My Ten Most Memorable Weather Events

I used to live in Birmingham, England, and one day, Monday 5th July 1999, there was a tornado less than half a mile from my house. This tornado damaged some buildings and caused a bit of excitement. Now, whilst I'm not really into tornadoes I still wouldn't mind seeing one (not from too close though!!!) and seeing as though this tornado happened in a street which I often walked down (especially, conicindentally on a Monday night when there was a pub quiz at my local!) I suppose there's an off chance that had I been around I might have seen it.

Unfortunately I didn't see this tornado; instead I was out of the country at the time and found out about this tornado whilst illicitly and surreptitiously leafing through English newspapers in Leiden, the Netherlands a couple of days later. Once my disbelief that something this meteorologically exciting could have happened on my doorstep during the few days per year that I was out of the country it occured to me that had I seen anything of this tornado (and even if I'd been at home I guess I still wouldn't have seen anything!), it would very much have been my most memorable event!

Instead, this tornado joins weather events like being in Florida during the El Nino influenced Atlantic Hurricane season in 1997 and therefore not seeing any hurricane related weather, in being in my ten most memorable weather events that didn't happen in my presence! A real case of 'right place, wrong time', I think! I have, however, come up with my ten most memorable weather events. As you read, bear in mind I am a child of the 70's and lived on the east or north-east coast of England until I was 18, then lived in Birmingham until the summer of 2000 and now live in Soest in the middle of the Netherlands, so some of the more spectacular British weather happenings of the last 50 years (such as the winter of 1962-63 and Great Storm of 1987) simply didn't affect me.

Anyway, without further ado, here, in chronological order, goes:

1) Wintry Weather during late December 1981
At this time I lived in Marske-by-Sea which is near Middlesbrough and on the north-east coast of England. Snow lay on the ground on Christmas Eve and I remember being hopeful of there being some kind of white Christmas for the first time in my life. Sadly it wasn't to be and in the event there was no snow around where I lived on Christmas Day. I do, however, remember sliding around on extensive sheets of ice which had formed as flooded areas on the cliff tops froze over shortly before or just after New Year.

2) White Christmas in Holland in 1985
Half of my family are Dutch and I have spent many Christmas's in the Netherlands. Now, having, up to this point, lived on the coast all my life I had never seen a huge amount of snow (and in spite of living about as far inland as you can get in the UK for 10 years still haven't - a testimony to the mild winters of the 1990's!!!). Christmas Eve was dry for most of the day where I was in Doetinchem (near Arnhem) in the eastern part of the Netherlands. The evening started dry but by 2300-0100 it started to snow and by Christmas morning there was a deep covering of snow. I can't remember how much snow there was but it certainly looked really impressive and I remember a 6 mile car journey that morning proving rather difficult.

3) The remnants of Hurricane Charlie 25th/26th August 1986
Old Atlantic hurricanes never really die. Instead, once they finished being hurricanes their remnants often end up merging with an existing non-tropical Atlantic weather system which then seemingly gleefully absorbs the extra engery, rain and clouds provided by the remnants of the hurricane. With all this extra 'nourishment' on board these Atlantic weather systems then end up producing some pretty poor weather somewhere in western or north-western Europe.

One example of this very process occured on the 25/26th August 1986 when the remnants of Hurricane Charlie crossed Britain producing some extremely wet weather in some places. I was on scout camp in The Peak District when the remnants of Hurricane Charlie affected Britain. We went on an overnight hike from our campsite on the 25th and I remember going to some kind of outdoor pursuits centre and to get a weather forecast which indicated rain was on its way. It started raining during the mid to late afternoon so we were pretty wet by the time we reached our overnight campsite which was near a river close to the Snake Inn on the Snake Pass. Rain became heavier through the evening and after dark and around 0000-0100 the river burst its banks and flooded us out. My most striking memory of the night is that although our tent door was 'facing' the flow of the river there was no water in the tent when we were woken up by the developing flood. Consequently I tried to stuff what I could into a rucksack to salvage as many dry clothes as possible but one of the people sharing my tent undid the zip and let what seemed a significant portion of the burst river into the tent thus undoing my attempts to salvage some dry clothes!

4) The early August heatwave, August 1990
I was living in Scarborough during this heatwave and whilst I don't recall being aware of records being broken at the time, I do remember that conditions certainly felt hotter than I would usually expect in the summer. An examination weather records from this heatwave suggest that temperatures on the 3rd  reached 33-35C in Scarborough and these are some of the highest temperatures ever recorded here.

5) Thunderstorm, Birmingham June 10th 1993
I witnessed a cracking thunderstorm over Birmingham between 1630 and 1900 on 10th June. There wasn't much lightning but the rain was the most intense I have ever seen in this country and certainly on a par with frontal rainfall seen one September day in Florida and an August downpour I got cuaght in southern Japan. I remember roads near the University being flooded and lots of cars getting stuck and I got soaked to the skin stepping outside for only a couple of minutes. The June 1993 issue of COL (a British publication produced by weather enthusiasts - click hereto visit their homepage) lists a catalogue of chaos and disaster over the area and 'highlights' include 25mm rain falling in one hour in one suburb (Harbourne) and 51.7mm rain falling at the University of Birmingham, from where I, in fact, witnessed this storm.

6) Thunderstorm, Scarborough 30-31 July 1994
Scattered thunderstorms affected the UK on the 30th and late on the evening of the 30th a thunderstorm which lasted 2-3 hours broke over Scarborough. I had the good fortune to be in the 'right place at the right time' for this one as Scarborough was reportedly about the worst hit place by these storms that night! The rain was heavy and there was lots of nice lightning, probably among the best I've seen. Storms of this intensity don't affect this part of the UK that often though and, for me, this is what makes this storm memorable. For the record, 27.4mm rain was recorded and the local paper reported numerous instances of flood damage.

7) Active winter troughs and cold fronts, February 22nd 1995 & December 12th 1998
I've not seen that many intensely active squalls or cold fronts that have given a sudden burst of hail or thunder. I remember one at around 4am in November 1994, but the cold front that crossed the UK on 22nd February 1995 was something else. A sudden and intense burst of hail affected Birmingham during the mid-afternoon and the things I remember most are how ominously the sky darkened just before the hail started and that there was no thunder which I found quite surprising. The active trough that crossed the Midlands during the evening of December 12th 1998 was also pretty exciting. A friend in Walsall rang at 2000-ish to tell me that the weather was rather exciting and I could hear thunder over the 'phone. Minutes later in central Birmingham the wind audibly increased and I went outside to witness squally winds and a sudden hail storm accompanied by thunder.

8) The Summer of 1995
I remember June 1995 starting cool and often cloudy with predominantly east or north-easterly flow before a heat wave set in late in the month and persisted through into mid to late August. Nationally, June was the 10th driest this century, July was one of the 5 warmest on record and August became the warmest August in the Central England Temperature Series. Overall, the summer of 1995 was the third warmest on record. I loved this summer, partly because as a weather forecaster I had about 6 easy weeks at work, and partly because during the cool weather in June I fielded numerous enquiries asking if this was the worst summer ever. I replied that there was a long way to go yet and there was bound to be some good weather for at least part of the summer and as luck would have it there was!

9) Snow in Scarborough, Christmas 1995
Weatherwise this period was most notable for the severe weather over parts of Scotland, the Shetlands in particular. However, the weather systems that affected these parts so badly also brought some snow to the Scarborough area. I was in Birmingham when the snow fell, but friends of mine in villages near Scarborough were cut off on Boxing Day. I went to Scarborough on the 29th and found a reasonably even 20-25cm covering of snow over my parents garden (1 mile inland), and this is probably the deepest snow I've seen in the UK. What was striking about this wintry weather was how localised it was; the train journey from York to Scarborough revealed no snow until very close to Scarborough.

10) Severe Glaze January 23rd/24th 1996
Until January 1996 I cannot remember ever experiencing any glaze or freezing rain but the night of 23/24th January provided a spectacular example as freezing rain affected much of Wales and central England for a long spell during the night. I remember going to work on the morning of the 24th and barely being able to stand up in the city centre due to a widespread covering of glaze. It really was like an ice rink and it was little wonder that hospital admissions in the area were up by 50% that morning. Reading a little about previous 'ice storms' afterwards I would have thought this glaze event could be compared quite favourably to those of January 1940, late January/early February 1986 and January 1987.

On the whole I think my ten most memorable weather events are quite tame in comparison to those who can remember the 60's and 70's and I could certainly have done with the Selly Oak tornado to liven the list up a bit! Being brought up on the North Sea coast has meant many of the great British weather events of the 70's and 80's were either somewhat tempered by location - the Great Storm of October 1987, for example, was just another spot of windy weather when it reached Scarborough and the cold winters of '78-79 and '81-82 didn't seem especially cold or snowy where I was - didn't happen at all or perhaps simply seen through the eyes of a minor were completely understated!

That's not to say the region where I grew up doesn't have interesting weather of course. It does, but really spectacular weather events - huge thunderstorms, active squalls or heavy snowfalls - just didn't seem to happen where I was growing up! Since moving to Birmingham in 1991, however, I've been much more aware of the weather and have seen some much more exciting and much more extreme weather than when I was young, hence weather events from the 1990's dominate my list. I can't help but wonder though how these events will stand up against what is to come in the next 25-30 years? I imagine that if I made a similar list in 2020 it would be slightly more interesting! You never know, by then the UK or Netherlands might have had the decency to finally produce a day with a high of 40C at wherever I'm living will have been rendered spectacularly snowbound at least once!

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Dan Suri, 16 February 2001