1987

1987 will be most remembered for the Great Hurricane of October. There was also an exceptional cold spell in Janaury. A very cold March was followed by a very warm April. A year with another very poor summer: indeed, from mid July to the middle of August it was exceptionally bad.


January. This month saw an exceptional cold spell resulting from an easterly airstream which began in earnest on the 9th, with cold air starting to feed in from the 7th. Before that here was a wet start to the month. Then the maximum at Aviemore was -5C on the 8th and 9th. On the 9th, an anticyclone anchored over Scandinavia forced a depression moved SE over Britain leading to strong NE to E winds across England on the 10th, and bringing exceptionally cold air from an unusually cold Europe. I remember the forecast from the night before very clearly; the cold was predicted accurately well in advance. The coldest air reached England on the 11th. Maxima on the 12th January were commonly around -6C; -8C across large parts of the south; the day probably was equal to or lower than the previous lowest maximum in London (see also January 1841 and 1867). For many places this was the coldest day of the century. For example, Warlingham (Surrey) recorded a 12 hour daily maximum of -9.2C, a 24 hour maximum of -9.0C, with minima of -12.4C and -10.0C either side. Quite often it was clear and sunny, but the cold air crossing the warm North Sea led to a very high snowfall on the eastern coast, with the snow starting in the evening: 45 cm of snow settled at Southend, and 50 cm fell even in Cornwall. The Charing Cross to Dover train took 13 hours to get to Ashford. The highest temperature in Britain on the 12th was +0.1C at the Butt of Lewis; all of mainland Britain remained beneath freezing. The following night was unsurprisingly very cold everywhere, widely beneath -10C, and with -16.0C recorded at Aviemore. There was more heavy snow on the 13th and 14th. There were slightly higher temperatures on the 15th, as the extreme cold slowly eased its grip. A slow thaw began on the 20th. In parts of the south there were 14 consecutive sunless days from the 14th (to the 28th), in many places setting a new "dullness" record. Here are the noon temperatures from Gatwick from the 7th to the 20th: 0, -2, 1, -1, -5, -7, -7, -3, -2, -1, -3, -3, -3, -1. There was severe frost damage to plants on the Isles of Scilly. The lowest reading of this exceptional spell was -23.3C at Caldecott (Leics.) on the 13th; however, this reading was much lower than expected, and it has since been rejected and replaced by a minimum of -19.1C at Warsop (Notts., also on 13 January). There was freezing rain in the south Midlands. Generally it was a very dry month - the driest since 1964. Europe, particularly the Baltic region, saw some exceptionally low temepratures, with maxima around -20 and minima beneathe -40. This was the last significantly cold month of the century (with +0.8C CET, the last month beneath 1C before 2010).

February. Mild for the first ten days, then cold until the last couple of days. On the 28th London reached 16C, its warmest February day since 1961.

March. Very cold (CET 4.1C) - the coldest since 1970, and there hasn't been a colder one since. It was extremely cold in the first half, as cold continental air covered the country. Heavy snow in central regions on the 6-7th. Drifts several feet deep reported in Staffs. There was another heavy snowfall on the 19th over the south: 30 cm on Salisbury Plain. There were some severe frosts. It became milder form the 22nd, as winds turned more towards the NW, but it was wet. It was very stormy on the 27th.

April. The second warmest of the century (10.3), and locally the warmest. A long sunny, warm, dry spell as the month ended. Aberdeen airport reached 23.7C on the 27th and 24.9 at Kelso (Borders). Then it was 24C at Norwich on the 29th.

May. A cool month. Because April was so warm, this is the only time this century that May has been colder than April.

June. The dullest June on record, with an average of only 4.09 hours sun per day. It was also cool and wet. The best weather was to be found in the far NW, in the Outer Hebrides. There were gales in places on the 6th. There were some notable thunderstorms in East Anglia, with deep hail cover near Cambridge. 71 mm of rain fell at Sudbury on the 15th. There was a hot spell right at the end, with 30C recorded on Jersey on the 29th.

July. A month of two very different halves. It was dry, fine and warm for the first half, with 30C recorded in places on the 5th and 6th. However, there were 70 mm of rain in the English-Scottish borders on 10th. Then the period July 14th to August 13th was exceptionally cool, wet, windy at times, and dull. In this period, Luton recorded only 80 hours sunshine, with only 25 hours from July 14th to the end of the month. There were some notable thunderstorms in this period: 88 mm of rain in 5 hours at Slapton on the 17th, and 50 mm fell in 20 minutes at Epping on the 29th.

August. Generally cool, wet, and cloudy, but with a fine, hot spell in the south midmonth. Violent thunderstorms broke out on the 21st. 86 mm at Red Wharf Bay (Anglesey) on the 21st, 77 mm at Chigwell Row (Essex) on the 22nd. Flooding in Essex on the 22nd; large hailstones, reportedly laying in 15 cm drifts in Colchester. There were 114 mm rain in 9.5 hours in Stafford on the 23rd. Flooding over the north of England; several feet of floodwater around Wigan. More heavy rain on the 25th (81 mm at Lowestoft) led to further flooding.

September. Pretty average but quite sunny.

October. Slightly cool, sunny, and very wet. Frequent thunderstorms. Thunder was heard on ten days of the month in east Sussex. This month will be remembered however for the "Great Storm", the so-called hurricane of the night of the 15-16th and the morning of the 16th. Gusts of 70-90 knots were widespread across the southeast. Peak gusts included 115 mph at Shoreham, 108 mph at Langdon Bay near Dover, and 106 mph at Ashford (Kent). There were 18 deaths, 15 million trees were uprooted, and there was great damage to property. The worst storm since November 1703. In Coventry, we slept through it, although I did see the forecast the preceding lunchtime when Michael Fish said that there wasn't a hurricane on the way. I didn't pay attention. The first I heard of it was when my mother-in-law rang to ask if we were still alive. (She thought Coventry was more or less on the south coast.) A deep and complex depression moved northeast from the Bay of Biscay on the 15th. Its warm front brought heavy rain to the south. There was a marked temperature contrast across this front: at 11pm it was 17C at Southend bit only 8C at Stanstead. Around midnight the main depression suddenly deepened. An area of winds 50-80mph and 100 miles wide hit the Channel Islands at 11pm and moved NE across SE Britain in the early hours. In particular, many trees were uprroted (Sevenoaks was no longer). This extreme event has very well documented (see Eden, 1995, for a good discussion). Then on the 18-19th, there was severe flooding in the Tywi valley, Carmethen; a railway bridge was swept away, leadin to a rail disaster with loss of life. A dustfall overnight on the 26-27th. All in all, this has got to be the most exciting October of the century for weather.

November. Dry and cloudy, with a cold snap from the 20th.

December. Mild and changeable overall, after a cold start. Cloudy and dry, particularly in the SE. 16C at Minehead on the 17th, and 18C at Cape Wrath on the 18th.