August 12, 2015, by Georgina

The trouble with wind….

Britain’s windiest year?

2015 is on course to be the windiest year that Britain has experienced for two decades. Since the start of May there have been just eight days described as calm (ie highest wind is measured at less than 11mph) by the Met Office. Some places in the UK are obviously windier than others and it seems that coastal areas and the Southwest have been particularly badly affected, just in time for the peak holiday season Nevertheless, “disappointing holiday conditions” were reported across many places at the end of July.

Named winds

But we are no strangers to the wind. Members of our project team have had an interest in wind for some time. Our Weather Walk produced for the Discovering Britain initiative of the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers tells the story of Gordon Manley’s work studying the Helm Wind, England’s only named wind, from his purpose built weather station on Great Dun Fell, Cumbria. Several papers by members of the project team have also served to chart long term interest in the Helm Wind (see below).

Extreme wind events

Our TEMPEST data base is also revealing some fascinating details about windy episodes and extreme wind events (as it were) too. We already have 1,252 records of wind events on our database, which indicate previous spells of windy conditions, as well as extreme events where wind has played a key role, including well documented events such as the 1703 storm, the so called ‘Big Wind’ of 1839 and the Royal Charter Storm of 1859. We have 73 so called ‘hurricanes’ and 8 tornados documented so far. I have just selected a few examples of some of these fascinating accounts as illustrations below:

Lucy’s blog of from August last year charted the ‘hurricane’ of 1714 (Getting into the archive: Sherwood Forest and the ‘hurricane’ of 1714) which affected a great many trees in Sherwood Forest. Other such events include the wind of 1st Nov 1740 when, as John Harrison of Belper noted, “there was such wind, rain and snow that it blew down trees and chimneys, starved people to death tho the wind was north” (Derbyshire Records Office, D2912/ 10). Over half a century later and in his ‘Remarks on the weather in 1801’, Joseph Woolley of Clifton noted how on the 30th June that year there was a violent Hurricane or Whirlwind, accompanied with Lightning and Thunder, and much rain (Nottinghamshire Archives, DD/311/2). In July 1858, H.O. Nethercote, who maintained a weather register at Moulton, 4 miles NE of Northampton recorded how, “a hurricane occurred on the night of the 26th inst. doing considerable damage to the corn in exposed localities, such a storm of wind as prevailed in the night of the 24th and morning of the 25th is almost without parallel in this country. Trees are blown down, buildings and haystacks damaged and everything movable carried about in all directions” (National Meteorological Library and Archive, Box 125 43). The journal of William Thomas Pickbourne in which he charted church activities on circuit around Annesley and East Kirkby similarly noted on 19th Jan 1881, “We have had a terrific snowstorm accompanied by a hurricane which has done damage in London & just round to the amount of £200,000. The wind has been blowing from the NE and N, and in places the snow has drifted to the height of 6 or 8 feet (Nottinghamshire Archives, DD/2560/1/3).


We also have some particularly rich documents charting violent tornados and their impacts. Rev’d Joseph Walker, Rector of Great Billing, wrote to Valentine Cary-Elwes with news of a ‘Tornado’ on March 24 1895 which, “blew off part of roof of Rectory and did great damage to trees in Lord Exeter’s Park” (Northamptonshire Archives, E(GB)/474). The tornado which affected parts of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire on June 8th, 1929, was particularly well documented. Newspaper articles chart the drama of the event, The Sunday Express noting how “damage by a devastating whirlwind was reported… from Sheffield and Aslockton, Nottinghamshire. At Aslockton it is believed to have caused the death of the village’s oldest inhabitant, Mr Newbury aged 70. He was found dead immediately it had passed. The whirlwind uprooted trees and crops near the village and smashed a tombstone in halves”. A vivid description of “the remarkable appearance of the visitation” was provided by a Mr Reginald Russell of the Cranmer Arms, Aslockton who recalled:

“Suddenly I saw what appeared to be a ball of steam or smoke ascending to the clouds… Gradually it formed itself into the shape of a tree and after a few seconds the clouds seemed to get lower and lower… the noise was extraordinary – a whirring and jolting just as though a heavy motor wagon were coming along the lane”.

The whirlwind was heralded in Sheffield by the descending of darkness. In the Heeley District of Sheffield, the storm did not last more than a minute but it appeared to lift everything before it. “I heard a terrible roar” said an eye witness “and I saw a shower of slates come flying off a roof. The whole place was it up as though it was on fire. It was as if the block of houses had been hit by a fireball.” In the Norton district people were terrified. Roofs of greenhouses were blown off, cold frames were whirled about in the air like feathers, fences were blown down and much damage was done to trees and plants.

The Nottingham Evening News focused on an altogether more macabre storyline: “A new gravestone in the cemetery was lifted out of the ground and cut in two, and garden produce was ruined by a whirlwind which swept over the Notts village of Aslockton at about 12 o clock today”. Again drawing on eye witness testimony, the report highlighted how “It just missed the houses and passed by the River Smite and frightened all the cattle and birds. Then it swept over the cemetery and tore up a new gravestone. It hovered over the cemetery and then disappeared. It lasted nearly a quarter of an hour” (National Meteorological Library and Archive, W0 6J4. Box 2).

Such winds far outblow the Met Office’s definition of ‘calm’ and thankfully the unusual events noted above are just that – unusual. But the year is now moving towards a seasonally more windy period and while we can’t do much about this, we would do well to ‘adjust our sails….’

Further information

Posted in EventsProject themesWeather extremes