City Grammar - Memories - 1962 Gale

The Sheffield Gale - 16th February 1962 - written by Chris Hobbs

The month was generally mild but strong winds had occurred elsewhere on 11 - 12th February. The general weather outlook for the day  was for strong winds. For instance some places in Scotland were experiencing mean hourly speeds of 65mph with frequent gusts of over 100 mph. In Northern England the gales were less severe with Manchester,Stockport and Rotherham reporting mean wind speeds of 45 mph. However in Sheffield  wind speeds of 35mph at 04.00a.m had increased to between 75-80 mph at 06.00a.m with gusts of 96 mph being recorded.

Two hours later the city looked as though it had been struck by a blitz. 100 homes were beyond repair with a further 6000 being no longer weatherproof. 100,000 were damaged to a lesser extent. Overall it was estimated that two thirds of all houses in the city had suffered some form of damage. On a more sober note three people were killed as a direct result of the storm. The city was declared a disaster area by the national government but the repairs and costs associated with the disaster fell very much with the city.

As for myself I was living in Greenhill at the time and was attending Greenhill Junior School.  I can remember walking to school that day with the ground being covered with smashed tiles and branches. It was difficult to move in the wind but Greenhill was to a certain extent sheltered from the worst of the westerly gales. The damage was not as extreme as elsewhere in the Sheffield but was still noticeable.

The actual cause of the gales is difficult to explain. Sheffield lies to the east of the Pennines. Airstreams undulating over the peaks of the Pennines give a constricting increase to wind speed on the heights and turbulent eddying on the lee side as the wind descends to valley level. This well known occurrence however does not explain the excessive wind speeds that were encountered that day. What did occur was an inversion.

An upper layer of air had a higher temperature than the colder air beneath it. As cold air is heavier than warm air it meant that the prevailing westerly airstream was deprived of any natural buoyancy and in effect "bounced" back from the upper area of warmer air. The downward movement was transmitted to the airflow giving considerable compression near the ground. The air bounced back from the ground and a pronounced vertical wave motion developed. It was the length and amplitude of this motion together with the height of the temperature inversion and the wind speed that put Sheffield under this trough and caused the winds of 80mph+. Nine miles downwind where the airstream had spread out the surface speed was a mere 18 mph. I believe that the phenomena is also called a "lee wave wind"

An event like this was more or less impossible to forecast given the number of variables involved but would better planning have mitigated the worst effects?

As a footnote the following month was the coldest March of the century and of course the Christmas of 1962 heralded the start of the big freeze of 1963 where much of the country was covered with snow that lay on the ground from December 26th until March 2 (67 consecutive days)

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