1986

1986 was most memorable for its amazing February. There was a notable autumn drought of 42 days in parts of the midlands and north Wales. The coldest year n the UK CET series since 1963.


January. A mixed month; wet but sunny. A low moved SE across Britain on the 28th and 29th, bringing sleet and snow from central England northwards. The winds turned easterly on the 30th, however, presaging the forthcoming severe February.

February. Extremely cold (-1.1C CET), with frequent light snowfalls. The second coldest February of the century (after 1947), and fourth coldest month of the twentieth century overall (and the last time a month had a mean beneath zero before December 2010). The month was similar to January 1963 in being a completely blocked month, with a high centred over north Russia bringing some very cold air east. Winds were easterly for 23 days, and were of virtual calm for the remaining days. It was the most easterly month on record apart from February 1947. Easterly winds had already set in by the end of January. Snow cover was widespread in the east, where it was very dull: Cupar (Fife) registered only 41 hours sunshine all month. In the west it was very dry and sunny (144 hours sunshine on Anglesey, higher than summer months there; with no measurable rain at all in some western coastal sites). The lowest temperature was at Grantown-on-Spey, where it reached -21.2C on the 27th. The month was most remarkable for the consistently low maxima; the temperature remained beneath 1C at Buxton (Derbuyshire) all month. The lowest temperature around Birmingham was -11.0C, at Elmdon, on the 21st, and the highest, just 3.8C on the 28th. There was freezing rain in the north Midlands. Up to 50 mm of glaze was recorded on broken power lines at Buxton on the 2nd. Widdybank Fell, at 513 m above sea level in County Durham, remained beneath freezing all month, and had a total of 32 consecutive days beneath zero - probably a record for a habited area. I remember our toilet freezing and a six inch icicle growing out of the cistern overflow. I reckon this is the last time I experienced a temperature beneath -10C. The cold persisted into early March. For some reason I find that February 1986 is often "the forgotten month" when one talks about extreme winters in Britain. Perhaps this is because there wasn't any widespread serious disruption due to heavy snow over a wide area, perhaps because there weren't any record-breaking low temperatures, and perhaps because the rest of the winter was unexceptional. Indeed, some parts of the country had no snow at all. Nevertheless, it was the coldest month since January 1963. It was also the second driest February of the century. Hence I make this the most interesting February of the century.

March. Cold and unsettled with strong winds later in the month. The biting cold easterlies of February persisted for the first few days of March 1986. There were blizzards across England on the 1st. Aviemore recorded -16C on the morning of the 1st, and over much of the south and east temperatures were beneath freeezing all day, giving the coldest March day on record in many areas. Atlantic fronts started to encroach on the 3rd as high pressure retreated to the south, and the thaw reached all areas by the 4th. We could flush our toilet again. The first day in the year anywhere in the UK that the temperature came close to 15C was the relatively late date of 18 March. It was a very stormy end to the month, with gusts of 110 mph in Edinburgh on the 20th, with people literally blown off their feet. The all-time UK wind speed record was set on the 20th, with a gust of 173 mph on the summit of Cairngorm Mountain (it measured 63 mph in the valley below). The Severn Bridge was completely closed to traffic for the first time ever on the 24th. A poor, windy, thundery Easter (with Easter Sunday falling on 30 March this year).

April. Cold (5.8C CET) and wet. The coldest and wettest AprilCold (5.8C CET) and wet. The coldest and wettest April for over 60 years in Northern Ireland, with 100 mm of rain in 48 hours midmonth. There were 19 days of snow with 7 days of snow laying at Glenlivet. Similarly there were 17 days of snowfall (5 laying) at Exton (Exmoor), and 10 days of snowfall at Lyneham (Wilts.). There was a very low minimum of -10C at Lagganlia (Inverness) on the 18th. The temperature didn't exceed 15C anywhere in Britain until 4 April, and it took until the 26th to exceed 18C.

May. Very wet in the northwest.

June. It was cool until the 11th. It was wet and windy on the 10th, with heavy snow in the Cairngorms. One of the warmest June nights of the century was on the 27th in Exeter, where the minimum was 22C.

July. Slightly cooler than average, with some very low minima on the 24th: +0.5C at Eskdalemuir and -1.2C at Carnwath.

August. Cold (CET 13.7, the lowest since 1956) and wet, with a very wet and windy Bank Holiday, thanks to the remnants of Hurricane Charley. The 25th was the wettest August Bank Holiday on record, with 25 mm+ of rain widespread, with 50 mm of rain over Wales, the Midlands, and the north of England. 135 mm was recorded at Aber in north Wales. Needless to say, there was extensive flooding and disruption caused by many trees brought down by the high winds. In the rain the temperature was only 10C. Earlier in the day, a very low minimum for the time of year of -3.4C was recorded at Kinbrace (Highland). The rain continued in the east on the 26th. Rainfall was particularly heavy in Ireland, where it caused major difficulties. The 29th has been named as on average the wettest day on record (since 1891) across the UK (until October 2020). The worst August of recent times. It was also very dull, with just 143 hours average sunshine.

September. Very cold, and as it was also anticyclonic, it was also a dry and sunny month. In fact it was the coolest September of recent times (11.3C CET) and the third coolest of the century (1952 being the coldest). October this year was nearly as warm. There were frequent ground frosts and some air frosts. It was very dry (the driest in England and Wales since 1971, particularly in the W, Wales, and NW). For many places, a 42-day drought started on the 3rd. (Technically a "drought" is defined as more than 14 days without measurable rain.) It was however cold and wet in the far south from the 13-16th, with 85 mm of rain falling in Guernsey. It was only 9C across the south on the 15th, the coldest September day since 1952, and a minimum of -5C in the N from the 17th to 19th, with -5.5 at Powys on the 19th. The month turned much warmer from 20th, with 25C at Newcastle on 30th.

October. Fine first half, then windy and wet. October was nearly as warm (11.0C CET) as September. (We need to go back to 1807 for the last time that October was warmer than September.) A notable autumn drought ended on the 14th; parts of the Midlands and North Wales had gone 42 consecutive days without rain.

November. Mild and unsettled. Severe flooding in south Wales.

December. Mild, wet, unsettled, and windy. The wettest December of the century in Scotland. There was a minimum of 13C in places on the 4th. There was flooding in north Wales on the 29th; 105 mm of rain fell at Nantmor.


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