The Burns' Day Storm 1990

Sounds interesting. Set the scene then.
The winter of 1989-1990 was one of the stormiest winters on record. One of the peak periods of stormy weather during this winter occurred during the last third of January and more specifically on 25th January, Burns' Day. This storm was one of the worst of the 20th century and one of the top 10-15 storms on record. The reason why this winter was so stormy may lie in the fact that both pressure and temperature over the Iceland/Greenland areas were low through the winter. This will have enhanced the temperature gradient that fuels the jet stream which in turns helps determine where storms will track and how powerful they will be.

During the 20th century January was traditionally the stormiest month and there certainly was been an increase in storminess as the century wore on. The 1950's and 60's were one of the stormiest periods and he late 80's and early 90's was probably the stormiest period of the whole century. Other stormy periods include 1570-1620, 1690-1710, the 1790's and the latter part of the 19th century. Since 1990, there have been some shorter stormy periods, most notably late 1993 and December 1997 to January 1998.

What happened?
A rapidly deepening low tracked from Ireland across northern England/southern Scotland on the morning of the 25th such that by 12z the low, with a central pressure of around 950mb, was centred close to Newcastle. The highest gust from the storm was 108 mph, recorded at Aberporth in western Wales, whilst a 100m high crane in Birmingham city centre recorded a gust of 100mph. Gusts typically reached 70-80mph across the Midlands, where there is a return period of 50-100 years for gusts of this magnitude, and 80-100mph on the south coast of England. Many places had two peaks in the wind - the first associated with south-westerly winds on and just behind the cold front and the second associated with west to north-westerly winds which affected many place as the low began to move away from the UK (McCallum 1990). It was also locally the wettest day of the month in north-eastern Scotland, parts of Wales, Sussex, Cumbria and East Anglia and was the mildest day of the month in parts of Sussex (Hastings 11C for example) too. This storm also brought some snow to parts of Scotland.

This storm was one of the deepest depressions to affect the UK and what I would term its 'zone of extremely windy weather' was spread over a much larger area of the UK than the Great Storm of 1987. Consequently a much larger part of the UK was affected by this storm than the 1987 storm. This storm also occurred during the day which meant that there were more people out and about to be at risk from the storm and this explains why the Burns' Day storm death toll was more than twice that of the 1987 storm. Also, some parts of Wales and southern England recorded stronger winds than during the 1987 storm.

47 people were killed in the UK, the largest death toll from a storm since 1st February 1953 when the East Coast Storm Surge killed 307 people in England and many more in Holland. In Britain around 3 million trees were felled.

Surely Britain wasn't the only place affected?
Absolutely not. The Netherlands was also very windy. Here gusts of 145 km/hr were reported inland whilst the western coastal town of IJmuiden was the windiest place recording a gust of 155 km/hr, one of the highest gusts ever recorded in the Netherlands. 19 people were killed in the Netherlands, whilst 10 people were killed in both France and Belgium and 7 people died in Germany.This storm also dragged some very mild air across Europe into Russia where Moscow recorded a new record Janaury high of 3C (the average Janaury maximum temperature here is -9C).

COL January 1990 issue.
EDEN, P. (1995): Weatherwise. Macmillan, p323.
LAMB, H.H. (1991): Historic Storms of the North Sea, British Isles and Northwest Europe, Cambridge University Press, p204.
MCCALLUM, E. (1990): The Burns' Day Storm, 25 January 1990. Weather, 45, 166-173.
WRIGHT, P.B. (2000): Weather of the 90's, Westwind Services, p76.

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Dan Suri, 16 February 2001