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Menopausal Mother Nature

News about Climate Change and our Planet

1903 Storm Ulysses one of windiest ever in England and Wales, shows analysis

1903 Storm Ulysses one of windiest ever in England and Wales, shows analysis

It was a storm sufficiently severe to rip up thousands of trees, leave several people dead and to warrant a mention in James Joyce’s novel Ulysses – subsequently taking its name from there.

However, it is not until now that researchers have been able to say that the 1903 tempest whipped up winds of a force seen less than once a century – making Storm Ulysses one of the worst ever seen.

“We knew the storm we analysed was a big one, but we didn’t know our rescued data would show that it is among the top four storms for strongest winds across England and Wales,” said Prof Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at the University of Reading and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science.

His research team has analysed paper records of the historic extreme weather event – which would have resulted in gusts in excess of 100mph in some areas – digitised them and applied modern weather forecasting methods. “This study is a great example of how rescuing old paper records can help us to better understand storms from decades gone by. Unlocking these secrets from the past could transform our understanding of extreme weather and the risks they pose to us today,” Prof Hawkins said.

The consequences if it were repeated in future would be much worse than they were in 1903 due to the effects of the climate crisis, Hawkins said. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We can translate these past events into a modern context, in our warmer world. So, for example, we know that sea levels have already risen around our coastlines, so the storms that happened in the past would today be more damaging, because the storm surge around our coasts will be higher.

“Also, because we live in a warmer world, our atmosphere is warmer and more humid, and so has more moisture in it. And so the storms will rain more than they would have done in the past.

“We can understand how the risks are changing through time as the world is warming from understanding these past events.”

The researchers said many storms that occurred before 1950 were left unstudied because billions of pieces of data exist only on paper. For their study, they looked at Storm Ulysses which heavily damaged infrastructure and ships when it passed across Ireland and the UK between 26 and 27 February 1903. They compared that with independent weather observations, such as rainfall data, as well as photographs and contemporaneous written accounts.

Hawkins said he planned to apply the method to other historical storms. “We have lots of diaries and handwritten records in the UK and Ireland, going back well into the 1800s, which cover lots of these other storms and other extreme events that we had in the past. And so reconstructing those storms in the past will also be a very valuable initiative that we’re pursuing.”

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