During the winter of 1983-84, there was a very snowy cold spell in the last week of January 1984. Scotland, Northern Ireland and the North of England were affected.
Here’s a nice couple of black and white photos of the Fulling Mill and Cathedral taken by Craig Oliphant, who has very kindly given his permission to publish. Ice is just starting to form in the still water above the weir.
The Bonacina/O’Hara snowfall analysis says
“Jan, very snowy in Scotland. 13th-23rd Jan., Scotland, N. Ireland and northern England. Considerable drifting on hills. 21-23rd Jan., northern England, C. Highlands, Scotland 2ft lying. Early Feb, Scotland. 24th Mar., Highlands.”
There was a very wild start to February, although it was relatively mild.
Storm Ciara over the weekend of 8th/9th brought damaging gusts and flooding. The worst of it passed to the South of us, but there was major flooding in Yorkshire and winds gusted to 93mph in Wales.
The River Wear rose dramatically during the morning of Sunday 9th to peak at 3.05m late on the evening, flooding riverside paths.
Wintry showers on 10th-12th. Snowfall for the Midlands, Scotland and Pennines 15-20cm on high ground. Severe drifting on high ground.
The next storm (Storm Dennis) arrived on 15th/16th and was similar to Ciara. The river in Durham peaked at around the 3m mark again and the wind was very strong from the West. It stayed above 3m for many hours this time, with riverside flooding again causing problems. Once again, the south of the country was hit hard, particularly South Wales.
Some snow arrived in Durham late in the month on the 24th, but it lasted less than a day. From waking to a 2” covering on the morning, it had all gone by mid-afternoon.
The third and last big storm of the month (all at weekends!) was Jorge, named by the Spanish Met Office which duly arrived on the 29th (Leap Year this year).
People around the Ironbridge area in Shropshire are in a desperate situation with flooding on the River Severn. There was also extensive flooding in Yorkshire around the Doncaster area.
The mean temperature for February was 5.4 degC by the traditional method of max+min/2 method. The highest absolute maximum was 10.5 degC during the passing of Storm Ciara. There were no air frosts at all recorded during the month.
The 9th was also the wettest day with 23.0mm of rain recorded. We also had yet another monthly total over 70mm in the last 12 months (this was the 7th time). The final total was 88.4mm.
On the last day of February, the barometer fell to 970.9mb during the passing of Storm Jorge (named by the Spanish Met Office). Heavy snow fell on the Pennines and there was a report in the Northern Echo about people being rescued from their cars in the Upper Teesdale area.
There were only 5 days that could be described as anticyclonic. Four of these were in the first week.
Snowfall, Winter 2019-20 Better late than never
Well, after a winter composed almost entirely of wind, rain and relatively mild temperatures, the first snow arrived in Durham five days before the end of February.
Amounts aren’t huge (2-3”), but at least it stopped the winter from being thrown on the ‘No snow’ pile.
It’s melted rapidly though after turning to rain. By mid-afternoon, the snow had completely gone and air temperatures were up to about 6 degC.
Storm Ciara batters the UK
After spending a fair bit of time concentrating on the wind speeds, we sort of forgot about the rain that Storm Ciara was going to deliver. Thankfully we missed some of the squall lines that hit further south. My total for rainfall was only 22.9mm, but obviously far more fell on the catchment areas on the Pennines.
A walk to the riverside was needed and as I was coming down from Gilesgate I decided the best way was the pathway that goes directly to the river down past Hild and Bede College.
When I got there, the water was already over the riverside path in both directions.
To my amazement, there were still people trying to jog along the riverside paths! They were using the little levee between the path and the raging river, with all it’s little hidden dips and gaps that are there to catch the unwary. This guy sensibly swapped onto the path and just got his feet wet.
Two kids then came along on their pushbikes. They at least stopped where I was and asked me if I thought it was safe to go on. I explained that it got deeper heading towards Baths Bridge. One of them tried and turned back when it got axle-deep. I wasn’t joking! Once their pedals were underwater it was impossible to pedal anywhere.
A near fatal accident involving the river
I then witnessed something so stupid that I only realised afterwards that we could have had another river fatality on our hands. However it does explain why so many supposedly intelligent people manage to end up in the River Wear.
A girl (a student I think) approached from the rowing club direction. She had a rucksack on and she’d decided she was going to just walk along the grass levee. Unlike the jogger in the photo above, she didn’t fancy getting her feet very wet on the path, so chanced walking the line on the levee, two feet from the raging river. This all took place about 30 yards to my left.
Unknown to her, and concealed by the water, was one of those little muddy ‘chutes that wildlife use. She stepped down Into it and then fell over. She was up to her waist in water, right on the edge of the river. If she’d over-balanced because of the rucksack, she’d have been swept away. It could have even pulled her in, so strong was the current. Somehow, she managed to haul herself back out. How dim can you be????
A lucky escape and as she came past me, dripping wet, she still seemed quite oblivious to the fact that she’d come so close to losing her life. I really do despair sometimes about how little common sense people have. 😳
River Peaked at 3.05m
The river finally peaked at 3.05m. That is about 2.6m above normal.
The recent trend has been that winter months have been on the dry side. January 2020 was very much in that vein. It was also very mild for first week. On the 8th/9th there was overnight snow in the High Pennines, although only rain fell elsewhere. This was heavy in places. This was actually the wettest day in Gilesgate, Durham, with 13.6mm of rain recorded, the wettest day since 19th November last year.
It was very mild and wild on the 11th, and the strong winds continued until the 13th/14th as a depression passed through, with some snowfall in Scotland and some of the higher ground in the North. Still nothing in Durham.
From 16th the High pressure began to build and by the 19th of January an atmospheric pressure of 1048.9mb recorded in Durham. It’s rare to get anywhere near 1050mb, even in winter. Nationally, it was the highest barometric pressure since 1957. The official record wasn’t broken however, this remains as 1053.6mb, recorded at Aberdeen on the last day of January 1902.
On the 23rd of January the region was awoken by an Earthquake of magnitude 2.8 (on the Richter Scale) recorded on Teesside just before 6am. Some local wags reckoned it had done several million pounds worth of improvements.
Late in the month on 27th/28th there was snowfall in Northern Ireland and W Scotland from a Polar Maritime returning airstream behind a depression. The High Pressure was gone and we were back to wild and windy weather as the Jetstream powered up again. It became very mild again as the month closed.
The rainfall total was surprisingly low at only 31.4mm. There were 15 dry days, which is good fot January. This was the second winter month in a row this has happened. It’s quite welcome after the wet June-November spell last year.
February 1986 (who remembers that one then?) was one of the coldest Februaries ever recorded in modern times.
Trevor Harley, in his famous weather summaries pages, describes February 1986 thus:
“February 1986. Extremely cold (-1.1C CET), with frequent light snowfalls. The second coldest February of the 20th century (after 1947), and fourth coldest month of the twentieth century overall (and the last time a month had a mean beneath zero before December 2010).
The month was similar to January 1963 in being a completely blocked month, with a high centred over north Russia bringing some very cold air east. Winds were easterly for 23 days, and were of virtual calm for the remaining days. It was the most easterly month on record apart from February 1947. Easterly winds had already set in by the end of January.
Snow cover was widespread in the east, where it was very dull: Cupar (Fife) registered only 41 hours sunshine all month. In the west it was very dry and sunny (144 hours sunshine on Anglesey, higher than summer months there; with no measurable rain at all in some western coastal sites). The lowest temperature was at Grantown-on-Spey, where it reached -21.2C on the 27th.
The month was most remarkable for the consistently low maxima; the temperature remained beneath 1C at Buxton (Derbuyshire) all month. The lowest temperature around Birmingham was -11.0C, at Elmdon, on the 21st, and the highest, just 3.8C on the 28th. There was freezing rain in the north Midlands. Up to 50 mm of glaze was recorded on broken power lines at Buxton on the 2nd.
Widdybank Fell, at 513 m above sea level in County Durham, remained beneath freezing all month, and had a total of 32 consecutive days beneath zero – probably a record “for a inhabited area” (Trevor has obviously never been to Widdybank Fell, it’s wild, desolate, and definitely not inhabited!). I remember our toilet freezing and a six inch icicle growing out of the toilet cistern overflow. I reckon this is the last time I experienced a temperature beneath -10C. The cold persisted into early March.
For some reason I find that February 1986 is often “the forgotten month” when one talks about extreme winters in Britain. Perhaps this is because there wasn’t any widespread serious disruption due to heavy snow over a wide area, perhaps because there weren’t any record-breaking low temperatures, and perhaps because the rest of the winter was unexceptional. Indeed, some parts of the country had no snow at all. Nevertheless, it was the coldest month since January 1963. It was also the second driest February of the century. Hence I make this the most interesting February of the century“.
Here’s a song by one of my favourite artists, Loudon Wainwright III. It was written during the cold spell in 1987, when Loudon was living in England.
Loudon Wainwright III – You don’t want to know (1987)
It was colder than a witches tit, colder than a Polar bear’s nose,
Colder than the shoulder of my old flame, colder than hell ever knows,
Not quite as cold as you think it is when the wind chill factors blow,
But at Centigrade and Fahrenheit it felt way below zero.
The electric duvet was cranked way up to 10, the gas fires were on full blast,
When i get the bills from both of those Boards i don’t know if the money will last,
I was fully clothed in my entire wardrobe but i still couldn’t feel my toes,
The pipes all burst and we had another first, the water in the toilet bowl froze.
When the radio ordered me to stay at home i obeyed though i was miffed,
But the roads were ice, there was a ton of snow, and when the wind blows snow will drift,
I was brushing and flossing my chattering teeth and in the mirror i saw my breath,
Half frozen watching the TV news, the other half of me was worried to death.
We’ve got helicopter rescues and freezing old ladies and the choochoo trains won’t go,
On the M4 there’s a 5 mile tailback, lorries jacknifing in the snow,
And it’s summertime down in Australia and what gets right under my skin,
On the TV they showing suntanned cricketers, they’re just rubbing it in !
And they’re saying it’s from Siberia, that Communist, Arctic zone,
What we’ve got is a Russian plot to make the World it’s ice-cream cone,
Whether we’re gonna get a break, the weatherman will not say,
I took my dog for a walk and he took a crap, you won’t smell it until April or May.
And the same thing happened here last year, but you don’t want to know,
In England people go around wearing raincoats and training shoes in the snow.
It was the coldest day on record, in the coldest week in memory,
It was the coldest month in the coldest year on the coldest night in history,
But don’t ask me just how cold it was, you don’t want to know,
On Centigrade and Fahrenheit it felt way below zero,
I’m talking Centigrade and Fahrenheit, it was way below zero.
Loudon Wainwright III – You don’t want to know (1987)
from the album “Therapy”
The harsh realities of the brutal winter of 1946-47 are chronicled here in a writeup of The Time Traveller clipped from the Northern Echo some time in the 1980s
The churches worry about war-devastated Germany, but most people say that Britain has enough to do in feeding herself. Rationing is worse than in the war – dwindling allowances of basic foods, “points” for others, coupons for clothes and since last July even bread, which has not been rationed before.
We are exhorted to export more, or expect still lower living standards and industry is short of coal. Mr. Atlee’s Labour Government is sadly handicapped in it’s attempt to inaugurate a new era of social welfare and industrial change, including nationalisation of industries like mining, which has been run by a National Coal Board since New Year’s Day.
The Weather looks ominous indeed
Now even the weather looks ominous. Indeed, the last twelve months has been the wettest for a generation, a wintry snap came before Christmas, and the New Year has been very wet; but a very cold easterly air current now covers the country. The first snow fell in midweek – accompanying a forecast of “Bread ration may be cut, less bacon and home meat, beer supplies to be halved immediately” – and today has fallen more generally. Tonight a wintry weekend is setting in.
FA Cup ties were played today in icy winds, and road accidents in one small area of County Durham have included a bus turning over near Bishop Auckland, injuring two of 30 passengers, and a Richmond couple injured when their car collided with a lorry near Bildershaw Bank; and tonight a car and lorry have collided on The Great North Road between Ferryhill and Chilton.
A boy of six and his eight year old sister have drowned in sliding on a frozen pond in Shropshire, and two boys aged eight and fourteen in a Berkshire pond.
Ten feet deep on the North York Moors
By tomorrow night the snow drifts will be six to ten feet deep on the North Yorkshire Moors, along with heavy snow in many other parts of the country, and gales along the East Coast and English Channel, with the wildest day for years in the Straits of Dover, snow on Hastings beach and the heaviest fall for three years at Falmouth in Cornwall.
Despite what it portends, however by Monday the weather will not yet displace such news as the breakdown of Anglo-Egyptian treaty negotiations, and the kidnapping of a judge and an Army officer by jewish terrorists in Palestine. Today, the gangster Al Capone has died in Florida, to which he retired in 1939 after his release from eight years prison for income tax evasion. This is also a weekend of air accidents.
Apart from a Hong Kong report of £1m in gold scattered down a hillside, with a Dakota’s crew of four dead, a Dakota crashed today on take off at Croydon, killing half of it’s two dozen occupants, and a Mosquito came down in a field near Kirkby Fleetham Hall, killing two pilots from RAF Leeming; and tomorrow a Dutch Dakota is to crash after take off in Denmark, killing six crew and sixteen passengers including the eldest son of the Crown Prince of Sweden and film star and opera singer Grace Moore.
A Literary star is to rise in The North East next Thursday with publication of a book of short stories by the young Ferryhill miner Sid Chaplin, who has already received the Atlantic Award for Literature.
The whole country paralysed
By then, the whole country will be paralysed. On Wednesday, there will be 14ft drifts in Essex and 16 degrees of frost that night in London, after gas and electricity cuts during the day, with most of it’s commuters snowbound at home for days to come.
The snow this weekend heralds a nightmare of continuous snow and frost, lack of coal made worse by frozen roads and railways, and colliers stormbound in the Tyne, power stations closing down and, by the end of the week after next, two million people out of work.
Surviving wartime regulations allow the government to fobid electric fires between set hours of morning and afternoon, to ban greyhound racing and suspend television and radio’s Thid Programme, and cut London transport. In the coldest February for over half a century, in snow, in worn clothes and leaking footwear, people are to find themselves trying to revive “wartime spirit” in a “Fuel Dunkirk”, collecting gasworks coke in prams and sacks and queueing for candles. A failure of the national grid and a total blackout will be barely averted in a fortnight’s time.
Slight improvement, then more snow in March
By mid-February, there will be a slight improvement but after a slight thaw and a fog blanket, snow is to return as March comes in, renewing the nightmare. Much of the land will be under an ice cap of snow old and new – a compacted six feet and more in Upper Teesdale and elsewhere – when milder air begins to creep in from the south west.
As the snow slowly melts, the soil remains icebound, vast lakes spread; and a gale on March 16th – ironically the first day of British Summer Time by the clocks – will precipitate a flooding disaster, while Scotland and Northern England are still an Arctic wilderness, York will see it’s worst flood since 1831.
For nearly eight weeks, snow is to fall somewhere every day, with most of the country snow-covered after this weekend. As April arrives with Easter, there will again be blizzards in the North Midlands and snowploughs out in the Peak District. Some sodden land will not re-emerge until May or June. After that, a hot summer is to bring droughts.
After 6 months of way above average rainfall, December has finally stopped the rot. As has been previously mentioned, the wet sequence started in June and ran all the way through to Novemeber.
What usually happens when December is dry is that it’s also frosty. This time, it’s been both mild here and on the dry side. There have only been 4 air frosts, spread equally across the month. (1st, 2nd, 18th and 31st).
The atmospheric pressure was pretty low and cyclonic from the 6th all the way to the 23rd, but all of the rain seemed to fall in southern areas (indeed some places down south were flooded) and largely bypassed Durham. Even though there were 23 days with measurable rain, the total for the month was only 31.2mm. The wettest day was the 10th, coming in with a total of 6.3mm. That was the only day with more than 5mm of rainfall in the month.
Temperatures were also pretty unremarkable, with the highest temperature a modest 11.5 degC on the 6th, right at the start of the cyclonic period. There were mentions of high temperatures in Northern Scotland around the 30th, with air coming around the anticyclone being further warmed by the Föhn Effect, but it didn’t affect Durham. Snow was none-existent in Durham City, although there were falls in the Pennines in mid month.
The mean maximum was slightly above the 1981-2010 average, but the mean minimum was nearly 2 degrees above normal, making the month 1.2 degC above average overall.
A new high temperature for the UK in December was recorded in Scotland on 28th. Warm air coming around the top of an anticyclone was further warmed by the Fohn Effect. The temperature hit 18.7 degC at Achfary in the Scottish Highlands.