Autumn into winter 2012: the worst winter in 100 years so far....



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Greetings from Machynlleth on a wet December 20th. The gaps between blog posts are getting bigger, for which I can blame the closing stages of an important project, my guide to shore angling in Cardigan Bay, all 272 pages of it. Out, barring technical glitches, in March or thereabouts, it includes a guide to the coast from St Davids around to Bardsey Sound and a fish identification section with 65-plus species illustrated. Many of these I've caught and photographed myself over the years but a final image-search brought in some interesting obscure ones, such as the streaked gurnard, which charter skipper Gethyn Owen of Holyhead sent me: going back through my images from 2009 I then discovered I had caught one myself on the west coast of Anglesey that year and overlooked it as just another red gurnard!

Deadlines before a book is 'put to bed' are manic times as that point of no return approaches. The past weeks stand out in contrast to the leisurely days spent with the camera last spring catching various key points around the coast in the best light: I well remember sunbathing on the rocks at St David's Head during last March's heatwave, arguably the best weather of the year, and to be replaced a matter of weeks later by the waist-deep snowdrifts of early April in the hills above Machynlleth. It's been a weird year all round, although the pinnacle of weirdness had to be the mid-June rains and flooding of epic proportions. Talking to a friend in Talybont the other day, who was flooded out that June morning, and hearing that he and his wife were hoping to move back into their home in February, brings home the magnitude of such disasters.

On the subject of weather-related violence, the last post mentioned stormy weather in mid-October. In the pub one night in mid-November I was talking to someone I know who lives up at Forge, who asked me if a tornado might have damaged his property in the early hours of October 16th. I arranged to pay a visit the following morning and found a very localised area of severe wind damage (below). Along a line some 180m long there had been major damage with several mature trees down and others partly debranched. Outside of this area, trees were unaffected: I looked around in the surrounding few square miles and this is the only obvious damage anywhere. All fall-out (of whole trees or debris) was to the NE: given that winds were from the SW that night, I diagnosed very localised severe straightline wind (as opposed to tornadic) damage.


wind damage near Machynlleth, October 2012

That night, there were recorded gusts to 60kts at the coast: however that is not unusual for autumn and winter storms in this part of the world, where trees grow up used to force 9-10 winds. As the photo below shows, some of the trees uprooted had stood there for decades, yet they with many of their neighbours were flattened in this one small area. What may have happened was that a gravity-wave was trapped against the N-S aligned hill above the damage-site: this would have forced a lot of air through a small area - a bit like a wind-tunnel.

wind damage near Machynlleth, October 2012


On a calmer day - November 18th - I met up with one of my fishing mates
to see what was about on one of the Bardsey Sound rock-marks, where a 5 knot riptide flows for a few hours at a certain point in the flood-ebb cycle. It turned out that the mackerel had packed their bags and gone (can't blame them, it's been so rough this year) and most of the pollack were small, although I managed one decent specimen. The most interesting point in the day was when this small RIB showed up and proceeded to my amazement to drift down into the rip:


small boat in bardsey sound riptide


It's a little boat to be in among such big stopper-waves! I concluded that they were either very experienced locals or madmen!


small boat in bardsey sound riptide


After a few minutes, however, they shot out eastwards into calmer waters...


small boat in bardsey sound riptide


Some decent stormscapes have been there for the taking. On November 23rd an unstable returning polar maritime airflow brought lines of shower-clouds, pregnant with hail, sweeping onto the coast. I went for a wander along the beach at Borth, looking to see what might have washed-up after the recent force 9 gale (i.e. free bait!): nothing much on that front but this lot moving in looked to have some potential....


approaching squall, borth beach


The cores of these storms would miss me and hit to coast a couple of miles to the north, so I stayed where I was......


approaching squall, borth beach


Hailstones falling in torrents within the blackness out to sea...


approaching squall, borth beach


Getting close now and with a new core out of sight to the L and heading straight at me, I wandered back to the motor and let it pass over, with hail bouncing all around, rain, sleet - the lot!


approaching squall, borth beach


As it began to clear, a strong and persistent rainbow formed, so I headed a little southwards to find a decent position:


rainbow over borth-ynyslas road


I was hopeful of some interesting shots as the shower cleared to the NE and wasn't disappointed....


rainbow over borth-ynyslas road



The whole stormcloud was a bit of a lens-full:



backlit stormclouds moving up dyfi valley


...but this panorama worked quite well!


backlit stormclouds moving up dyfi valley


The final shot of the day was taken at the top of the Machynlleth-Llanidloes mountain road, with this developing cell directly over the Dyfi Valley and Machynlleth at the time:


stormcloud over Dyfi Valley


Wet day after wet day brought November to a close, but early December saw blocking high pressure and a series of cold northerlies. On December 11-12 I had ice on the insides of my windows in the mornings and was rapidly depleting firewood stocks, although temperatures were only getting down to -5C or so - nothing compared to the extremes of December 2010!

In the garden, everything bar the nasturtiums bore these frosts happily enough. The first parsnips were harvested with some difficulty from the sodden ground: they were good-sized and straight, thanks to the preparation of the bed the previous spring. The only problem was crown-rot due to the incredibly wet conditions, but that is easily cut away before cooking. It's good to have some new seasonal food coming in: it's the pheasant-shooting season too, so I've been handed a few braces of birds and the whiting fishing, when the weather allowed it, was excellent with many fish getting on for 40cm.

With the cold weather being around, on December 12th I thought I'd do my bit for wildlife. With a hammer, a bag of nails, some birdseed from the market and two old supermarket meat-trays, I set to, first sinking a spare Leylandii trunk several feet into the ground, then fixing one tray upside down (to make things difficult for vermin) then another cut-down one the right way up. Several six-inch nails driven in to hang things off and job done!


bird feeder


I hung around to see if anything might turn up but there were just the ravens cronking away in the conifers along the hillside above, a cormorant working the river and of course the resident, fearless and highly territorial  robin that often comes within a few feet of where I am working:


robin


I can happily report now that word has got about (I guess they've been Tweeting??) and the table and feeder are busy with a good variety of birds. I thought the robin might attack them as it tends to, but I think they are OK by dint of sheer numbers.

Had an email from the guy doing the design and layout of the book: it turned out that a few images were missing, which I thought I'd located, until he asked me for 'aberystwyth.tif'. Aha - I didn't have that one either - because I had yet to take it! So off to Aber it was. Darned awkward at this time of year, even at lunchtime, with the sun so low over the south-west.....
 

aberystwyth


Some interesting shots were taken by walking up Constitution Hill and out along the reef below it, but I knew they were not the kind of thing that was required.....


aberystwyth


Having done a bit of shopping in Lidls, I headed to the other end of the Prom where, facing the other way, things were looking much better:


aberystwyth


On December 16th, with the Atlantic firmly back in control of the weather, bringing gales and rain, I popped down to the coast to see if I could get a load of seaweed for the garden. I managed to fill the containers with some effort, but what really struck me was the incredible amount of washed-up plastic that was strewn along the strandline:
.

plastic washed up on borth beach


Not a pretty sight: however, this was the worst section by far. Over the years I've noticed that such debris tends to wash up along certain sections of the coast in great quantities compared to others and this is one such place. To the south of here there are groynes continuously all the way to Borth and their effect on the currents prevents, to a degree, such accumulations: however, one thing's for sure and that is that the sea has way too much crap floating around in it.


approaching showery trough from borth beach


The gales and large swell had torn out a fleet of prawn-pots and dumped them on the sand. Beyond, in the south-west, skies darkened, announcing the arrival of an expected trough and attendant heavy showers. Hurrying now, I had just about completed gathering seaweed when the heavens opened.
A little later and a clearance arrived, but with other heavy stormclouds passing by offshore...


heavy showers off Borth beach


...and a distant canopy of mammatus clouds from another storm lurking out there in the greyness began to become more tangible as it approached...


mammatus canopy


As it swept overhead, the setting sun peeped out, low on the south-west horizon. I hung around until dusk, just in case there might be some impressive back-lighting, but it was not to be....


mammatus canopy


On December 18th, the weather had a bit of a breather between low-pressure systems, with almost no wind and mild temperatures. Having started work early I headed to the coast mid-afternoon to find shallow sea-fog streaming inland. Climbing up onto the hills that overlook Aberdyfi, I was greeted with this scene:


sea fog, Cardigan Bay


Here's a bit of a zoom-in. A moderate swell is evident, breaking along Borth beach, but otherwise the sea is flat calm and sheets of mist seemingly blend coast and sea.....


sea fog, Cardigan Bay





sea fog, Cardigan Bay


Here, from a lower vantage-point, the fog can be seen creeping up the Dyfi Estuary. So a tranquil end to a year that has seen some spectacular and contrasting weather-patterns, will be remembered by most for its utterly miserable summer and, in gardening terms, without a shadow of a doubt as 'the year of the Slug'!

So what is to come? Looking at the charts, I see the Atlantic in charge until the end of the year, the theme generally being windy and quite wet at times: indeed, with saturated ground in many areas, it is looking too wet, with flooding a continuing risk. Perhaps this can be put down to The Curse of the Daily Express: below are some late-November into December headlines....


happy new year!


Meteorologically-speaking, of course, winter is December-January-February, and if we now get a two-foot dumping of snow and my pipes freeze, it'll serve me right for taking the mickey out of the tabloids! Not to forget either that the heaviest snow here in 2012 was well into spring. But so far, the worst winter in 100 years has been reasonably tolerable.... and with that, my best wishes to everyone for next year and, above all, let's hope for a decent summer. We all deserve that, I think!

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