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Gordon Hensman's Weatherview

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: August 11, 2014

  • The entrance to Fingal's Cave, which inspired Felix Mendelssohn on one stormy visit

  • Admiral Robert Fitzroy

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The Black Country

Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution

Weather in Dudley for July 2014

SUMMARY

A rather slack pressure gradient prevailed for most of the month across the southern part of the British Isles, producing light and variable winds. Temperatures were well above average, especially by day. Rainfall was above average but was concentrated in thundery activity around the 18th, 19th, when unstable hot air arrived from the south, with the rest of the month being practically bone dry.

TEMPERATURE

1. Mean maximum 23, 74F

2. Anomaly +2.3

3. Mean minimum 12.6, 54.5F

4. Anomaly +0.6

5. Average of max. & min. 17.8, 64F

6. Anomaly +1.3

7. Highest/date 27.5, 81.5F 25th, 26th

8. Lowest/date 9, 48F 14th

9. Lowest grass/date 7.6, 45.5F 14th

10. Mean 30cm soil 17.5, 63.5F

EXTREMES 1971- to date

A. Highest mean maximum 26.3, 79.5F 2006

B. Mean maximum 20.7, 69.5F

C. Lowest mean maximum 17.7, 64F 1980

D. Highest mean average 20.4, 68.5F 2006

E. Mean average 16.5, 61.5F

F. Lowest mean average 13.7, 56.5F 1980

G. Highest mean minimum 14.6, 58.5F 2006

H. Mean minimum 12.3, 54F

I. Lowest mean minimum 9.7, 49.5F 1980

J. Extreme highest 34.7, 94.5F 19th 1980

K. Extreme minimum 5.7, 42.3F 15th 1977

RAINFALL 2014

11. Days with rain 10

12. Total fall 83.8mm

13. Wettest day 32mm 18th

14. Days with thunder 3

EXTREMES 1968- to date

L. Wettest month 146.3mm 2007

M. Driest month 18.2mm 1979

N. Wettest day 68mm 17th 2001

HUMIDITY

15. Mean relative humidity 9.0h 75%

AIR PRESSURE

16. Average 1018mb

17. Highest 1025mb 2nd, 22nd

18. Lowest 1003mb 5th

WIND DIRECTIONS

N 6, NE 4, E 3, SE 0, S 2, SW 5, W 4, NW 5, CALM 2

TWO RECORD MONTHS

According to the American National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, June this year was the hottest ever world-wide. This followed May which was also the hottest May ever recorded. The suggestion is that this is in some way related to the developing El Nino in the Pacific Ocean.

PAST WEATHER

1st August 1861 The Times printed the following. It was the first published weather forecast.

"General weather probable during the next two days: North – Moderate westerly winds; fine, West – Moderate south-westerly; fine, South – Fresh Westerly; fine."

It was produced by Admiral Robert Fitzroy at the beginning of the Meteorological Department of the Board of Trade.

In 1861 Fitzroy moved from the task of simply collating observations sent back from ships, to weather prediction. He designed and distributed a barometer, and using the new telegraph network, started to issue storm warnings at ports. This was expanded to regional forecasts.

As you might have guessed, accuracy was not of a high order, and soon the new science of meteorology was treated with derision. The Times dropped the forecasts in 1864, and the following year Fitzroy cut his throat.

1841 So called freak weather has always been experienced in these blessed islands. If anyone is disillusioned by our present politicians, then don't be naive – find out what they got up to in the past – it will make your hair stand on end! You will be pleased to know that on this date, the House of Commons lost more than seven thousand window panes as a result of a hail storm. At the same time Old Scotland Yard lost ten thousand panes, ten thousand in Leicester Square and almost every pane in the glass arcades in Regent Street, Somerset House, Burlington Arcade and the picture gallery in Buckingham Palace.

I can only think that there must have been a squally wind dashing the stones sideways to smash panes of glass in a vertical wall.

2nd 1784 A new mail service delivered by smartly liveried coaches started out from Bristol for London, and soon became the pride and joy of the country. The time schedule needed a steady 6 mph, but this was impossible to keep to due to the inclement weather. Forty years later it was replaced by the railways.

3rd 1879 Another hail storm shattered all the glass in the greenhouses in the Thames valley. Kew Gardens had three thousand smashed panes in the Temperate House and seven hundred in Paxton's Great Palm House.

1829 The "Muckle Spate" (great flood), washed away stone bridges and devastated farmers' fields in the valley of the River Spey, Scotland. Fortunately, no whisky distillery was destroyed!

4th 1666 I bet not many readers will know about this naval event. The English navy was saved yet again by the weather. The Dutch Fleet sailed up the Thames estuary and was only prevented from landing and destroying the British Fleet by storms. They were subsequently defeated at the St James Day Battle.

5th 1931 A downpour of rain amounting to 48mm,1.9 inches, in 75 minutes fell on (fact is stranger than fiction) – Puddletown in the valley of the River Piddle, Dorset. Apparently, Thomas Hardy based his fictional village of "Weatherbury", in Far from the Madding Crowd, on Puddletown.

6th 1956 A staggering 4 feet, 1.2m, of hail fell on Tunbridge Wells. Do I need to say that traffic came to a standstill?

7th 1829 The west coast of Scotland is an amazing place, with just about the most rugged coastline in the British Isles. The Long Island, or, Outer Hebrides, composed of Britain's most ancient rocks – Lewisian gneiss, at least 600 million years old – stand aloof to the west and receive the full force of Atlantic Gales. Lewis and Harris form the northern islands with North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Barra pointing southwards. The Inner Hebrides – mainly the remnants of extinct volcanoes some 55 million years old – lie along the rocky coast, with Skye and Mull the largest. Most Hebrideans still speak "the Gaelic" – very similar to Irish Gaelic.

Just along Mull's south coast is the Isle of Staffa, containing Fingal's Cave, renowned for its hexagonal columns.

On this date Felix Mendelssohn visited the cave whilst a storm raged, which inspired him to write the opening theme of The Hebrides, overture for orchestra in B minor. It's usually better known as Fingal's Cave.

Incidentally, hexagonal columns of basalt are nor rare by any means. Some of the old quarries on the Rowley Hills had fine examples of this geological feature before continued quarrying destroyed them. The columns form when molten magma is intruded into rock formations, and cools so rapidly that only micro crystals have time to form. Contraction, as a result of cooling, produces the approximate hexagonal cracking.

Probably the Giant's Causeway in Northern Island is the most famous of these features. Both it and Fingal's Cave are legendary creations of the giant Finn MacCool.

ALWAYS GET A WOMAN

TO LIGHT YOUR FURNACE

A couple of months ago, John Fadelle sent me an intriguing e-mail about an old Black Country tradition in the processes of iron production. Apparently, it was considered unlucky for a man to light a furnace – it had to be a woman. John wrote:

"Paul Johnson, who worked at the British Steel Springvale Furnaces, Bilston, recalls that when the one remaining blast furnace, named Elisabeth, was "blown" in 1960 following a periodic relining, the ceremonial task was performed by retired manager Frank Hartland.

"The workforce considered this would bring bad luck – and shortly afterwards the furnace suffered a "chilled hearth", stopping the ironmaking process. This meant lengthy and expensive recommissioning to clear the furnace's contents and replace its relining.

"The Steelworks News of December 14 1978 reported that the risk was not taken again and the "blowing in" was subsequently carried out by young ladies on the four remaining occasions before Elisabeth was finally mothballed in 1977, and demolished soon after.

"This brought to an end iron-making in the area – and in the Black Country. Elisabeth had produced over 5.5 million tons of pig iron during her life."

I would be surprised if there were no other traditions based on superstition, associated with industry of all sorts in the Black Country. Perhaps readers can inform us of any such traditions or practices. Do you remember the blast furnace Elisabeth before its demolition? It was quite a landscape feature.

LANGUAGES

The English are notoriously bad linguists, except for Black Country folk, who are bilingual – English and Black Country (we want one word for Black Country dialect – any suggestions?) Perhaps this is the result of not having a land frontier with another country. It may well be that the spread of English across the world has fostered our smug complacency about learning another language – after all, if we shout loud enough they will understand, won't they!

As one who can get by in French, and has a smattering of Spanish and a little more Italian, I appreciate the value of speaking other languages. "... it is about developing cultural sensitivity, international awareness and a global mindset – qualities that can contribute to the UK's soft power in the world."

The Erasmus scheme is operated by the European Union and allows students to experience living and studying in other countries. However, it is lamentable that twice as many French, German and Spanish students avail themselves of these opportunities as British students. One reason given for this disparity is because British students, apparently, feel their language skills are lacking.

Some work placement offers, organised by universities, provide a flat in Paris for a year, or other European cities, with a salary. What an opportunity! As a trading nation, we can only lose out unless we change our mindset about, primarily, European languages – we need to converse in their language when we sell our goods.

It was a very backward decision in 2004, to stop the requirement for schools to study a language beyond the age of 14. Not so long ago – I mean within my life time – it was impossible to go to university without a modern European language qualification. Try to get on a language course in our local colleges – it's almost impossible. Dudley College, for example, destroyed an excellent language department where even Mandarin Chinese was taught.

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