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Gordon Hensman's Weatherview

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: February 20, 2014

  • Chichester Cathedral in the middle of the 1600s, with spire still intact

  • Another storm heads for Britain ...

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The Black Country –

Birthplace of Industrial Revolution

Weather in DUDLEY

for 1st – 10th January 2014

SUMMARY

It was very wet and mild as the stormy winter continued. Frequent deep depressions brought rain every day, totalling more than the usual rainfall for the whole of February.

It was the wettest start to any February since before 1969, when rainfall records started at this station. Once again the winds were strong causing some structural damage – including my fence!

TEMPERATURE

1. Mean maximum 6.2, 43F

2. Anomaly +1.1

3. Mean minimum 2.7, 37F

4. Anomaly +2.1

5. Average of max. & min. 4.4, 40F

6. Anomaly +1.5

7. Highest/date 8.6, 47.5F 2nd

8. Lowest/date 0.1, 32.3F 10th

9. Number of air frosts 0

10. Number of grass frosts 3

11. Lowest grass/date -3.1, 26.3F 10th

12. Mean 30cm soil depth 4.9, 40.5F

PRECIPITATION

13. Days with rain/sleet/snow 10

14. Total fall 60mm

15. Wettest day 15.4mm 10th

16. Days with snow/sleet 1 10th

HUMIDITY

17. Mean relative humidity at 9h 84%

AIR PRESSURE

19. Average at 9h 989mb

20. Highest/date 1004mb

21. Lowest/date 973mb +5th (969mb 14.00h)

WIND DIRECTIONS

22. N 0, NE 0, E 0, SE 1, S 2, SW 4, W 3, NW 0, CALM 0

STORMY WEATHER

North Atlantic winter weather is stormy more often than not, with a constant procession of depressions/lows tracking across North West Europe from south west and west, particularly affecting our western seaboard. These lows very occasionally circulate right around temperate latitudes – 40 to 60 degrees, but the bulk of them die away as they move northwards. Cyclogenesis is the scientific name of the birth of temperate latitude depressions, and the most prolific "maternity ward" is located off the coast of North America.

At this location there is a very large difference of temperature, between the North Atlantic Drift (please, not the Gulf Stream), which brings water from the Caribbean, and the frigid air streaming off North America, particularly in winter. At this point it is necessary to know that the air in the lowest layer of the atmosphere – the TROPOSPHERE – circulates all the way around the globe in temperate latitudes, from west to east.

We hear a lot about the jet stream nowadays, but on the surface and up to about fifty to sixty thousand feet, depressions develop along fairly well known lines – first delineated by the Norwegian School of Meteorology in the 1920s, under the leadership of Bjerknes.

They form along the Arctic Front which forms the boundary between cold and warm air. Caught up in the west to east circulation, the front soon develops a sinuous shape which enables the warm air to move over the cold air as it moves eastwards, and behind this, the cold air to undercut the warm air to the south. The next stage is when a distinct V shape develops with the angle pointing to the north. It contains the warm and damp air, and is known as the WARM SECTOR, containing tropical maritime air. The rest, by now a storm, is called the COLD SECTOR containing polar maritime air.

Where the two fronts meet, air pressure drops forming a low pressure centre, around which the wind blows in an anticlockwise direction. You can see this on a weather chart as the thin concentric lines – rather like contour lines on an Ordnance Survey map which show altitude.

THE WEATHER WE GET

1.Approach of warm front – leading edge of warm tropical air.

High silvery clouds – cirrus, altus clouds which are lower, follow on, then the lowest nimbo-stratus clouds from which rain or snow falls. The wind will be from the south until the warm front crosses over, then they go back to the south west. There is a noticeable rise in air temperature in the warm sector, and hills and coasts typically experience drizzle and hill fog.

2. After some time there is a relatively short period of heavy rain, sleet or snow as the cold front crosses. The clouds will be towering cumulus which can be seen to extend to great heights.

3. The weather will be relatively fine with blue skies dotted with showers from very deep cumulus clouds, sometimes with squally winds and thunder. It will be cooler.

FLOODS, STORMS – CLIMATE WARMING TO BLAME?

The exceptionally stormy weather this winter is within the parameters for our type of climate – Western Margin, Cool Temperate, but could it have been due to global warming?

I have been sceptical for quite a while about any direct link between the warming and any particular weather event, but I cannot close my eyes to the growing body of evidence that warming – slight though it may seem to the man in the street – is linked to a greater and rising frequency of extreme weather events.

It is rather like smoking and lung cancer. It is well nigh impossible to link tobacco directly with cancer, but on examination of hundreds of thousands of smokers, the statistical correlation is beyond doubt.

Not withstanding the deniers of global warming caused by emissions of greenhouse gases – and there are still a number around, notably the unsuccessful one time Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson – certain scientific facts cannot be denied.

a) Carbon dioxide and methane – the main culprits – absorb long wave heat radiation from the planet's surface. Several 19th century scientists warned of the consequences of burning fossil fuel – mainly coal in those days, returning the warmth of the Carboniferous Period.

b) The proportion of both gasses has increased considerably since the Industrial Revolution started in the Black Country.

c) Geological evidence shows that during periods of much warmer global weather, carbon dioxide levels were much higher than now. Conversely, low CO2 leads to colder weather.

d) A warmer lower atmosphere means more energy available to evaporate water from the oceans and for the formation of storms.

e) The global "weather machine" is interlinked in such a way it is well nigh impossible to say what causes what. So at present the cycle of repeated depressions hitting North West Europe, is linked to unusually cold weather over North America, which in turn is linked to warmer than normal water in the North Pacific, which is linked to warmer water in the Indian Ocean, which in turn is linked to the melting of Arctic ice, and so on, ad infinitum.

CONCLUSION

There is an indirect relationship between global warming – erratic though it may be – and extreme weather events. Remember that although the atmosphere obeys the laws of physics, it is a chaotic system – in other words, largely unpredictable. The last decade saw a slowing down of warming, due to the absorption in the oceans of much of the extra heat energy, but it is unlikely to last.

PAST JANUARIES

14th 1579 After a four day snowfall, the temperature rose and melt water flooded the River Thames. The water rose so high that Westminster Hall was flooded, and when it went down, fish were left stranded on the floor.

15th 1760 I don't think that I would have liked to have been a sailor in a sailing ship in the past – even in the magnificent Royal Navy. But then, I suppose every aspect of life was so much more dangerous than now. HMS Ramilles, an 82 gun second-rate ship of the line, was returning to Plymouth, when a gale drove it onto the rocks off Bolt Head, south Devon. Practically the entire crew drowned – 699 in all.

16th 1962 There was a particularly severe westerly gale across northern Britain, which produced a gust of wind measuring 177mph on the isle of Unst – the northern-most of the Shetlands. However, it was not recognised as official.

17th 1962 When we get floods along the east coast we tend to forget that countries on the other side of the North Sea are also affected. On this date Hamburg in Germany was severely affected by floods from a storm surge.

17th 1959 Great Britain's second airport is Gatwick, which began as a race course in Victorian times. Races there were often cancelled due to fog, which formed over the site which was situated in a shallow hollow. Cold air drains down at night in calm weather, to form fog and frost – not the ideal location for planes to land and take off.

On this date a Turkish Airlines Vickers Viscount (first turbo-prop airliner), crashed on landing killing 12 of the 22 on board. One survivor was the Turkish Prime Minister, Adnan Menderes. The fog and frost situation has apparently improved, because such is the size of the airport, that the micro climate of the site has warmed sufficiently to prevent much fog developing. It has warmed for the same reason that cities are warmer than open countryside – the tarmac, concrete, stone, brick etc. all absorb heat during the day and radiate and conduct it to the air during the night.

19th 1649 King Charles I, executed ten days earlier, lay in St Georges Hall until today, when his body was brought out for the funeral. It snowed, covering the black hearse. Charles was known as the white king because he chose white robes at his coronation. Now, the snow dressed him in white for his funeral.

20th 1861We have endured frequent strong winds this winter, but as far as I am aware, no major public building has been affected adversely. A depression moved northwards on this date, across England and Wales, and first produced a north-easterly gale blowing on the spire of Chichester Cathedral.

When its centre had moved to the north, the wind raged from the south west, the opposite direction. It was built by Sir Christopher Wren and contained a surprising innovation – a swinging balance to counter balance the spire's movements in high winds.

It had lasted a long time, but on this date the wind was too much so the spire started to collapse towards the south west, (I would have guessed, to the north east), and then was reported by eye witnesses, to slowly descend into the body of the church, taking down much of the tower beneath with it.

Don't run away with the idea that this collapse was unique – far from it. In 1362 Norwich Cathedral's tower collapsed; 1660 the spire at Ripon Cathedral fell through the church roof; in North Wales much of the top of the roof of St. Asaph's Cathedral was blown in during a gale; in 1548 the tallest structure in the world – the leaded spire of Lincoln Cathedral – was blown down.

For my money Lincoln Cathedral is Great Britain's finest – owing much to its site on top of Lincoln Edge, soaring above the surrounding plain. It reminds me of the Cathedral at Chartres in France, which can be seen like a sailing ship at sea, from a great distance. Chartres has the reputation of being the finest of the many Medieval Gothic cathedrals in Europe.

However, there are so many fantastic cathedrals – not only in these blessed islands – but all over Europe. They are testimony to profound religious faith – not forgetting the cloying power of the Christian Church in medieval times.

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