The Sheffield Gale - 16th February 1962

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 air-stream 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 air-stream 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?

The following day 17th February 1962 The Times gave the following report on the events of the previous day

Three days later on 20th February 1962. The Times carried the following report



Insurance claims for the weekend gale damage in Yorkshire and the north east were stated yesterday by the British Insurance Association to be nearing the 3m. mark. Insurance offices in Sheffield alone are expecting over 50,000 claims for damage to property and its contents the latest estimates for which are now put at around 2m. There were queues at all the offices yesterday as policy holders filed their claims and were told to carry on with repairs. sending in the bill afterwards. Of the 100,000 houses damaged in Sheffield about half are insured against storm damage and the remainder, largely owned by the Sheffield Corporation. were either not covered in the insurance market or only against fire. It is not unusual for local authorities to carry risks themselves in connection with their own housing estates but it is believed already that some are beginning to doubt the wisdom of this practice after the heavy losses sustained recently at West Bromwich. Claims arising from flood damage in Hamburg and other parts of western Europe during the weekend are understood to be largely covered by local insurance companies. Lloyd's are. however, expecting to receive claims in connection with damage to ships and their cargoes but no estimate of these is yet possible as declarations of cargo values for goods in transit are frequently rendered some time after departure of the ship. In any case, the extent of damage cannot be assessed until after unloading

A day later on 21st February 1962, the same paper carried another report on the situation



Sheffield's labour force, working on gale-damaged houses in a race to complete repairs before there is rain, is to be reinforced from Birmingham and Coventry. A team of public works department employees from both cities is being rushed to Sheffield with equipment and materials, and will join the pool of builders. Mr. W. H. Rothwell. the Sheffield Estates Surveyor, said today. It is expected that between 40 and 50 men will arrive, and will be housed at Endcliffe drill hall and the R.A.F. Station. Norton. The Services will meet the cost of accommodation and the corporation will provide the meals. Estimated insurance claims for damage now total f2m.. and the full cost of the havoc is likely to be 5m.. twice the original estimate. Already Sheffield fire brigade, the Civil Defence Corps. the city engineer's dangerous structures department and the Army authorities have dealt with 2,200 dangerous buildings. Tonight the Lord Mayor's appeal fund stands at 8,500, aided by a cheque for 1,000 guineas from Whitbread and Tennants breweries. Mr. Butler, Home Secretary and Chancellor of Sheffield University, has sent a personal cheque for 50 guineas. In a letter to the Lord Mayor, he says: " I have been horrified to read of the extent of the damage but I am glad to note you are matching this with the energy of your attack on the problem."

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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