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.
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.
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
This 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
This 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
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
Although 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.
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.
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.
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.
I don’t think I would be being too harsh on Summer 2019 if I said I thought it was slow getting started. After the first half of June, the prospects of summer were looking dire. There had already been over 100mm of rain by the time we’d reached the half way point. There had already been 5 days with more than 10mm of rain each (4th,7th,8th,12th and 13th). The long term average rainfall for the whole of June in Durham is 55mm. The Durham Regatta had to be cancelled on the first weekend due to the River Wear being swollen and dangerous.
As well as the deluge of rain (not as bad as other places in England), it only got above the magical 20 degC mark (a nice warm day) on two days. The signs weren’t good.
Then, in the second half, the heavy rains stopped and summer suddenly arrived. The winds lost their northerly bite, the sun came out a bit more and the soggy mess that opened the summer was a distant memory. Temps hit 20 degC on 7 days in the second half, with a belting 28.4 degC on the 29th. Meanwhile, Europe was basking in record temperatures. Southern France recorded 45.9 degC on 28th June, which smashed the record for June by more than 4 degrees (these records are only meant to be broken 0.1 or 0.2 at a time) and it turned out to be the warmest day ever recorded in France in any month. Germany too broke it’s national temperature record a day later.
The month ended up being slightly warmer than the long term average for June, with a mean of 13.8 degC. The rainfall total is just shy of 130mm, which puts it in the top 4 wettest Junes in Durham since 1880. Notably wetter were June 1980, 1997 and it was comparable with 2012.