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Page last updated at 10:44 GMT, Monday, 20 September 2010 11:44 UK
Wild weather: Dorset's 1955 'record rainfall'?
Graphic map of southern Britain
Dorset once recorded up to 11in (28cm) of rain in 24 hours

The date of 19 July 1955 holds a particular significance for Dorset and its weather - and, up until last year, it was thought to be a UK record.

On that day, in Martinstown, 11 inches (28cm) of rain was recorded and was believed to be the most to fall in a period of 24 hours in the UK.

The figure was only beaten by rain storms in Cumbria in November 2009.

But Mark Ching, a weather historian from Winfrith, believes the Martinstown storm still has huge significance.

'Spanish Plume'

The rain on that day in July 1955 fell within a period of nine hours, and was concentrated directly above the village of Martinstown, west of Dorchester.

Forty-five years later, around 12 inches (30cm) of rain were recorded in a period of 24 hours in Cumbria.

Rainbow over Brownsea Castle, Poole - Martin Keene/PA
'South and eastern parts of Dorset are drier than the north and west'

Mr Ching said: "Parts of Cumbria are some of the wettest places in Britain, while much of Dorset is known to be quite dry.

"So in some ways the Cumbrian record is not quite the same because it is 1,500 - 2,000ft (457 - 609m) up [and more prone to heavier rain].

"And although many parts of Dorset are hilly, it is all counted as lowland."

One of the reasons for the intense burst of heavy rainfall could be a 'Spanish Plume'.

This is where hot and humid air is drawn up northwards from the area south of Spain towards the UK.

The warmer air meets the cooler Atlantic air and this clash creates instability.

Mr Ching believes that several different storms joined forces over the Channel.

But by the time the storms reached Dorset, the wind force dropped significantly, which created a fierce and concentrated rainfall in that part of the county.

He said: "The storm stopped dead, and even places like Weymouth and Dorchester had around eight inches of rain.

"It sounds silly when you think of it - this amount of rainfall occurring so close to Weymouth, which is one of the sunniest places in the UK."

Victorian blizzard

Beaminster - Tom Kennedy, January 2010
Significant snow last fell in West Dorset in January 2010

Mr Ching, who grew up in Bournemouth, cites his interest in weather to the stories he heard from his Great Grandmother, who lived in Sherborne.

He remembers her stories about 8ft (2.4m) snow drifts.

He said: "I realised later that she was referring to the worst blizzard of the Victorian era, in January 1891.

"The whole of southern England was affected but Dorset was the worst hit in terms of snow."

The story began his fascination with weather, and, in particular, Dorset's weather.

He said: "Our weather is interesting but Dorset lacks mountain terrain which would make it more interesting in terms of snow fall.

"The south and east of Dorset is drier than the north and west of the county, due to the higher ground there.

"Many of the locations on the south coast, especially between Portland and Swanage, and Bournemouth, tend to be drier [than the rest of the country]."

Mr Ching said that former BBC weather presenter Bill Giles once said to him that the weather of Dorset and Hampshire was the "most difficult" to predict.

He said that, in a talk to a group of weather enthusiasts in the early 1990s, Bill Giles believed that Dorset and Hampshire's geographical position meant it often failed to be affected by nearby weather systems.

"He said that a lot of weather systems coming in from the west, north or east would decay by the time they reached us.

"It's only when a weather system comes up from the south - like with the Martinstown rainfall - are we unprotected."

Wild Weather of the South - BBC One 1930 BST Monday 20 September

Wettest dayWettest Day 279 mm on 18th July 1955 at Martinstown



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