A 90% Partial Solar Eclipse was visible in the North East in March 2015. There was a lot of cloud, but the eclipse could clearly be seen. The peak of the eclipse was around 9:30am. The main noticeable thing was a marked drop in temperature and the birds began to roost, thinking it was dusk.
Here’s a video taken in Spennymoor, from the Durham Telly YouTube channel
December 1962. Cold (1.8C CET), and generally quite sunny, although smog early in the month (starting on the 4th) probably killed several hundred people in London. This was the last of the great London smogs before the Clean Air Acts took effect. There was persistent freezing fog elsewhere in the country, around the 10th, followed by a wintry outbreak, with some snow across the country on the 12th and 13th. Midmonth there was rain and some severe gales as the weather became very mild. But the month is most notable as the start of the Great Freeze, one of the two greatest prolonged weather events of this century by my reckoning (the other being the summer of 1976).
The pressure started to rise on Saturday 21st; there was widespread dense fog, with many football matches postponed. Cold air started to set in on December 22nd as an anticyclone formed over northern Scandinavia, bringing very cold continental air west from Russia. On the 23rd the pressure in the Scandinavian high reached 1050 mbars. There were a few days that were cold but sunny in the daytime, and with severe frost at night. Over Christmas the Scandinavian anticyclone collapsed and a new one formed over Iceland, bringing northerly winds down across the country from Greenland.
The front separating the cold Arctic air from the north met the even colder Continental air originating from Russia from the east gave a significant snowfall as it moved south across the country. It started snowing in the far north on Christmas Eve, and the cold front moved slowly south. Hence although Christmas Day was cold but sunny in the south, with maxima ranging from -4C to 0C, there was snowfall in the north: Glasgow had a White Christmas. The snow reached Lancashire at about midnight on Christmas night, and continued to move south across most of England during Boxing Day, reaching the Midlands around midday and finally reaching London and the south around midnight.
I remember vividly waking up to snow and frost the next day. After this, a block was then formed, and cold air established. Occasionally mild air approached the south west, but the great winter was set until to the end of February 1963. Over much of the country snow lay from December 26th until March 2 (67 consecutive days). 2-4″ of snow fell in the north, but snow fell for longer (two days) south of the Thames, leaving up to 18″. The second major snowfall of the end of the month was on the 29-30th, and was accompanied by bitter, gale-force easterly winds. By the end of the month there were snow drifts of 8′ in Kent and 15′ in the west. This is the first major weather event I remember (apart from some frightening – to me – thunderstorms). I remember making a snowman, and the thick frost coating the windows.
January 1963. The coldest month this century (-2.1C CET), the fifth coldest month ever, and part of the Big Freeze. Indeed, this was the coldest month since 1814. There as not a single westerly or southwesterly day in sight: there were 20 easterly days (with the rest calm or northerly). Much of England and Wales was snow-covered throughout.
A notable snowstorm occurred on the 3-4th in the Southwest and Welsh Borders, with drifts up to 5 m deep, and 10-20 cm of fresh level snow in places; the snow was accompanied by a strong wind. The easterly winds lessened for a while in the second week, and there were some very low temperatures. The minimum was -19.4C at Achany (Sutherland) on the 11th. Shawbury had a maximum of -7C on the 12th. -16C was recorded at Gatwick and Eskdalemuir on the 13th, with freezing fog. It was slightly less cold midmonth, as winds turned slightly more northerly; however, many places still managed to stay beneath freezing from the 14-15th.
Winds turned easterly again on the 17th for the most severe week of the winter. There was a minimum of -22.2C at Braemar on the 18th: this was the lowest minimum of the winter. There was another notable blizzard on the 19-20th, particularly affecting the southeast, with widespread maxima of -5C in the south. There was freezing rain in places on the 20th. In this spell, the highest hourly mean wind speed records were set (99 mph, at Great Dun Fell, Cumbria, on the 15th, and Lowther Hill, Scotland, on the 20th). The lowest minimum reported in England was -20.6C at Hereford on the 23rd; also -20.6C at Stanstead Abbotts (Herts.), early on the 23rd, and then a maximum of only -8C at Ross-on-Wye the next day.
There was a snowdrift 25′ deep on Dartmoor on the 21st. There was much freezing fog on the 24th. For the first time since 1947, there was pack ice on large estuaries such as the Solent, Mersey, and Humber. Many places in the SE stayed beneath freezing from the 16-25th. At Eastbourne the sea was reported as frozen to an extent of 100′ offshore for a length of 2 miles. The weather turned less cold on the 26th, with some places having the first frost-free night of the month. Pressure of 1048 mbar in Scotland on the 27th. Winter as a whole was the wost since 1739-40. One consequence of the prevailing easterlies was that some sheltered westerly locations were very sunny: St Mawgan (Cornwall) reached 114.4 hours (a record). Also some westerly spots were extremely dry. See also December 1962 and February 1963. Hence I rate this the most interesting January of the century.
February 1963. Very cold, and part of the Big Freeze (-0.7C CET). We have not otherwise had two consecutive months beneath freezing in the twentieth century. The cold continued into March. Again, the prevailing easterlies gave some high sunshine totals in the west (e.g. 135 hours at Sellafield). Much of the country lay covered in snow all month. The month begain with cold NNE winds, giving more light snow across the south. There were some very low temperatures in some coastal regions on the 4th and 5th: -17.8C at Coltishall (Norfolk) early on the 5th.
There was a phenomenal snowstorm on the 6-7th affected mainly the west (the SW, Wales, Northern Ireland), and gave 1.5 m of lying snow at Tredegar (Monmouthshire; quoted at the time as “5 1/2 feet”). This is the record snow depth for an urban area of the UK. There were some slight thaws mid month: there was an appreciable thaw on the 9th, mas winds turned briefly to the south; and some places in the south had a thaw of 4 hours on Valentine’s Day, as the temperatures struggled up to 1C, before it started snowing again.
March 1963. The end of the Big Freeze. It ended gently, without widespread flooding, owing to a gentle thaw in sunshine during the first few days of the month. It still reached -16C at Braemar on the 2nd. Many places in lowland Britain lost their snow cover on March 4th – for the first time since December 26th. By the 6th it reached 17C in London. On the 2nd Cape Wrath recorded a humidity reading of only 6%.
The very wet Summer of 2012 continued into Autumn. The river burst it’s banks again in the city. This red car (Ford Ka) became quite famous as it bobbed about in front of the new Radisson Hotel (due to open a couple of months after this photo was taken).
A view of the flood from the Passport Office/National Savings Building. The red car can just be seen in the left mid-distance.
There was exceptionally heavy rainfall and flooding towards the end of the month. The rainfall was spread across two days, with 47.4mm recorded on the 24th and 40.8mm on the 25th. The former is the 27th wettest day on record at Durham since 1850 and the latter was the 41st wettest. Looking at 2-day totals, the combined total of 88.2mm is the 5th highest 2-day total since 1850, although well less than the record holder, 10th / 11th September 1976 when a total of 120.1mm was recorded. The heaviest rain fell late on the evening of the 24th when 16mm fell in 3 hours. It was the wettest September since 1976 and the 7th wettest on record.
25th Nov Snow cover at 0900hrs. 2″ in Ferryhill, 5-6″ in Newcastle.
26th Nov Snow cover continuing. Brighter, with improvement in road conditions
27th Nov. Snow cover holding. Several further snow showers today
28th Nov. Some more snow overnight. Hard frost. -17.3C in Llandryndodd Wells in Wales overnight
29th Nov. 4″ more snow overnight. Slight thaw. Frequent showers of hail, sleet and snow. Thunder too!
30th Nov. Snow cover persisting. Frequent snow showers. Strong E wind. Cold
1st Dec. More snow overnight. Another 1-2″. -20c at Atnaharra last night
2nd Dec Frequent snow showers from the East. Cold again. Another 3″ of snow falling
3rd Dec. Very cold morning. New record for December at Ferryhill (-8.6). Snow showers dying out but deep snow cover remains. Ice day.
4th Dec. Still deep snow cover (15″). Shallow freezing fog.
5th Dec. Snow cover persisting. Very cold later.
6th Dec. Very cold morning again (-7.8). 12 days of snow cover now. Ice day
7th Dec. Snow cover becoming icy. Spell of light snow early morning. Cold. Ice day
8th Dec. Sunny, bright day. Ice day.
9th Dec. Temp returns above zero. Thaw is beginning, but still snow lying @ 0900.
10th Dec. Substantial thawing of lying snow, but still >50% lying at 0900.
11th Dec. Thaw continuing. Probably last day with >50% cover. 6.8 degC is highest since 20th Nov.
12th Dec. Milder and drizzly rain. Majority of snow melted, except in sheltered areas.
16th Dec 5am. Cold front sweeps south leaving snow and ice. 7 degC drop from 5 > 8am. Treacherous roads. Cold
17th Dec Snow cover at 0900hrs. Ice on pavements. Very cold.
18th Dec. Very cold. No fresh snow, but very icy.
19th Dec Very cold and sunny. 7th ice day of the month!
20th Dec Very cold, sunny and icy.
21st Dec Very cold again. Slightly ‘warmer’ (around freezing) tonight, with some snow showers
22nd Dec Snow showers overnight and early morning. Not quite as cold. Heavy showers in evening too
23rd Dec Still a couple of inches snow cover. Sunshine and snow showers
24th Dec Some fresh snow from showers. Cold
25th Dec Slight thaw. No fresh snow, but still a covering at 0900
26th Dec Very cold. Snow flurries
27th Dec Very cold. Snow flurries. Snowcover diminishing
28th Dec Substantial thaw. Conditions improving
29th Dec Less than 50% ground covered by snow
December 2010 was the coldest December in Durham for more than a century (Dec 1895). The river completely froze over, a very rare occurence, seen only in the very coldest of conditions.
My weather summary for Ferryhill shows the extent of the cold conditions
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. 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.
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.
The River Wear in spate again in September 2008. The main wear, normally visible about 4ft above the river is almost totally submerged. The river was 6” away from bursting it’s banks.
This was the scene in Croxdale in September 2008 as firemen begin the cleanup process after another flooding episode at The Honest Lawyer Hotel. The River Browney burst it’s banks and inundaded the hotel and motel rooms.
Further North in Northumberland, there was a disastrous flood in Morpeth on 6th September.
The Morpeth flood: 6 September 2008
The North East region, despite its general rain-shadow setting, is no stranger to floods (Archer, 1992) and Morpeth has endured severe flooding often: for example, in 1863, 1876, 1877, 1878, 1881, 1886, 1898, 1900, 1903, 1924 and 1963.
The event of 6 September 2008 was in many ways typical, and has been well-documented. The floods on this occa- sion were brought about by 24 hours of persistent rain causing the River Wansbeck to burst its banks, flooding the town (Figure 4) and causing damage estimated as costing £40 million.
The cause was in contrast to that of the previous serious flood, on 7 March 1963, which was due to the thawing of deep snow that had accumulated over the famously-cold preceding winter. The 2008 event was associated with a slow-moving but active frontal system. In this case the centre of low pressure lay to the south of the region exposing it to easterly winds, turning this normally sheltered side of the country into an exposed region and producing an estimated 80mm or more of rain in the pre- ceding 24 hours over the catchment. The distribution of precipitation over Britain on the evening of 5 September is illustrated in Figure 5: the control exerted by the slow-moving fronts across northern England is clearly seen.
An important causative agent was that the preceding summer had been wet, the Northumbrian region having experienced 200% of average rainfall in July and August, so that soil-moisture deficits were very low. The catchment consists of narrow, relatively steep-sided valleys, encouraging the rapid movement of water into the tributary channels upstream of the town; the Environment Agency estimated that as much as 54% of the rainwater took the form of this runoff. But these rains were widespread and many gauging sites in northern England recorded new record peak flows (Environment Agency, 2009) and it was the combination of the factors noted that brought about this disaster.
There was an almost identical repeat of these conditions in the town (whose motto, with an irony not lost on local residents, isInter Sylvas et Flumina Habitans or living between woods and waters) on 25 September 2012.
From “Regional weather and climates of the British Isles – Part 4: North East England and Yorkshire” by Dennis Wheeler, University of Sunderland, Weather July 2013.
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