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Gordon Hensman's Weatherview

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: January 17, 2014

  • Smeaton's Tower, preserved for all time on the hoe at Plymouth

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The Black Country –

Birthplace of Industrial Revolution

Weather in Dudley

21st – 31st December 2013


December this year was mild and windy. South-west winds predominated, bringing cool but relatively mild air for winter, from the North Atlantic. Successive depressions, passed by our western seaboard, bringing us numerous spells of rain, often accompanied by gale force winds.


1. Mean maximum 8, 46.5F

2. Anomaly +2.0

3. Mean minimum 1.8, 35.5F

4. Anomaly +0.2

5. Average of max. & min. 4.9, 40.5F

6. Anomaly +1.1

7. Highest/date 10.9, 51.5F 23rd

8. Lowest/date -0.6, 31F 29th

9. Number air frosts 1

10. Number grass frosts 5

11. Lowest grass/date -3.8, 25F 29th

12. Mean 30cm soil depth 5.3, 41.5F


13. Days with rain 9

14. Total fall 35mm

15. Wettest day 15.8mm 23rd


16. Mean relative humidity 9h 85%


17. Average at 9h 995mb

18. Highest/date 1015mb

19. Lowest/date 976mb 24th


20. N 0, NE 0, E 0, SE 0, S 0, SW 10, W 1, NW 0, CALM 0


1st 1537 On this day King Henry VIII,accompanied by his wife – which one I know not - rode on the ice covering the River Thames.


We like to divide the human race into opposite categories – day people, or night people; chocolate lovers or haters; tea or coffee drinkers; fish lovers and those who eat fish on sufferance. Well, you know the score. Another category consists of those who love the hills and mountains and those whose most decidedly do not and can't see the sense of mountaineering. I belong to the former, and my favourite mountain range is the Cairngorms in the highlands of Scotland.

This is the highest area of virtually uninhabited, high mountains in the British Isles with more than twenty miles of summits over 4,000ft. The unfortunate aspect of wandering these mountains is that they can be killers for the unprepared – and many lives have been lost due to a sudden blizzard or sudden onset of dense hill fog.Now we have the Mountain Rescue Services, with helicopters, in all our highlands, but this was not always the case.



1928 Two Glasgow students, Thomas Baird and Hugh Barrie, were lost in a Cairngorms blizzard as they scrambled across the high plateau. It seems likely that they were either buried in an avalanche or fell to their deaths. Whatever their fate, they became the first victims to be officially recorded as hillwalking deaths, even though climbing clubs had existed since the 1850s.


3rd 1695 Who first thought of lighthouses? We know that it goes back at least to Greek and Ancient Egyptian times, and the famous 'Pharos of Alexandria', in Egypt, is well known.

However, our coasts are some of the most dangerous in the world, and there have been thousands of wrecks over the centuries. On this date a ship called 'Constant', owned by Henry Winstanley, was wrecked on the infamous Eddystone Rocks, which are over 15 miles south of Plymouth. They are just above sea level at high tide but are a mass of foam during stormy weather.

Winstanley decided to build a lighthouse on the rocks. By 1698 a dim light shone out from his tower, and by 1699 the tower was increased in height to over 100ft. Unfortunately, they had no idea of streamlining the shape of buildings, and his design was thus fatally flawed.

However, there were no wrecks for the next five years. A great storm in 1703 swept the lighthouse, together with Winstanley, into the English Channel.



Another one was built in 1709 by John Rudyard, and this was smooth and narrow. It lasted until 1756 when it caught fire – being made of wood – and burned to the ground.

John Smeaton built the next one – completed in 1759 – and at last it was streamlined, and built with granite blocks which were keyed together like a jigsaw, tapering upwards to lower the centre of gravity.

Smeaton's lighthouse lasted until 1882 when the rock beneath it crumbled. It was re-erected on Plymouth Hoe where it can be seen today. It was replaced by a similar one which is twice the height of Smeaton's. Britain's lighthouses are now all automated and are no longer so vital with every vessel carrying modern means of navigation.

5th 1552 We have suffered from many gales so far this winter, but there is nothing unusual about this. There are records of 'great winds' over the centuries all over North-West Europe, often accompanied by storm surges in the North Sea.


1607 Three ships – Godspeed, Discovery and Susan, bound for America, were gale-bound after attempting to set sale for 'land along the Mid-Atlantic coast', granted to them by King James I.

When they finally set sail in April, and successfully reached North America, they founded Jamestown, Virginia – the first English settlement in North America. However, this settlement was doomed to extinction as a result of the combination of starvation, disease and antagonism with Native Americans.

1814 A north-easterly wind set in blowing away the fog of the previous week, which had covered much of England. It brought a great deal of snow and freezing conditions which lasted until almost the end of January.

1941 Do you know the word for a female aviator? It is Aviatrix, and probably our most famous was Amy Johnson. She took off from Blackpool Airport in thick freezing fog, and was never seen again. She was ostensibly delivering an aircraft – an Airspeed Oxford – to Kidlington Aerodrome (there's a redundant word if ever there was one!), near Oxford. A few hours later the wreckage of her plane was found in the Thames Estuary. There are several theories as to her fate – as you might imagine.

6th 1666 A thaw broke the ice on the Thames in London, enabling river traffic to move again from the 10th. The remainder of January was very mild.

1839 'The Great Wind', Oiche na Gaoithe Moire, in Irish Gaelic.

Countless ships were wrecked, houses were blown down in the North, and the bridge over the Menai Straits, between North Wales and Anglesey was damaged.

However, this was nothing compared to what happened in Ireland. It was caused by a massive depression, and one which is said to have been the worst storm to have hit Ireland in 500 years. Enormous quantities of sea water were thrown inland – particularly along the west coast where fish were found several miles inland.

The Midland Plain in central Ireland is flat with hardly any windbreaks, and winds here reached an incredible 150mph, 240kph. In Carlow the cathedral tower was removed, and many large country houses lost their roofs.

Windmills, ancient monuments, factories and barns were blown down. Incredibly, heavy tombstones were lifted up and found a mile or more away, and tens of thousands lost their homes.

Well, it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and this historical storm led to the development of the cup anemometer to accurately measure wind speed, by the Reverend Romney Robinson, Director of the Armagh Observatory.

1928 The Thames Barrier was constructed to prevent storm surges flooding central London, but on this date, a deep depression moving southwards over the North Sea, produced a classic storm surge just before dawn, forcing huge amounts of water up the Thames, already bank full with heavy rains. Battersea and Westminster were flooded, and two Underground stations – Temple and Greenwich, were flooded. The Tate Gallery was flooded when the Embankment in front collapsed.

The Embankment also gave way near Lambeth Bridge, flooding the basements of many houses. At least fourteen people were drowned.

7th 1709 The Thames froze over in London for five weeks.

8th 1982 "Wales is cut off!" The worst blizzard since the early 1940s raged for 40 hours, rendering practically every road impassable – including the M4. At Bridgend, several hundred drivers were stranded in the community centre for five days when their cars were buried.

Cornwall and Devon were also buried in snow, with the snow cutting off Torquay, Plymouth, Okehampton and Tavistock. The frost persisted for three weeks with some rivers frozen over. Operation Snowman was put into operation involving the army to clear the roads and deliver food and essential supplies by helicopter.

11th 1978 The Victorian piers were either badly damaged or washed away at Margate, Hunstanton and Clacton during severe gales.


12th 1804 Six hundred lives were lost when the 74 gun HMS York smashed into Bell Rock (Inchcape) – an ancient extinct volcanic plug, 25km off the Firth of Tay. Over the years hundreds of ships had been lost on Bell Rock, (named after the bell which was fixed to it in the 14th century.

However, it was stolen and there was no warning of the rock – which is 11 miles from the coast and covered by 16 ft, 5m of water at high tide – until a lighthouse was built in 1811 by the Stevenson family – the first of 97 manned lighthouses they built around our coasts.

13th 1805 Francis Beaufort devised the Beaufort Wind Force Scale with 0 as calm – marked by smoke rising vertically - and 12 as Hurricane force. He used simple and obvious observations of how the wind affected the sails of a full-rigged man-o'-war. He later modified it for landlubbers using observations on land, such as the behaviour of trees.

16th 1841 A sudden thaw of deep snow, together with heavy rain, resulted in 72 houses in the village of Shrewton, Wiltshire, being swept away by the River Till.

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