weather then returned from 23rd-27th and the maximum for the month of 28.1 degC occurred on 25th. Overall, August was close to average, with the milder nights achieving this figure rather than regularly high maxima.

The three months of summer yielded 129.7mm, 77.7mm and 81.5mm of rain. This is about 80% above the average for 1981-2010. It rained on 59 days of the summer, or 2 out of every 3 days. There were 5 days with more than 20mm of rain recorded and the wettest day of the summer was 8th June.

The highlight of the summer however will be the phenomenal short heat burst at the end of July yielding a new national high temperature record in Cambridge.

Jonathan Webb of TORRO – Top 30 Weather Events and their effects in Durham UK

While I was researching weather ‘top tens’, I discovered Jonathan Webb of TORRO’s top 30. He’s given his top fifteen widespread events and his top fifteen convective (more local thunderstorms events). I’ll try to contextualise the widespread events as to how they affected the North East. I’ve also colour coded them (Green = Yes, Red = No)

Widespread Events (as defined by Jonathan)

1 Severe cold and floods of January-March 1947

Probably the most notorious winter in the North East of England. This winter still has eye-witness accounts and is still within ‘living memory’. Coming just after the conclusion of the Second World War, the country was already still suffering from shortages and damages to infrastructure. The winter came at a really bad time. The winter didn’t really get going until the third week in January 1947, but then it all went a bit mental. February 1947 was brutal. There were huge amounts of snow in the North East in mid-month. 4 feet of snow lay at Forrest-in-Teesdale on the 18th. My dad told me they had to tunnel to get out of their house in Spennymoor. The 5 brothers amused themselves by jumping out of the upstairs windows into the giant snowdrift that was in the front garden. The severe winter continued into the first half of March 1947. We had -21.1 degC at Houghall, Durham on 4th. All the snow melt caused significant flooding after mid-month.

2 Icestorm of 26-29 January 1940

January 1940 was one of the coldest January months on record. The period in question was a battleground situation of encroaching Atlantic air over a severely cold Russian air mass. Where the two met, heavy snow was the result. The main action from this happened to the south of us, so we didn’t really experience anything but snow. Further south, huge accumulations of ice formed around telegraph wires and power cables (increasing their dimension up to a foot thick), which brought them down. It would take the ice about a week to melt as February began.

3 Gale and floods of 31 January 1953

east coast floods 1953This had a major effect down the East coast of England as a storm surge followed a deep low pressure system which ran down the North Sea. Tides were about 2.5 metres above normal. The Norfolk/Suffolk coast and the South East was affected most, with extensive flooding in coastal areas and a great loss of life (307 people died, many more in the lowlands of the Netherlands). Again, the North East was spared from most of the mayhem.


4 The summer of ’76

hot summer of 1976 in the ukThis was spectacular in most places in the UK, and it was the beginning of my fascination with the weather. It was the year I sat my O-Level exams and also had a paper round. I remember going out with the papers around 6:30am and by the time I got home at around 8am it was already boiling hot. The hot weather was incessant, and there was also a water shortage caused by the previous winter being extremely dry. The drought broke in September 1976 when the entire country was deluged in heavy rainfall, some extreme. It is Durham’s wettest September on record, suffering 193mm of rain. The wet weather continued into October, compensating itself for the hot dry conditions that had gone before.

5 Winter of 1981-82

The winter of 1981-82 followed soon after the severe 1978-79 winter. The winter was to be remembered by a) extremely low temperatures and b) a huge amount of snow, which lay for the entire month of December 1981 and half of the following month. The North East was badly affected, with roads closed and communities cut off. After the snowfall, temperature plummeted. I recorded -17 degC in Kirk Merrington at the rear of our house (it was our first winter there). There was record cold elsewhere, with the UK cold record equalled on 11th/12th January 1982.

6 The severe winter of 1962-63

A bus at Flint Hill, Dipton, County Durham 1963

The second Great Winter of the 20th Century, again there are many people still around who witnessed it. I was only 2.5 years old at the time so can’t remember it first hand, but my parents and grandparents told me what it was like. The cold set in just before Christmas in December 1962. Blizzards plastered the North East towards New Year. The ground lay snow-covered for all of January, February and the first part of March. It wasn’t quite as snowy for the North East as in 1947, but it was still extraordinarily cold and the cold lasted much longer. The cold continued into February, but gradually started to relent and there was no flooding with the thaw, just a gentle melting in the welcome warm sunshine which came.

7 The Great Storm of 16 October 1987

trees felled in the great storm of october 1987Although this was a major event in Southern and South Eastern parts of England, here in the North East we experienced nothing of the same. The October storm really passed us by and some folks could be excused for wondering what all the fuss was about. Millions of trees were blown down and millions of pounds worth of damage done. This was probably the worst gale since the Defoe Storm of 1703, but wasn’t a whole country event.

8 The late cold spell of 24-25 April 1908

Again, this one was a mainly South of England event, with heavy snowfalls as far north as the Midlands. The most the North East got from this were some very unseasonably cold temperatures so late into April. Oxford had one of the snowiest episodes it had experienced either before or since.

9 The blizzards of January-February 1978

In January 1978, the first big blizzard affected the very North of Scotland from 25th-29th with a Northerly gale. This followed an intense low pressure system which dragged in the Northerlies. The air pressure in Durham dropped to 963 mb. The blizzards of February 1978 caught the North East because it was a classic Easterly snow situation. There was a foot of snow in Newcastle by the 13th. The exceptional blizzard of the month was in the South West of England, peaking between the 18th and 20th February.

10 Rain over the east on 26 August 1912

August 1912 was one of the dullest, wettest and coldest of the 20th century. This coming after the stunning summer of 1911. It was Durham’s coldest August on record, averaging only 11.8 degC (3.6 degC below average). Although Durham was wet, it wasn’t it’s wettest ever, but this event submerged large parts of East Anglia, destroying bridges and leaving places under 15ft of floodwater. This was probably the worst August can get.

11 Gale on 2 January 1976

This became known as the ‘Capella’ Storm. I remember this little bugger storming through. It was a tight circulation and the centre passed over Scotland on an almost exact West to East trajectory. The North East was sheltered slightly by the Pennines, but not by much as ferocious gales were felt across much of the country. Gusts in excess of 50mph were widespread and it destroyed many a greenhouse and even a caravan site in Doncaster. The gales wrought havoc in Europe as well. There’s a Wikipedia analysis page about this storm here

12 Rain of August 1952

This month’s deluges led to the catastrophic Lynmouth Flood which swept through the tiny Devon village on 15th/16th August. There was reckoned to be about 10″ to a foot of rain dropped on the catchment area of Dartmoor over the period, which rushed down the tight valleys causing 34 deaths in the town. This month was actually a very dry one in the North East of England, with less than an inch of rain in places, so the rains were a mainly southern event.

13 The extended summer of 1911

The Summer in 1911 ran from May until the first half of September. The ‘worst’ month of the summer was June, but the first 10 days produced some temperatures in the high 20’s in North East England. There was flooding in the second half of June in the North East after heavy rain on 23rd/24th. July was superb over the whole country, including Durham. However, the south had sunnier, warmer and drier conditions. The all time high temp for July 1911 stood as a record until 2006. August 1911 was also very hot, with it’s high temp record standing until beaten in August 2003. Durham also experienced very high temperatures.

14 Heavy rain in the SE on 14-15 September 1968

This was a South East England event, mainly around the London area. More than 8″ of rain fell in the day. The North East and Durham saw nothing of this episode at all.

15 Heatwave of summer 1906

Before 1911, 1906 was remembered as a very good year. May was notable for cold, with 65mm of rain measured at North Shields on 19th, but after that the summer was hot and fine, particularly in June and July, with heat returning at the end of August and into September. It was very hot in the first week of September 1906. The 1st of September 1906 was Durham’s hottest recorded September day, with 30.0 degC. This record still stands.

Convective

1 Storms of 5 September 1958

2 Storms of 1-12 August 1938

3 Storms of 1-2 July 1968 (see this)

4 Tornadoes and storms of 21 May 1950

5 Hailstorm of 22 September 1935

6 Storms of 19-21 June 1936

7 Storms of 4 July 1915

8 Storms of 5-7 June 1983

9 Storms of 10-11 June 1970

10 Tornado and storms of 27 October 1913

11 Storms of 17-18 July 1955

12 Storms of June and July 1900

13 Storms and hail of 2-3 July 1946

14 Storms of 31 May 1911

15 Storms of 13 July 1967

‘The Great Darkness’ of July 2nd 1968

The article was produced following a bizarre weather event in July 1968. The month  was a very active one for thunderstorms and featured one of the greatest falls of Saharan dust in the UK in recent times.

From Trevor Harley’s Weather website:

July 1968 Generally dull, cool, and wet, especially in the south, but with two exceptional thundery outbreaks. The first ten days were very active. A slow-moving cold front ended June’s hot spell on the 1st, which saw temperatures of 33C in London, with severe and prolonged thunderstorms in the north and west, with darkness at noon, from mid-morning on the 1st to late afternoon on the 2nd. A hailstone at Cardiff airport on the 1st measured 7×6 cm. I wouldn’t like that to fall on me. Lightning deaths on the 1st. The rainfall on the 1st was accompanied by a notable dustfall, comprising sand carried from the Sahara. The rain was said to be coloured “red and brown”, so that on the morning of the 2nd much of the south was covered with brown streaks. On 2 July, 35.7 mm rainfall fell in just under 9 minutes at Leeming Bar (Yorks), giving a sub-10-minute rate of 238 mm/hr, a UK record for such a short time (until 2003) …. Deep drifts of hail on the roads in Yorkshire needed bulldozers to clear them. More exceptional storms on the 9th, this time in the southwest.

There’s an article about the storms on Wikipedia here. It says “The July 1968 England and Wales dust fall storms were the most severe dust fall storms in the British Isles for over 200 years.” The article lays out the causes and meteorological conditions at the time. The squall line apparently ran up from Devon, along the England–Wales border and up across Northern England to the River Tees at Teesside. It seems that Teesside was on the Northernmost boundary of the dust although that boundary might have resulted in the heaviness of the rainfall.

The Met Office also did a detailed investigation into the dust storms here.

It certainly seemed an extreme event. I had moved with the family a year earlier in 1967 from Fairfield in Stockton, Teesside, so didn’t personally witness the storm. These are the some of the stories about the day from those who did.

From the Teesside Live website

“THE KILLER storm which battered Teesside at 11.40am on July 2, 1968, unleashed a freaky weather terror still talked about with awe 40 years on.

A dense blanket of cloud five miles thick smothered the bright summer sun of a beautiful morning.

Midday turned into midnight — and those who were there have never forgotten. The day has gone down in local folklore as The Day the Sky Turned Black.

In the inky darkness, a weird and frightening steamy hot Teesside was hit by thunder and lightning, monsoon rain and icy hailstones the size of gobstoppers.

An elderly woman walking her dog in Northallerton was killed by a lightning strike.

Petrified people, convinced the end of the world was nigh, dropped to their knees to pray in town centre streets awash with water.”

Traffic came to a standstill as lumps of ice bounced off windscreens, making driving impossible. Families screamed to be rescued as rivers of rain raced into their homes. Frightened schoolkids were hurried in from the playground to cower under desks while worried teachers tried to keep them calm. Terrified housewives who had hung out the washing to dry in the July sun, struggled to bring it in before it was blown away. Some, like Betty Jobling, now in her seventies and still living in the same house, ran to hide in cupboards and ‘coal holes’ praying for deliverance from The Great Blackness.Plants were broken and gardens wrecked as a record 1.10 inches of pounding rain fell in just 10 minutes.

Those who remember say the downpour was so fierce the raindrops bounced back up to 18 inches off the pavements. The first sign of trouble came when the sky turned an ominous sludge green. Then came the great blackness. Amateur metereologist Gordon Currie who lived near Great Smeaton, said at the time: “I have never seen anything like it.” He put forward the theory that a weather front of humid air from the south met up with a stream cooled by North-easterly winds. They clashed in a swirling vortex which caused particles of ice to grow bigger and heavier as they were sucked to the top of the cloud — before falling to earth.

An Evening Gazette photographer snapped Borough Road at the height of the blackout with the headlights of cars crawling to a standstill and every window beaming out light.

Brian Whaite who lived in Ingleby Barwick was working for builders in Billingham at the time. He said there was a sudden flash of lightning and a woman ran screaming from her home shaking with fright and carrying a newborn baby. He said: “The rain lifted manhole covers and the torrent caused them to spout like whales. It’s a day I won’t forget in a hurry.”

By the middle of the afternoon, Teesside was simply overcast as the clear-up operation got under way. But it was a day branded for ever on the memory of families who still tell the tale of The Great Darkness. THE legend of the great blackness was often talked about by Paul Walker’s dad and his brothers.

“In fact in my twenties I was in a band called The Storm which was named after the event,” said the 42 year-old. “I think The Great Darkness may have been an even better name. “Sadly we never did storm out of Stockton — the forecast was as bleak for us as it was for Teesside that day! “And the event was certainly more memorable than anything our band ever did.”

Paul’s late dad Norman was 32 and working in menswear shop Weaver to Wearer on Stockton High Street when the Teesside terror struck.

“He told me the sky went green suddenly and then black,” said Paul who now lives in Sheffield. “There were people dropping to their knees to pray in shop doorways and on the street because they thought the end of the world was nigh. “It was like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse had arrived. “One of my uncles was a teacher at St John’s Infant School and he said all the children were brought in because it was so frightening. “The storm was so significant that he and his brothers remembered it all their lives and when they got together it crept into the conversation.” On the other hand, Paul’s mum Elizabeth was back home in Fern Park looking after two-year-old Paul and can’t remember a single thing about it.

Just like a monsoon

PENSIONER Betty Jobling was a terrified young mum racing to hide under the stairs when the storm struck.

“I was taking in the washing, but it was so terrible the sheets trailed on the ground in the rain as I ran to hide in the cupboard,” said 72 year-old Betty. “I’m a bit claustrophobic so I left the door open, but I didn’t come out until it got brighter. I was absolutely terrified. “Everything was such a mess. The washing was blown all over the garden and our street was covered with tree branches.”

Betty moved a few doors down from her parents’ home in Myrtle Road, Eaglescliffe, when she married husband Terry and they have lived there for 50 years. She remembers the storm being so fierce and the rain so heavy, water flooded many houses further down the slope.

“Fortunately ours wasn’t one of them, but the water was pouring down the street like a river,” she said. “It started as a nice sunny morning and I was at my mother’s up the road. Then it looked like rain so I went home to take in the washing. “Before I could get it in, it was like a monsoon. It was like nothing I’d seen before, like the end of the world. “The plants were flattened and the gardens wrecked, it was dreadful.”

Her husband worked at what was then the British Chrome and Chemical Works at Urlay Nook, now Elementis, and the couple brought up two daughters and three grandchildren.

Last orders

EVEN in Sunderland 28 miles away, the sky was so black Steve Wild was asked to sup up and leave the pub. “The landlord pretended it was closing time,” he laughed. Steve an 18-year-old student at the time, is now in charge of Stockton Council’s online photo collection of 6,000 images. “Sadly we don’t have one of the storm – yet,” he said.

Sun seeker

CHRISTINE Foster missed the storm because she was baking in the sunshine on Scarborough beach.

“We heard about it on the radio later that night and were very worried about our family back in Ragworth. “My dad had come home from work and apparently carried lots of school kids from St John’s and Ragworth schools across a massive puddle at the bottom of Dumbarton Avenue.”

Recently we had a similar type of event (on a much smaller scale) in October 2017 when smoke from forest fires on the Iberian Peninsula caused daytime darkness in the region.

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