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Storms and the sea - the nature of Sussex weather

Sussex storm taken by Paul Osbourne
A Sussex storm: picture by Paul Osborne

The sea is part of the secret of the Sussex weather - because it is strongly influenced by the English Channel.

Kaddy Lee Preston takes to the air to discover the secrets that power the Sussex weather.

Not only is the county exposed to the prevailing winds and strong gales from the south west throughout the year, but major winter storms often bring severe coastal flooding as at Worthing on 26 February 1990.

Even on fine days in summer the coastal strip is cooled by sea breezes that develop as the land is heated by the sun, often resulting in clouds (and sometimes rain) over the line of the South Downs.

You can see a Wild Weather special programme on BBC South East and BBC South on Monday 20th September at 19.30 on BBC1. But first, here's some wild weather facts....

Giant storms

Summer thunderstorms frequently develop over the sea, and occasionally giant storms, known as supercells, created by hot, humid air over Spain and France, cross the Channel and bring violent lightning, thunder, torrential rain and heavy hail.

One storm, which even generated a true tornado, produced the biggest British hailstone, 55 mm across, 160 grams in weight (heavier but smaller than a cricket ball), which fell at Horsham on 5 September 1958.

The coast is often hit by what are usually called 'tornadoes', but which are actually much weaker waterspouts - many of which occur over the Channel - that have come ashore.

Selsey struck

Selsey, at the tip of the Manhood Peninsula, jutting out into the sea, has been struck several times.

One, accompanying a major thunderstorm and golf-ball-sized hail, battered about 1000 buildings on 7 January 1998, causing damage valued then at about £10 million, luckily with just two moderate injuries. Another, less destructive whirl hit Lewes later that same day.

Selsey was struck again (less destructively) on 30 October 2000, when about 150 caravans were damaged and two people slightly injured. Bognor Regis, Hove, Brighton, Peacehaven and Eastbourne have all been subject to similar events.

Wind destroys instrument

Sussex suffered the brunt of the infamous storm of the night of 15—16 October 1987, when there were two fatalities and wind-speeds at Shoreham reached 185 kph (115 mph) before the instrument was destroyed.

On 25 January 1990, a stronger storm, known to meteorologists as the Burn's Day Storm, tracked farther north across Britain. Winds in Sussex were less extreme, reaching 167 kph (104 mph), but six people lost their lives because the storm hit during the day, rather than at night.

Surfers on the A27

Winter rains often result if severe flooding. On the day the Thames Barrier was closed for the first time, 2 February 1983, homes in Littlehampton, Shoreham, Newhaven, Camber, and Rye were all flooded by a combination of swollen rivers, high tides and onshore winds.

In West Sussex, Pulborough, where the River Rother joins the Arun, and Arundel, farther downstream, have often been flooded, and in East Sussex it has been Uckfield and Lewes (on the River Ouse) that have suffered repeatedly, although recent remedial works may prevent a major recurrence.

After three months of exceptional rain, the River Lavant in Chichester overflowed in December 1993 and January 1994, leading to major flooding and the bizarre sight of windsurfers on the A27, the main South-Coast trunk road.

Coldest dayColdest Day -15.6Bodiam on 23rd January 1963
Windiest dayWindiest Day 115 mphShoreham by Sea on 16th October 1987
Sunniest monthSunniest Month 383.9 Hours July 1911 at Eastbourne



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