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Page last updated at 10:40 GMT, Monday, 20 September 2010 11:40 UK
Storms and snow: Dorset's wild weather

By Storm Dunlop
Author and Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society

Corfe Castle - Ian White
Dorset has seen some extreme weather over the years

Because it lies on the south coast, Dorset, like the neighbouring counties of Devon and Somerset, is often subject to heavy rainfall.

It is often brought by warm, moist winds from the sea to the south and southwest.

An extreme event occurred at Martinstown, near Dorchester, on 18 July 1955, where 279mm of rain fell in a single day (0900 to 0900 GMT, 18-19 July), mostly during a 15-hour period, and setting a British record.

In fact, this was only recently surpassed by the 317mm recorded in 24 hours at Seathwaite in Cumbria on 19-20 November 2009.

Martinstown - formerly known as Winterbourne St Martin, where "Winterbourne" means that the small river flows mainly during the winter - suffered extensive flooding some hours after the peak downpour.

Later analysis by the Meteorological Office suggested that even heavier, unrecorded, rainfalls of over 305mm probably occurred at Winterbourne Steepleton and Winterbourne Abbas, upstream of Martinstown.

Portland storm

A particularly severe storm hit the coast at Portland on 13 February 1979.

At high tide, freak waves between 12m and 18m high battered houses 180m or more from the shore, destroying homes and rendering others uninhabitable.

Even lorries were swept down the road.

The Royal Naval helicopter base was flooded, the principal gas main was ruptured, and the only road from the Isle of Portland to the mainland was rendered impassable.

Arctic snow

Snow in Lyme Regis, Feb 2010
Severe weather like this hit Dorset in the winter of 1978/79

Although the winter of 1978-1979 was severe across the whole country, Dorset (with Wales and the West Country) suffered particularly badly in February 1978.

A combination of meteorological circumstances meant a series of depressions, carrying plentiful moisture-laden air which encountered bitterly cold easterly winds.

It had originated in Arctic Russia, and deposited a phenomenal amount of snow across the county, bringing it to a standstill.

Considerable snowfall occurred on February 15 and 16, but the real blizzard began on February 18 and continued for about 30 hours.

Some 46cm of snow fell, but the high winds created drifts of over 9m in places.

All minor roads and nearly all major roads and railway lines were blocked.

Twenty-five thousand houses were without electricity, 100,000 premises without water, and 10,000 households and businesses were without telephones.

Although the weather conditions eased almost immediately, some people were stranded for days, and even a week later many services were still disrupted.

Violent thunderstorms

Shaftesbury, Feb 2009
Snow storms are rare but can render rural towns impassable

On 5 June 1983 a series of violent thunderstorms swept eastwards from Lyme Bay across Weymouth, Poole, and Bournemouth, and on into Hampshire and Sussex.

They were accompanied by torrential rain (74mm fell at Winfrith) and heavy hail with stones the size of golf balls (43mm) in the Poole and Bournemouth areas, with one stone measured at 65mm across.

The earliest system had associated tornadic activity that raised material from the ground, possibly from Hamworthy, Poole, because large amounts of coke fell at Poole and Bournemouth, together with some stones, and a piece of coal (and a crab in Sussex).

Some hailstones were found that had formed around what appeared to be roof chippings.

Two hailstorms affected Dorset on 7 June 1996, one of which had a long track from Portland to north-eastern Oxfordshire, along much of which the hail exceeded 30mm in diameter.

Stones about 50mm across fell at Crossways, northeast of Weymouth.

Rainfall was about 40mm northeast of Blandford, but the peak (72 mm) occurred near Wantage in Oxfordshire.

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




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