2006-7- part 1: The raging Atlantic brings chaos...
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Flooding, landslides, severe gales
and coastal damage have now been added to the list of
things that happen when the Atlantic runs the
weather-show, on top of the tornadoes and thunderstorms
that have characterised the late Autumn-early Winter
weather this year. It's all settled down now, at last
(December 20th) and we have a great big anticyclone
slap-bang over the UK. The air aloft in this high
pressure is relatively warm, but at ground level we are
losing heat due to to the process of radiative cooling,
which allows heavy frost and freezing fog to form. Thus
we approach the Winter Solstice with more seasonal
weather than of late.....
This one carries on from where the last page left
off! From then onwards, things started to go
downhill! Overnight severe gales on the 2nd-3rd
caused a certain amount of chaos, with gusts to
99mph recorded in SW Wales early on the 3rd.
I've now remembered that both this image and the
one on the page before date from December 5th.
Multiple thunderstorms occurred on that day, on
the 7th and to a lesser extent on the 12th - more
thunderstorms in one short period than for any
other given period this year. Just goes to show
they are not an exclusively summertime
phenomenon! Let's deal with the 7th first....
I was awoken by loud thunder around 0430 on the
7th and spent a while watching a good light-show
through the window. Later, storm-force winds and
an early morning high Spring tide prompted a
careful drive down to the coast. Here, under
leaden skies, a very high tide in the Estuary
laps the Cambrian Coast railway at a boatyard
near Aberdyfi. Things were going to get more
"interesting" by the time I reached the
Arrival at Tywyn coincided with a squally
thunderstorm that had me quite worried - and I'm
used to violent weather! The winds were gusting
to 70-80mph and large trees were in serious
danger of being uprooted as the sheets of mixed
rain and hail roared through the town. So I found
a place to park away from anything that might
blow over and sat it out.
As the storm cleared I moved off again, making my
way to the prom, only to find most of it closed
as waves crashed over the sea-wall and spray and
foam, mixed with rain, sailed through the air.
This made it pretty difficult to get a decent pic
- combining a storm-force wind, salty spray and
foam and low light levels are not a good mix! I
got the above shot from inside the jeep which was
rocking under each gust - it shows the foam all
over the northern prom, as if someone has
squirted shaving-foam everywhere! After that I
headed around to the Sandylands part of the town
- where the waves are breaking in the distance...
....but this was about as close as you could get!
I know the Canon A1 is a tough workhorse of a
camera, but getting it immersed in salt water was
not anywhere in Plan A! Meanwhile, rising winds
and darkening skies announced another incoming
A quick biological break. These were everywhere
on the Prom. I picked one up and scanned an image
of it, enlarged about 5x.
It's a jellyfish-type creature, related to the
much larger Portugese Man O' War. It has an
elongated disclike body with a clear
"sail" - folded down in this image. The
fringe of the disc is a distinctive vivid to deep
blue colour. Meet Velella velella, or as it is
known by its common name, the By The Wind Sailor.
Its usual residence is around the Azores, but its
sail makes it prone to travelling wherever the
prevailing winds take it - hence the name. It has
no choice in the matter. So, the long period of
winds from the SW has brought it away from the
warmth of home, into a raging Atlantic, and
finally to be cast up in its millions on the
shores of Cardigan Bay.
Mass-strandings of these creatures occur most
years but usually in the summer. This is by far
the latest time of year that I've seen one...
Moving north again to let the squall pass. This
is looking southwards towards Tonfanau...
...and looking south from Llanegryn. More flashes
of lightning and booms of thunder accompanied the
torrential rain and sheets of hail.
The next really dramatic dose was served up on
the 10th-11th. Awaking early on the 11th, I
checked out the BBC News website to find:
"The BBC Weather Centre has said an
"extraordinary" amount of rain has
fallen in north Wales overnight. Between 1200 GMT
on Sunday and 0700 GMT on Monday, 11.4cm (4.4 in)
had fallen at the weather station in Capel Curig,
Snowdonia. A motorist had to be rescued after
becoming trapped in floodwater on Monday morning.
He was forced to abandon his car on the A487 Dyfi
Bridge in Machynlleth, Powys after being reached
by firefighters.... Heavy rain is thought to have
caused a landslide which closed a stretch of the
A470 in Gwynedd for a period during Sunday
evening and Monday morning."
Sounds like something to check out....
The footbridge at Machynlleth station is as good
a vantage point as any. From here it was obvious
that a major valley-flood was ongoing. You could
hear the waters roaring from here!
Down by the Dyfi Ecopark. In the distance are
several abandoned vehicles. Every time there is a
flood like this, some people attempt to drive
through. Unless you have a Unimog or a County
Tractor, it really isn't a good idea and it can
be very dangerous in deteriorating conditions.
Diesel car owners should be particularly careful
especially as so many have low-down air intakes.
Tremendous numbers of diesel engines have been
wrecked along this stretch after sucking in
Time to check out that landslide. I headed out of
town to Cemmaes Road and then up the A470 to
Evidence of a massive rainfall was everywhere.
This was a common sight - taken between Cwm
Llinau and Mallwyd. Water, water everywhere....
The landslide debris had been cleared off the
road now. It seems what happened was that a small
stream had been temporarily dammed, perhaps by a
small initial landslip or by a falling tree. The
dam would have ponded water until it gave under
the pressure, at which point a wall of watery
debris would have roared down the hillside.
Luckily, nobody was passing at the time...
Photography conditions were difficult with a
strong winter sun shining at lowish angles
through a clear but slightly hazy sky. Here the
trees that the surge brought with it are visible.
Apart from taking out a couple of fences it did
little serious damage...
By now Midday was approaching and I made my way
to Dyfi Bridge. Here, the A487 crosses the river.
It is the first road bridge upstream from the
estuary; the original bridge was built in 1533
and replaced by this one in 1805. Here, the main
river-channel is at the northern edge of the
flood-plain: the floods pictured in the earlier
images are from the flood-plain's southern edge,
600m away. The solidly-constructed bridge has
survived this, and other, heavier floods.....
Any book on landscape photography will tell you
that Midday sunshine makes for tricky conditions.
However, with a swirling flood raging in the
foreground and the sun shining directly at you,
it is possible, by exposing the film for the
sunlight on the water, thereby underexposing
everything else, to create some interesting
shots. This is on the downstream side of the
...while this is on the upstream side.
Zoom-in away from the direct sun - this was
A final shot taken half a mile or so westwards on
the Aberdyfi road, again metered for the sunlit
floodwater. Classic valley-width flood of the
type seen most years, but some of the most
interesting light-conditions I've seen (it's
usually just dull and grey when floods are on the
On Sunday 17th December I found these along the
roadside near Aberdyfi - many of them. On Monday
18th December I had a meeting at a colleague's
house in Talybont and daffodils were flowering in
Perhaps this more seasonal crisp frosty weather
has arrived just in time!
There is definately something afoot with the
climate of the UK. 2006 is again likely to have
broken the "warmest year since records
began" record. That's just one of many
records that have fallen this year.
It is easy to speculate how this might affect us
in future years, whatever the cause - and there
are people who do not go with the CO2 forcing as
the major cause, although I am not one of them.
My view is that, although we cannot be sure as to
specifics, there are two key possibilities.
Either we experience a gradual change in the
synoptic patterns, or we keep those of today but
we will experience changes in their intensity.
Either way, the main issues in the long term are
likely to be geopolitical in their nature, the
risk being that people living in areas prone to
hazards arising from the changes will be
displaced. In such a situation, there may be many
people on the move - refugees in other words.
All of that may lie some way off, but whatever
the cause of climate change, it needs to be
prepared for. One enormous problem I see, just
here in the UK, is that the public are not given
sufficient detailed information to be able to
make reasoned choices, with almost any aspect of
the natural world. The inevitable outcome has
been that we have gradually severed ourselves
from the natural world about us - a world that we
depend upon for our very survival, but a world
that we instead view as something to recklessly
plunder and pollute. If we all understood the
world better perhaps we might change our ways -
or have we got too used to
"convenience"? Will our epitaph finally
be "They could have stopped it, but it was
regarded as very inconvenient to do so, so they
I only understand a few aspects of what makes
this small corner of Planet Earth tick - its
geology and its meteorology to be precise, and
only because I have dedicated so many years into
doing so. As we go into 2007 and through the
years beyond, and the as yet unknown weather
events they will bring, I'll continue to try and
impart as much as possible of what I have grown
to understand - and love - about this fascinating
corner of our dynamic and constantly changing
Happy New Year!
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