The weather of Durham in July 2019 was a real mixture. The first week was very pleasant and dry, with temperatures hovering around the 20-22 degC mark. It got a little warmer toward the middle of the month, as we’d expect, but also slightly more unsettled. A few days peaked at over 25 degC, namely 10th, 11th and 16th. Nothing exceptional though, just typical July weather.
What came next was extraordinary. Air began to arrive from North Africa. Europe sweltered and several records were broken. In the UK, temperatures soared. The short heatwave of July 22nd-26th was one of the most extreme.
Record high temperatures at Durham
At Gilesgate, the 23rd reached 29.9 degC. Two days later, we hit 33.7 degC! The official Durham University Observatory site peaked at 32.9 degC on the 25th, which was the highest official temperature recorded in Durham since 33.6 degC was reached in July 1876. This temperature was recorded in a Glaisher Screen. The reading of 32.9 degC was the highest at Durham since the modern standard Stevenson Screen was installed in 1900.
The hourly mean temperature for 25th was 24.0 deg. Using the (max+min)/2 method, it was 25.2 degC. For a city as northerly as Durham that is amazing.
Oxford Botanic Gardens broke the all time UK record on 25th with 38.7 degC (this was only confirmed after several days). This beat the 38.5 degC from Faversham in Kent in 2003. Almost inevitably, the heat was dispersed by thundersorms and torrential rain, with over 25mm on the 27th and a very wet day on 31st nationally. There was severe flooding in the Reeth and Leyburn area when thunderstorms dropped a reported 130mm+ in just a few hours, with massive hail being recorded.
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.
July 2nd 2018. The height of the summer. This view shows Old Durham Gardens, just to the East of Durham City. We were in the middle of a long dry spell, where no rain fell at all for about 3 weeks. (21st June – 15th July).
The dry spell broke with thunderstorms and heavy rain on 16th July. A total of 27.8mm of rainfall was recorded.
This incredible Shelf Cloud, looking like an alien spacecraft from the film “Independence Day” came in over Durham in July 2015. Although it looked very threatening, on this occasion not much rain fell from it. It’s the best example I’ve seen of a Shelf Cloud in the UK.
On 1st July 2015, the temperature hit 30 degC in Durham, being only the 30th such occasion since 1850 to reach the mark. The actual max was 30.2 degC. It was a very hot sultry day, which quickly degenerated into thunderstorms with rain and hail.
A shelf cloud is a low, horizontal wedge-shaped cloud, associated with a thunderstorm gust front (or occasionally with a cold front, even in the absence of thunderstorms). A rising cloud motion often can be seen in the leading part of the shelf cloud, while the underside often appears turbulent, boiling, and wind-torn.
Here’s a dramatic lightning strike in Ferryhill, the same day
In contrast to everything that had gone before, it was the warmest July since 2006 and therefore the second warmest month on record at Durham since 1850. The absolute maximum (28.4°C) on the 9th was the warmest day at Durham since 18th July 2006. Only 5 days had a maximum below 20°C with 5 days above 25°C. The highest night-time minimum was 16.6°C on the 24th. The absolute minimum of 8.1°C has only been exceeded twice in July since 1962: in 1983 and 2004. The highest daily rainfall total of 39.2mm (28th) was large by Durham standards but only the wettest day since 18th May 2013.
Professor Tim Burt
Department of Geography
Some of the worst flooding in recent years was experienced in Durham during the very wet July of 2009. The River Wear burst it’s banks in the city and riverside businesses were inundated after more than 2” of rain fell in one day (64.2mm was recorded on the 17th), on top of already saturated ground.
The most extraordinary weather episode in July occurred on the 17th when very high rainfall caused severe flooding in Durham; the University’s Maiden Castle sports centre was inundated for only the 3rd time since being built in the early 1960s.
A low pressure centre crossed the UK on the 17th to give a cool and wet day across Britain. Overnight rain affected much of England, Wales, S and E Scotland with falls also in E Ireland.
The rain began on the 16th with a fall of 11.6mm in one hour (1400 – 1500 GMT): altogether 15mm fell that day. A total of 64.2mm was recorded on the 17th; there were only 3 hours that were completely dry. Remarkably, 6.6mm fell between 1400 and 1500 GMT and 9.2mm in the next hour. The highest gust of the month was recorded during this period. 17th July 2009 is the 6th wettest day on record at Durham since 1850. The last time this total was exceeded was 25th August 1986 when 69.2mm fell.
Local Rainfall on 16th: Copley 64.2; Stanhope 37.3; Westgate-in-Weardale 29.3; Whitley Bay 27.9;
And on the 17th; Spittal 78.2; Westgate-in-Weardale 67.9; Stanhope 50.4; Whitley Bay 41.1; Berwick-upon-Tweed 38.0; Copley 36.9
The wettest day on record at Durham is 11th September 1976 with 87.8mm. All this rain meant the 4th wettest July on record, easily beating last year (134mm), but still exceeded by 1930 (183.9mm), 1867 (184.9mm) and 1888 (206.6mm). It was the 17th wettest month on record since 1850. Interestingly, 8 of these 17 have been in summer, 4 in autumn and five in winter, none in spring; this reflects the fact that Durham tends to have wet summers (marginally wetter than autumn) with a tendency to heavy falls of rain. As a result, all long-term rainfall totals are now well above average again.
In terms of temperature, July (26.8°C) was an unexceptional month, a little above average in all respects; only 13 days had a maximum above 20°C. The absolute maximum on the 1st was the highest since 2006, but thereafter temperatures were not exceptional. The absolute minimum was the highest since 2004.
Professor Tim Burt
Department of Geography
In Ferryhill, I recorded 43.6mm of rain on 17th.
Here’s a view of The Half Moon Beer Garden, submerged in floodwater
The Grand Canyon of Durham
This is the scene just to the East of Houghall College where floodwater tore a canyon in a field in it’s rush to join the River Wear. It is up to 100ft across, 15ft deep and 200 yards long. It is estimated that the water carried into the river up to 12,000 cubic metres of soil, weighing 15,000 tons, the volume of 25 swimming pools.