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
Flooding at The Honest Lawyer, Croxdale in the phenomenally wet summer of 2012. The River Browney, a tributary of the Wear, snakes past the hotel and is prone to flooding. Flood prevention here has stopped things getting as bad as previous years. The hotel has been flooded out on many occasions in the past (see photo below).
June was particularly poor. There were 3 days in the month with > 20 mm of rain. It was the 3rd wettest June since 1850 in Durham, with a total of 138.6mm. 2012 was the wettest year since 1850 in Durham. It was the dullest June on record in Durham since 1882.
Here’s a video from around Consett in the storms
Current River Level at Sunderland Bridge.
You can view the current level of the River Wear at Sunderland Bridge here.
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.
There’s a lot of talk going around about summer 2008 being the ‘worst in living memory’. Well, I hate that phrase, because it is basically worthless. The human memory is horribly fallible when it comes to remembering what happened when, especially regarding the weather. The memory filters out things, depending on the activity being undertaken. It also has no concept of what is ‘normal’, and how current conditions compare to that norm. It is purely a qualitative measure, rather than a quantitative one. In addition, substantial bias creeps in due to media stories from elsewhere in the UK. Some people also choose to disregard official weather statistics (ie the amount of rain, sunshine, temps recorded etc), thinking that their memory is perfectly infallible and that statistics always lie. These people always know best. There are quite a few around, and they always confuse ‘climate’ with ‘weather’. The fact that it has been cool for a couple of weeks means that climate change is indeed rubbish as far as they are concerned. Britain is obviously wetter than it’s ever been and summers are now always poor! So the hottest July since 1659, recorded just two years ago doesn’t count then?
This month, August has been qualitatively poor, but looking at the numbers, it’s not been exceptionally so from a quantitative standpoint. Temperatures have been unexceptional during the day (only 6 days > 20C here), but haven’t dropped very low at night so the mean is still slightly above average for 1971-2000 (the latest 30 year ‘normal’ we measure against). Temperature isn’t the only criteria with which to measure things however. Rainfall this month has been way above average in most places, some getting 200% of normal. This sounds a lot, and feels soggy, but it is still well within normal climatic variation for any one place, and when we look back through historical records it occurs quite frequently. Sure, some records have been broken in Northern Ireland, but not everywhere. In Eastern England, any sustained wet weather appears like a deluge for us because we actually live on the dry side of the country and are used to lower daily rainfalls. August 2008 has only had one completely dry day here, so this makes it feel a particualry wet month, but it isn’t when measured quantitiatively, compared to the normal and it’s range of variation.
Sunshine in greatest deficit
Sunshine has been in the greatest deficit, and I put it forward that a summer without a good deal of sunshine feels much poorer than it really is. There can be poor temperatures and lots of rain, but lack of sunshine is the thing that makes people feel more down than ever about a summer. This summer has suffered from that, with August only yielding about 40% of normal sunshine. That feels dismal and is probably why people feel it’s the ‘worst in living memory’, but hands up who can remember dullness? Who can recall which months in the past were exceptionally dull? Nobody, because it’s not something that can in fact be remembered meaningfully at all. We have to rely on statistics for this one, and as a whole the summer of 2008 has been below average for sunshine, but compared to others in the weather record it isn’t exceptionally poor.
Worst in living memory?
What i’m trying to say is, let’s get rid of this ‘in living memory’ phrase, because it’s a meaningless, rubbish measure. People can’t remember more than a couple of years back at most, and if you asked them how two months compared weather-wise they wouldn’t be able to tell you. Numerical weather records are the only way to remove pure perception from the conditions experienced. Remember, meteorology and climate are sciences and therefore must be approached as such, not in a way that relies on newspaper sensationalism, or taking individual instances as representative of wider areas, over longer periods. Qualitative perception is dangerous and fraught with difficulty. People say conditions are poor, but how many know what the quantitative normals are so they can compare their perception to those normals?