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Gordon Hensman's Weatherview

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: January 12, 2014

  • Memorial to those lost on the Iolaire

  • The Tay Bridge, with missing middle section following the disaster

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The Black Country –

Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution

Weather in Dudley for

11th – 20th December 2013

SUMMARY

THIS WAS a very mild ten days, as a result of a vigorous south westerly air flow, bringing tropical maritime air from the warmer parts of the North Atlantic, saturated with moisture.

A constant succession of deep depressions formed along the eastern coast of North America and swept eastwards and then northwards. There were occasional incursions of colder polar maritime air, which mainly affected places further north from the Black Country, giving us a few sharp showers with hail.

Rainfall was a little above average, with the heaviest falling to the west of us in the Cambrian Mountains. Winds were very strong at times with minor structural damage in places.

TEMPERATURE

1. Mean maximum 9.3, 49F

2. Anomaly +3.2

3. Mean minimum 3.4, 38F

4. Anomaly +1.7

5. Average of max. & min. 6.3, 43.5F

6. Anomaly +2.4

7. Highest/date 11.8, 53.5F 15th

8. Lowest/date 0.5, 33F 20th

9. Number air frosts 0

10. Number grass frosts 5

11. Lowest grass/date -1.8, 29F 20th

12. Mean 30cm soil depth 6.5, 43.5F

RAINFALL

13. Days with rain 8

14. Total fall 25.7mm

15. Wettest day 12.3mm 18th

HUMIDITY

16. Mean relative humidity at 9h 86%

AIR PRESSURE

17. Average at 9h 1016mb

18. Highest/date 1024mb 17th

19. Lowest/date 1000mb 19th

WIND DIRECTIONS

20. N 0, NE 0, E 0, SE 0, S 3, SW 5, W 1, NW 0, Calm 1

NEAR EAST SNOWS

You may have recently seen pictures of a snow-covered Jerusalem, as well as the distressing sight of Syrian refugees shivering in their tents. Whilst North-West Europe has enjoyed the relative warmth of a strong flow of air from the North Atlantic, what used to be known as the Near East has suffered from a very cold outflow of air from Central Asia which produced a severe snowstorm in Syria and Palestine.

Pictures of Jerusalem covered by a foot deep layer of snow may have surprised some people, and views of refugees living in flimsy tents in the Bacquar Valley of Lebanon speak for themselves. Some readers may be surprised to learn that there is nothing all that unusual in snow in these lands which gave rise to two of the world's religions – Judaism and Christianity.

ALTITUDE

Jerusalem is 2,454 feet above sea level which means that the city is markedly colder than the Mediterranean coast to the west. Temperatures drop off with altitude by about 1F per 300 feet, or 1C per 100m, so when it is 10C, 50F on the coast in Haifa and Jaffa/Telaviv, it is 5.5, 42F in Jerusalem. That difference is quite enough to produce a snowfall in Jerusalem when it is a chilly rain on the Mediterranean coast.

Some figures you may be interested in are the temperatures in Jerusalem throughout the year. December average is 7.8, 46F, January 6.7, 44F, February 9,48F. Summers are very hot – June 21.2F, 70F, July and August both averaging 23, 73F.

From May to October the months are virtually rainless, then the rains begin in November with 2.5 ins, December 5.7 ins, 142mm, January 6.2 ins, 155mm, February 4.6, 115mm, March 3.5 ins, 87.5mm, and April a meagre 1.5 ins. The total for the average year is 24.7 ins, 617mm which is about 6 ins, 150mm less than we have in the Black Country.

Much of the land is plateau-like and quite mountainous in places. The mountains of Lebanon reach over 3000m and in the mountain called Jabal Al Baruk, 3088m, 9232ft.

The heavy snowfall these mountains experience in winter is very important for the maintenance of the flow of rivers in summer, and for irrigation of crops.

NEAR EAST, MIDDLE EAST

AND FAR EAST

The French say. "Plus ca change, plus ca la meme chose." This simply means: the more things change, the more things remain the same. The above geographical names are essentially correct but the way we use them has subtly altered. The Near East was the Eastern Mediterranean – Anatolia, the Holy Land of Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula.

The Middle East was India, (now India, Pakistan, Bangladesh), Burma/Myonmar, Ceylon/Sri Lanka.

The Far East was South East Asia, China and Japan, Indonesia, Philippines.

What has happened is that the term Near East has been dropped.

PAST DECEMBERS

25th 1981 There was 19 cm of lying snow, with a maximum temperature of -0.5, 31F in Dudley.

2010 Christmas day had 11 cm of lying snow and an overnight temperature of -6.8, 20F.

26th 1813 Boxing Day was very foggy in London with visibility down to 20 yards. This fog lasted until 4th January when the wind picked up and blew it all away.

1903 The south and east of Scotland experienced bitter snowstorms until the 30th.

27th 1694 A frost that lasted throughout January froze the River Thames.

1812 Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France, dreamt of uniting Europe under his control. He was opposed by Great Britain, and of course, failed to achieve this dominance.

But he was not a complete failure, as we have him to thank for the metric system, Celsius instead of Fahrenheit, and, I believe, driving on the right, not our way on the left. However, a great frost which lasted most of the winter in Western Europe, set in on this date just as Napoleon's army attempted to take Moscow. The rest is history, as the savage Russian winter froze the invading army to death.

The treacherous Adolf Hitler tried the same during the Second World War, in 1942, by turning on his ally, Soviet Russia, who had made a peace treaty in August 1939 with the Germans – the Molotov – Ribbentrop Pact. Hitler's army met with the same fate as Napoleon's army – it was the Russian winter whichdefeated them as much as the Soviet Army.

1836 An historic event occurred today when an avalanche killed eight people in southern England. Now this event is, as far as I am able to ascertain, the only such event in recorded history in the south of England.

It occurred at Lewes where the River Ouse has cut through the South Downs to form a very steep-sided valley. A snowstorm blew masses of snow from the east, to form a gigantic cornice 330 feet above some houses beneath. A sunny day ensued, thawing the cornice which fell onto the houses beneath with explosive force.

Cornices forming on the side of mountains in the Alps, often trigger off avalanches in the deep snow beneath. If you live on the Black Country Ridge, you may well have noticed during that powdery late March snowfall earlier this year, cornices forming as snow was blown from one side of a roof to the other.

28th 1879 It is difficult for landlubbers like Black Country folk to understand the power of a strong wind. Inland we are used to sudden gusts and calm lulls, but few of us will have experienced a steady gale which is sustained without loss of power.

Wind loading is the force on a structure by a strong wind. In Victorian times no real research had been carried out to measure this force, and the figure of 10lb per square foot was the rule of thumb estimate. Now we know that four to five times that is the correct figure. However, this was a serious underestimate which had disastrous consequences.

The Tay Bridge was built across the Firth of Tay to connect Edinburgh and Aberdeen, slicing about an hour off the journey time. Unfortunately, it was 'jerry built'. Queen Victoria had opened it the previous summer, but even before this, there had been reports of passengers complaining of a "strange motion", iron-tie bars chattering in the wind, and rivets, nuts and bolts being found on the sand beneath. Painting gangs reported movement as trains crossed.

A gale blowing on this night saw a whole train with seventy five passengers plunging from the central section into the icy firth beneath. The official enquiry concluded that it was badly designed, badly built and badly maintained.

29th 1287 I don't think that the Norfolk Broads are as well known as in the past. They are a series of wide, shallow winding lakes close to the city of Norwich, ideal for sailing and generally "messing about in boats," as Rattie put it in Wind in the Willows.

A terrific storm in Medieval times created them as a result of water flooding in from a storm surge in the North Sea. They were primarily the result of peat cutting, for the clergy especially in Norwich, leaving huge shallow depressions alongside the sluggish river of East Anglia. These were flooded in the storm surge and their origin forgotten about until quite recently.

30th 1900 As a result of very heavy rains, the River Severn rose to record levels, particularly at Worcester.

1951 A severe gale affected mainly Scotland causing wide spread damage.

31st 1918 The First World War was a national disaster, even though we defeated the Germans. The personal loss to countless families doesn't bear thinking of, and this following tale is enough to start a flow of tears in all but the hardest hearts.

Hogmanay is the most important festival in Scotland, and when the armed yacht "Iolaire", set sail from the Kyle of Lochalsh, on the mainland, the weather was fine and clear.

There were 284 soldiers from the Outer Hebrides bound for home from the trenches – more than the legal number – but there were only sufficient lifeboats and lifejackets for 100 of them.

During passage to the town of Stornaway on Lewis, the weather changed to a southerly gale with squalls of sleet. You know what happened don't you, and perhaps you would prefer not to read about it.

The Iolaire struck rocks just outside Stornaway harbour, in raging seas. Even though the vessel was only 20 feet away from the shore 205 men were drowned. Nearly every family in the Outer Hebrides grieved for someone lost, in this worst peacetime maritime disaster in the country's history – and after many of them had spent four years in the trenches.

The effect on the islands was incalculable – many emigrated over the next decade.

I wish you all a Healthy, Happy and Prosperous New Year.

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