1981

An extraordinary April and the coldest December of the twentiethc century, together with some outstanding summer storms, make 1981 an outstanding year. The winter before (1980-81) also had several northerly outbreaks that brought snow to the north. It was also a very sunny winter (207 hours in London). This year also saw the highest number of tornadoes and waterspouts on record, most of them occurring in the autumn. The record number of tornadoes (104) for one day was set in November. For once the sunniest places in Britain were not on the south coast or Channel Islands: most remarkable of all is that the sunniest place in the UK in 1981 was Leuchars (Fife) and the sunniest place in England was Boulmer (Northumberland). Four of the six sunniest places in the UK that year were on the east coast of Scotland.


January. Slightly milder than average. 20 cm of snow brought Glasgow to a standstill on the 16th.

February. Heavy snowfall across Wales and the Midlands on 22-23rd; up to 30 cm in places.

March. The second wettest of the century in England and Wales, with widespread flooding. 125 mm of rain fell in Snowdonia on the 21st. As 125 mm had already fallen that month up to that date, there was considerable flooding as a result. At least it was very mild.

April. It was quite sunny in the first half, particularly in the north. In some places it was the warmest first half of April for twenty years, but the second half as the coldest of the century; hence temperatures overall were not too far off average. It was cloudier at times in the south, with some rain. Thunderstorms gave 83.6 mm of rain at Horsham on the 14th, leading to severe flooding. 86 mm of rain fell at Horsham (Sussex) on the 14th. Around Easter most of the country was cloudless. Cold weather came south from the Arctic on Easter Monday, the 20th, as northerly winds set in. Then very cold air swept south on the 22nd, interacting with a complex low moving east across the Midlands to bring snow. It was -11C at Dalwhinnie (Highland) on the night of the 23rd. There was a maximum of only 1C at Leeming (Yorks.) and Nottingham on the 24th. From Birmingham to Nottingham the afternoon maxima did not exceed 3C from the 24-26th. In hilly districts the temperature remained permanently subzero. There was a great blizzard with thunder on the 24th and 26th; particularly affecting the Pennines, the west, southwest, and even Salisbury Plain and the Cotswolds. Thunder and northerly winds of 40 mph. There was 20 cm of snow on the night of the 25th across southern and western England and Wales: 66 cm was reported in Gloucestershire. Level snow of 60 cm around the Peak District with 20' drifts reported. The snow was wet and drifted in very strong winds: 20' high drifts were recorded in Derbyshire and Staffordshire. The Snake Pass in Derbyshire was closed because of the risk of an avalanche. There was widespread disruption to power supplies, farming (particularly on Dartmoor), particularly livestock, and traffic. Branches snapped under the weight of wet snow and coming into leaf. The thaw led to serious flooding in the east Midlands, in some places the worst since 1947. Hence this month just shaves it as the most interesting April for weather of the century.

May. A cold start with some frost and even snow showers at the start of the month. It became warmer in the second week, reaching the mid 20s by the 11th.

June. A dull and cool month, with frequent northerlies after midmonth. There was a maximum of only 12C in parts of the south on the 26th. Heavy rainfall over east Kent.

July. There were notable thunderstorms on the 9th. An afternoon storm in central London gave 58 mm of rain in forty minutes and caused widespread disruption. Large hail and six lightning flashes per minute, and wind squalls up to 48mph. Flooding around Kings Cross and Tottenham Court Road. Lightning death at Yeovilton (Somerset). As the storm moved northeast, Romford town centre was flooded to two feet deep. Two thunderstorms at Brentwood (Essex) gave 104mm of rain on the 9th. Another storm gave 80mm of rain in 80 minutes at Littleover (Derbyshire). An evening storm gave 54mm in one hour at Bury St Edmunds. On the 11th there was a notable downpour in Glasgow, with 18mm in 15 minutes. There was a cold spell later in the month, with parts of eastern England only reaching 12C on the 24th.

August. A warm (16.2C CET), sunny, and dry month (very dry in the southwest). The 5th was an interesting day. It was almost 30C in London (29.5C at Kew - the hottest day of the year), but cooler further north.113 mm of rain fell at Manchester airport on the 5-6th, and 132 mm fell at Tarpooley; 96 mm of it overnight. Eaton (Cheshire) received 132 mm in 24 hours. It was a fine evening sunny evening (23C) in Manchester on the 5th. The rain was due to thunderstorms associated with the passage of a cold front. There were also violent thunderstorms in London on the 5-6th (35 mm of rain in one hour from 9.30am, and 48 mm in three hours). Flooding and lightning damage, with widespread disruption around London. At the height of the storm it was almost dark; it was pictured on the front page of The Times the next day.

September. Fine, warm and sunny during the first ten days, but then things went downhill. Extremely wet overall, with 140 mm of rain.

October. A very unsettled month that was also mostly cold and wet. It was very wet at the beginning of the month in the north. On the 2nd to 3rd, 100 mm of rain fell in 24 hours in areas around the Irish Sea. At the same time, there was snow on the Scottish mountains, and some areas were affected by a severe NE gale. There were severe gales in places on the 19th and 20th, and then there were many small tornadoes (29) associated with a cold front across England on the 20th. There was a maximum of only 5C in the south on the 25th.

November. Mostly mild and very wet in the north. An outbreak of tornadoes on the 23rd: 104 touched down over 5.25 hours (the largest number recorded in Britain in one day), as a pronounced cold front moved southeast across the country. There was widespread damage to property, roofs ripped off, trees uprooted, and in Northamptonshire a caravan blown into a lake.

December. A wonderful month: the coldest the twentieth century (0.3C CET), and also very snowy. It started and ended mild, but there was a severe wintry spell from the 8th to the 27th. As the month started a warm front moving around a large high SW of Ireland brought temperatures of 15C to Aberdeen on the 3rd. As the high slipped away cold fronts brought progressively colder air south. Very cold air with hail and snow reached Shetland on the 4th. A depression moved southeast across the country on the 7th, bringing some very cold air south after it. A high developed over Greenland. Rain turned to heavy snow, with a sharp temperature fall, on the 8th; here was transport havoc in London following the snow. There was freezing fog on the 10th. There were some exceptional temperatures in a northerly airflow. On the 11th, the minimum around Glasgow was -13C, and the maximum the next day only -5C. As a low crossed northern France on the 11th, there was widespread heavy snowfall in the south (26 cm at Heathrow). Clearing skies, fresh snow, still air, Arctic air, all add up to one thing: very low temperatures. Hence the following night it was even colder: the minimum at Shawbury (Shrops.) was -22.6C on the night of the 11-12th, a maximum of -12.1C the following day, and then a minimum of -25.1C on the night of the 12-13th. It was already down to -22C by 6pm on the 12th! This was the lowest reading in December this century until 1995. I remember we sat around cheering the temperature down those nights. Temperatures of -20C were quite widespread. Another depression gave a real blizzard (snow and wind speeds of 95 mph in the south west) on the 13th. A storm surge up the Bristol Channel led to extensive flooding. The Queen had to stay the night in a local pub in the Cotswolds as rocks were blocked. By this time there were 10" of snow in London, and 3' drifts at Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales. There were gales and flooding in the south on the 14th as it turned slightly milder, with gales and rain and a rapid thaw. More snow on high ground in the west on the 15th-16th, and in Scotland on the 17th. Flooding in the Bristol Channel area.High winds added to the widespread disruption: on the 19th the Penlee lifeboat capsized, with the loss of 16 hands. (A reminder that however much we enjoy severe weather, it can be tragic for some.) The weather then turned cold again, with more snow, particularly on the 20th in the east. There was snow on the ground, but no snow fall on the 25th, so not a technical white Christmas. There was a lot of dense freezing fog around. Snow lay for three weeks in many places. There was widespread flooding at the end when a thaw set in. I remember it being really cold: the Cam was frozen, and people pushed shopping trolleys across it. I was too apprehensive (or wise) to try this myself. Hence this is my most interesting December of the century.