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.
“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.
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“.