THE BLACK COUNTRY
Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution
Weather in Dudley for 11th – 20th February 2014
CORRECTION: I regret that last week's weather report was incorrectly attributed to January instead of the first ten days of February.
This remarkable winter continued with another period of rainy, windy weather. Rain fell every day, and a couple of hours of wet snow gave 1cm lying on the Black Country Ridge at 9h, 11th.
The rain total was not excessive, but coming after weeks and weeks of rainy conditions, it just exacerbated the flood problem. The winter half of the year is when soil moisture is topped up after the drier conditions of summer. Water tables rise until they reach the surface, and then no more water can soak in. Long forgotten springs burst into life, and water courses flood with any extra precipitation.
So the main consequence of the weather has been the disastrous floods along the River Severn and its tributaries, and the River Thames and the Somerset Levels where floods have covered the low lying land for several weeks.
In places ground water has forced its way to the surface, making things worse; especially in the Thames valley where saturated porous gravel terraces laid down in glacial times have been discharging water from beneath.
Once again temperatures were above average. It seems that Dudley Weather Station will break its record for air frost. So far we have only had three air frosts – the lowest by far, for any winter up to mid February in the last 44 years.
1. Mean maximum 8.2, 47F
2. Anomaly +1.8
3. Mean minimum 2.4, 36.5F
4. Anomaly +1.0
5. Average of max. & min. 5.3, 41.5F
6. Anomaly +1.4
7. Highest/date 11, 52F 10th
8. Lowest/date -0.1, 31.8F 16th
9. Number air frosts 1
10. Number grass frosts 7
11. Lowest grass/date -4.0, 24.5F 16th
12. Mean 30cm soil depth 4.5, 40F
13. Days with rain/snow 10
14. Total fall 28.1mm
15. Wettest day 10.2mm 12th
16. Days with snow/sleet 2
17. Days with lying snow 1 11th
18. Days with hail 3
19. Relative humidity at 9h 87%
20. Average at 9h 996mb
21. Highest/date 1011mb 19th
22. Lowest/date 978mb 15th
23. N 0, NE 0, E 0, SE 0, S 2, SW 5, W 2, NW 1, CALM 0
PAST FEBRUARY WEATHER
20th 1608 Severe frost had set in on the winter solstice 21st December, and had continued with hardly any break until this date. The Thames froze over and was used as a public highway. The ice was so firm that ... "men, women and children, went boldly upon the ice in most parts; some shot at prickes; others bowled and danced, with variable pastimes, by reason of which concourse of other people, there were many that set up booths and standing upon the ice, as fruit sellers, victuallers, that sold beere and wine etc."
At York the River Ouse froze over to the extent that a horse race was held on it from the tower at St. Mary's Gate End ... "under the great arch of the bridge to the Crain at Skeldergate postern."
The Rivers Seven and Wye were also frozen so hard, "that trowes and boats could not pass and oxen and sheep were roasted whole on the ice."
20th 1861 A gale not only destroyed the tower of Chichester Cathedral, but also part of the Crystal Palace, London.
21st 1903 Thick deposits of dust formed along the edges of the great ice sheets during the last cold period of the ice age some 12-14,000 years ago, in some parts of the world. A few years ago I went to Central China to see these features, called "loess", named after a little town in southern Germany, where such deposits were first recognised more than 100 years ago.
In China they are hundreds of metres thick and have been used since time immemorial for dwelling places. Holes are dug and along the bottom of the sheer sides, caverns are excavated in the soft material. They are cool in summer and warm in winter. However, earthquakes in the past have buried tens of thousands.
THE GOOD HOUSEWIFE'S ENEMY
Along the south coast of England there are similar deposits called locally "brick earths". These deposits are formed from Aeolian dust and fine sand – simply meaning they have been blown by the wind from dessicated regions such as the great deserts.
The nearest such region to North West Europe is in North Africa – the Sahara. Even now – perhaps several times every year – this dust reaches the British Isles. On this date there was a fall of dust all over England and Wales.
1814 Apparently, the first use of a contraption called a snow plough occurred on this date, after the Secretary to the Post Office demanded that regional post masters find better ways of keeping the mail coaches running during snowy weather.
22nd 1692 This is the date of the infamous massacre of the MacDonalds by the Campbells, in Glencoe. It is a tale of treachery and bloodthirsty killing, causing enmity between the two clans which lasts to this day.
23rd 1901 Claude Monet was one of the best known French Impressionist painters. He was staying at the Savoy, London on the sixth floor, admiring the view towards the River Thames and Waterloo Bridge and the Houses of Parliament on a foggy day. He had previously painted a foggy scene of the sun rising at Le Havre in France, calling it "Impression, Sunrise". I think that I am correct when I say that this gave rise to the style of painting called Impressionism.
He was captivated by the ever-changing scene on foggy days, and he was one of very few people who delighted in the polluted fogs of Victorian Britain. Well, it takes all sorts ...
23rd - 26th 1933 A depression moved across Ireland from north to south, keeping the rest of the British Isles in a bitterly cold airstream. A severe snowstorm ensued. Harrogate and Huddersfield both had 75cm, 30 ins, in three days, and Buxton 72cm, 28 ins. As you might expect roads over the Pennines were completely blocked.
In the south east, Whipsnade, high up on the chalk Chiltern Hills had 60cm, 24ins, but London only had 5cm, 2in. I have no record of how much fell on the Black Country.
26th 1990 I daresay you have forgotten all about these floods in North Wales. A very high tide and northerly gales caused most of Towyn to be flooded as the sea over-topped the sea wall. Some 2,400 homes were damaged and the inhabitants evacuated.
Many Black Country folk regularly visit the sunny North Wales coast, so I expect that there will be a few readers who experienced this frightening event. If so, write and tell us all about it.
27th There was a severe gale caused by a deep depression crossing Scotland. A train was reported to have been blown off a viaduct in Lancashire, but I have no details.
A GOOD IDEA
The United States is about to create seven "climate hubs" to help ordinary people, especially farmers, as they try to cope with extreme weather events which to a large extent, seem to be partly created by global warming. It will enable scientists and the government to be kept in the picture as weather events unfold.
North America has extreme weather events which are worse than we experience in temperate North West Europe. Tornadoes immediately spring to mind, even though the UK has the most tornadoes per unit area for any part of the world. These are, of course, mostly very weak affairs, despite the occasional damaging event such as the one which struck part of Birmingham a few years ago.
Every summer searing heat-waves strike the interior, and are far more unpleasant than any hot spell we have ever had in the British Isles. They are balanced by the frigid outbreaks of Arctic air, which occur several time each winter, with freezing temperatures reaching the Gulf Coast.
Summer thunderstorms are an almost daily occurrence in Florida in summer, to which those readers who have been on holiday there will be able to testify.
NORTH AMERICA –
CONTINENT OF EXTREMES
The geography of North America is largely responsible for many extreme weather events. To the east, paralleling the Atlantic Coast are the Appalachian Mountains, and to the west are the wide Western Cordilleras – known as the Rockies. There is, therefore, nothing to stop extremely cold air from the Arctic Ocean rushing southwards, bringing blizzards as well as damaging frosts even to Florida.
At the same time there is nothing to stop hot moisture-laden Gulf air rushing northwards. Severe weather is created where these two contrasting air streams meet.
Readers Write In
I am always pleased to receive letters about my scribblings – even when they correct my mistakes. John Withers is quite right about the British settlers in North America. The first attempt was on Roanoke Island, but they disappeared within a year. What I should have said is that the Jamestown settlement in 1607 was the first permanent settlement. And, of course one of the vessels was the Susan Constant.
However, I would caution him to be careful about the disappearance of Amy Johnson in January 1941. We don't know what her mission was, we cannot be certain that she was the only one in the plane. One report tells of her plane being shot down over the Thames estuary by the RAF when she didn't send the correct colour code of the day when requested, therefore being identified as an enemy aircraft. Another report says she was sucked into the screws of HMS Haselmere, whose captain perished trying to rescue her.
It seems that we can only conclude that we do not know the whole story.