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Gordon Hensman's Weatherview

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: February 15, 2014

  • Snow drifts. Something we've seen nothing of this year ... so far

  • Charles I wore two shirts to prevent him shivering on the scaffold

  • Lead pipes, poisonous, and prone to bursting

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THE Black Country –

Birthplace of Industrial Revolution

Weather in Dudley for January 2014

SUMMARY

The month was dominated by a strong, mobile south-westerly airflow from the North Atlantic. There was an almost complete absence of easterly winds, and complete absence of air from the north and north-west.

However, much of the air was, technically speaking, returning polar maritime. In other words, the air originated in cold regions to the north and north-west, and after moving southwards, down the central Atlantic, crossed the British Isles as air from the south-west. As a result, although temperatures were markedly above average, it wasn't as mild as south-westerly winds originating in tropical latitudes are usually.

This type of weather was the result of the constant stream of often deep depressions, steered by the jet stream high above, moving northwards along our western seaboard, bringing incessant rain and often damaging gales – especially in western areas.

Many regions, especially in the south west, have suffered severe flooding. The Somerset levels have been, and still are, badly affected with many homes flooded since before Christmas. Soil water levels were already full to overflowing as a result of December and November rains, and the January rain has been unable to sink down as the water tables were at the surface. The rain has only been able to drain on the surface, through the flooded rivers and streams.

No January since 1971 has had so few air frosts, and this is a reflection of the moisture laden air, and cloudy night skies. Snow and sleet fell on only 4 occasions on the high ground of the Black Country Ridge, and I suspect that readers living in the Black Country lowlands will not have seen a single flake!

TEMPERATURE

1. Mean maximum 7.5, 45.5F

2. Anomaly +1.9

3. Mean minimum 2.3, 36F

4. Anomaly +1.0

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

6. Anomaly +1.5

7. Highest/date 10.6, 51F 5th

8. Lowest/date -0.5, 31F 14th

9. Number air frosts 1

10. Number grass frosts 11

11. Lowest grass/date -4.0, 24.5F 14th

12. Mean 30cm soil depth 5.1, 41F

EXTREMES 1971 - 2014

A. Highest mean maximum 9, 48.5F 2007

B. Mean maximum 5.6, 42F

C. Lowest mean maximum 0.9, 48.5F 1979

D. Highest average 6.2, 43F 2007

E. Average 3.4, 38F

F. Lowest average -1.1, 30F 1979

G. Highest mean minimum 3.5, 38.5F 2007

H. Mean minimum 1.3, 34.5F

I. Lowest mean minimum -3.2, 26F 1979

J. Extreme highest 13, 55.5F 26th 2003, 9th 2007

K. Extreme minimum -11.8, 10.5F 13th 1987

PRECIPITATION 2014

13. Days with rain, snow 27

14. Total 133.4mm

15. Wettest day 13.5mm 8th

16. Days with snow, sleet 4

17. Days with snow lying 9h 0

EXTREMES 1968 -2014

L. Wettest month 133.4mm 2014

M. Driest month 14.7mm 1997

N. Wettest day 28.2mm 21st 1988, 15th 1999

O. Most days snow falling 21 1986

P. Most days snow lying 9h 24 1979

Q. Deepest snow 35cm 10th 1982

HUMIDITY 2014

18. Relative humidity 9h 91%

AIR PRESSURE

19. Average at 9h 1000mb

20. Highest/date 1017mb 11th

21. Lowest/date 979mb 28th

WIND DIRECTIONS

12. N 0, NE 0, E 2, SE 1, S 11, SW 12, W 3, NW 0, CALM 2

WHERE IGNORANCE IS BLISS,

IS IT FOLLY TO BE WISE?

The following appeared in the Black Country Society's quarterly magazine, the BLACKCOUNTRYMAN, and other news sources. The internet giant Facebook labels Black Country faggot-lovers as being homophobic and using the phrase "Black Country" as a racist term, and bans them from its site. Does one laugh or cry at this?

PAST FEBRUARY WEATHER

7th 1979 Winter this year was particularly cold and snowy. The Scots game of curling can only be played on a frozen lake, and with our variable climate, cold conditions sufficient to freeze lochs/lakes, are not very frequent.

The Grand Match, or 'Bonspiel', began at 11.30 on this date on the frozen Lake of Monteith, near Stirling. The match was between the North of Scotland and the South of Scotland, involving six hundred teams of four players.

Safety regulations prescribe an ice thickness of eight inches – such a thickness is rare. There have only been thirty three such matches since 1847 – only three since 1945.

8th 1698 Sea ice 8 inches thick was reported from the coast of East Anglia.

1823 There was a severe snowstorm across the North of England.

1649 A bitterly cold day saw the execution of King Charles I. He was taken to the scaffold in Whitehall to be beheaded, wearing two shirts so that he would not shiver in front of the huge crowds, giving the impression of being afraid! (I wouldn't have cared what the crowd thought – I would have been s--- scared, terrified!)

9th 1891. Sir Hugh Munro published the first Munro Table, which listed some 283 mountains over 3,000 feet, 914m. Since then all these mountains have been known as Munros.

10th 1799 In Arctic conditions, a lost traveller would do best if they dug themselves a snow hole. This would keep them out of the wind which can rapidly cause hypothermia, and can save their lives. On this date a housewife who had been shopping in Cambridge was thrown from her horse and wandered off across open land. She became buried in a deep drift, where she remained for eight days. A passer by spotted a handkerchief waving above the snow, and on investigation, found the hapless Elizabeth Woodcock.

I guess that after the snowfall, skies had cleared and an intense frost froze the snow into a solid block of ice, from which she was too tired to dig herself out. If you have ever tried to clear new snow from a path or drive, you will know how hard it is when it has frozen.

11th 1895 I remember my grandfather telling me about this extremely cold and frosty winter, which produced some record low temperatures. Despite the frost there was little snow, so the soil froze to almost unprecedented depths. Water mains in those days were buried close to the surface, and, therefore, susceptible to severe frost which could penetrate at least a foot down. After this event when water mains all over the country burst as a result of freezing, legislation made deeper burial compulsory.

BURST PIPES

I wonder if older readers remember the misery of burst pipes? I do.

Indoor plumbing used to be by means of lead pipes, which were easy to bend into position. However, it had the unfortunate characteristic of inflexibility. This meant that when the water in the pipes froze solid – a far from rare occurrence as houses were very badly heated and insulated in those days, the lead pipe split. This was not detected until the thaw came along and sprayed water all over the place. Would you believe it, but many houses had their rising main water pipe on an outside wall!

LEAD POISONING

Lead will dissolve in water, and this could cause lead poisoning in humans. In hard water areas the inside of a lead pipe becomes coated with calcium carbonate, thus preventing the lead entering the water.

However, where the water is soft ie. does not contain dissolved limestone, the lead continues to be dissolved. Cold water mains were then made of cast iron, (now replaced by plastic), so the length of lead pipe from the mains to the indoor tap was very small, minimising the amount of dissolved lead. However, I note that Black Country water is hard and Birmingham water is soft – this accounts for a lot in Brum!

It used to be widely used in paints, and there are cases of children gnawing wood painted with red lead, suffering from lead poisoning. It is now a banned substance as far as its use in paints.

PIPE-FREEZING FROSTS

For long, the lowest temperature was that measured in the British Isles at Braemar, over 1,000 feet up on Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire, on 11th February 1895.

It was -27, -17F. The same temperature occurred again at Braemar, on 10th January 1982, and has subsequently been equalled at Altnaharra, a little hamlet in Sutherland, on 30th December 1995.

In England, in 1895, Buxton, Derbyshire recorded a minimum of -24, -11.5F. The Thames was blocked between 9th and 17th by thick ice floes 7 feet thick.

12th A cricket match was played on the ice at Ely. I bet it was a slippery wicket!

13th 1695 It had been a long hard winter, but on this date a thaw broke the long frost. However, just as everyone thought winter was done with, the frosts returned in March with heavy snowfalls driven by a frigid easterly wind - just like last March 2013!

1740. Jonathan Swift – the satirical author of Gulliver's Travels, writes about the severe winter in Ireland, which lasted until March – destroying the potato crop which was sown in autumn. It was followed by a dry spring, and the snow in May destroyed the wheat and barley crop. Snow returned in October by which time there was widespread starvation resulting in three hundred thousand perishing. The suffering led to mass emigration, mainly to North America.

The year was known in Irish Gaelic as Bliain an Dir, the year of slaughter.

This is not to be confused with the Great Potato Blight 100 years later.

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