The UK's worst convective storm of the last 200 years? - 9th August 1843

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These accounts convey the fury of a particularly severe convective storm that affected S England in August 1843 (most reports cite the 9th as the date). The storm had all the hallmarks of a severe supercell more like those met with in "Tornado Alley" - and a noteworthy one by that standard. It is worth reading these to appreciate what can brew up in favourable conditions in the UK. Thanks to TORRO, Shena Mason, Peter Bradley, Trevor Harley and members of UK Weatherworld who assisted in compiling this page.

Account no. 1 - Trevor Harley's weather archive pages:

1843: The Great Hailstorm on the 9th with a hailswath across the Midlands and East Anglia, from Oxford to Norfolk. It was perhaps one of the most severe, and perhaps the most detructive,hailstorm ever recorded in Britain. It was extremely destructive, destroying glass and flattening crops. 25 cm hailstones were recorded, and in places the stones lay 1.5 m deep. The thunderstorms were accompanied by tornadoes. Trees were uprootted and crops were ruined, and the General Hail Insurance company (later the Norwich Union) was formed as a consequence.

Account no. 2 - from the Wimpole village web site:

'A most dreadful storm passed over this parish and caused the most serious destruction of property. It began about 4 o'clock p.m. and lasted several hours - the lightning and hail were terrific, the former like sheets of fire filled the air and ran along the ground, the latter as large as pigeon's eggs; some larger and others large angular masses of ice....

The destruction of property was dreadful! All the windows on the north side of the Mansion [i.e. Wimpole Hall] were broken, all the hothouses, and every window facing the north in many of the cottages!... The storm entered from the north sea and passed through the land in a SW direction, spreading ruin in its progress - "the land before it was as the Garden of Eden, behind it a barren and desolate wilderness". The corn over which it passed was entirely threshed out, boughs and limbs torn off the trees, pigeons and crows killed, many sheep struck by lightning, and what the hail and lightning did not utterly destroy, the rain which fell in torrents finished.

Such was the violence of the rain and its continuance that a stream rolled down Arrington Hill four or five feet deep, washed men off their feet, and carried away 30 or 40 feet of the Park wall. But amidst all this affliction God was merciful; no human lives were lost, and the destruction of property, although grievous, was partial.' (Rector H.R.Yorke writing in 1843 in the Church Registers, Wimpole, Cambridgeshire)

Account no. 3 - from the Torro journal, Convection (500K PDF file):

9 August 1843 Taking into account the length and width of the hail swath, and the mean and peak intensity, this was probably Britain’s most destructive recorded single hailstorm. Near Enstone (Oxfordshire), Welsh and Stonesfield roofing slates were “pounded to pieces”. The city of Cambridge experienced widespread destruction of glass, chimney pots, and slates. The hail and wind storm caused massive destruction to trees and window glass in the vicinities of Biggleswade (Bedfordshire), Thetford (where “the hail and hurricane broke every window which faced the onslaught”), and Norwich (intensity H7, swath length 255km).

Account no. 4, from the Birmingham Archives:

JWP [James Watt Papers] MII/10/5 (27a): C.H. Turner (London) to James Watt junior (Doldowlod), 25 August 1843:

'...Mr John Wilkinson writes, that 9 days after the Hail Storms at Tew, he took up Hail stones 6 1/2 inches diam. and sent 2 Cartloads of Ice to the Ice House - I have requested Symes to have this attested!!! Damage to crops estimated at 3000....'

On 28 Aug. James Watt jun. replied to this [27b]:

'...Mr Jones Wilkinson's account of the Hailstones at Tew is certainly of the marvellous kind, and it is lucky for him he was not struck by any of these 6 1/2 inchers!! The storm did not reach us here...'

Analysis

Sadly, searches to date have failed to turn up much contextual data to accompany this event. All we can say is that a massive storm, probably supercellular in nature, tracked for 255km in a reportedly WSW direction from the North Sea into the S Midlands. Violent straight-line and possibly tornadic winds accompanied the system. The synoptic set-up in which the storm occurred would have to account for severe instability. Such setups are most frequently associated in Summer with so-called Spanish Plumes - where heatwave conditions are associated with shallow low pressure systems developing in the Iberia - NW France area moving north across the UK, to collide with colder air to the N and W.

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