Early winter storms, late 2011

On 8 December 2011, a deep Atlantic low pressure system brought very strong winds across the northern half of the UK.

Scotland bore the brunt of the storm, with winds gusting 60 to 70 knots (69 to 81 mph) and reaching well over 70 knots (81 mph) in exposed coastal locations. Mountain summits experienced gusts of well over 100 knots (115 mph). This event is judged as the most significant storm across Scotland since 11-12 January 2005. Winds also gusted 50 to 60 knots (58 to 69 mph) across much of north and west Wales, northern England and Northern Ireland.

The storm came in the middle of a spell of turbulent weather across the UK from late November to mid-December, with a powerful Atlantic jet stream bringing a succession of deep depressions. The first storm of the sequence on 24/25 November brought severe gales to the Western Isles. Northern parts of the UK experienced winds gusting over 60 knots from the next system overnight 26/27 November as it passed to the north of Scotland. Brisk westerlies followed over the intervening days until the storm of 8 December struck. Another exceptionally deep depression on 12/13 December brought heavy rain and strong winds to Wales and southern England, as the depression's centre passed over northern Scotland.

Impacts

On 8 December, by far the most significant impacts were felt across Scotland. The very strong winds resulted in widespread travel disruption, power cuts and school closures. The Forth, Tay, Skye and Erskine road bridges were closed. Network Rail imposed a speed restriction because of the risk of trees and other debris on rail lines. Ferry services were delayed and some flights were cancelled. Thousands of people were left without electricity; an estimated 150,000 homes lost power during the 8th, mainly as a result of trees and other debris blown on to overhead power lines. Engineers were still trying to re-connect about half of these on the 9th.

Many trees were brought down, and west-facing coasts were battered by very heavy seas. On the island of Hoy in Orkney, part of a causeway road was washed away, and there were various reports of building damage. Schools across Scotland shut for the day or closed early. The overall cost of disruption to Scotland's economy has been estimated at around £100 million.

In northern England, localised flooding was reported from the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales and driving conditions were difficult in the strong winds.

The other storms were overall less significant but still brought notable impacts. During the storm of 26/27 November, a cargo ship sunk after being struck by a wave in the Irish Sea, with the loss of 5 crew members. This storm also brought some travel disruption and smaller-scale power cuts. Whilst far less severe than that of the previous week, the storm of 12/13 December also resulted in some localised impacts, mainly in southern England. Ferry services were disrupted and there were reports of fallen trees and some structural damage.

The following links from the BBC News provide some indication of the impacts experienced during this period.

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wind turbine in North Ayrshire

The photograph shows the failure of a wind turbine in North Ayrshire during the storm.

Weather data

Synoptic situation at 1200 GMT on 24 November 2011. This first deep depression of the sequence, tracking NNE to the west, fortunately missed most of the UK.

dec wind 24

Synoptic situation at 0000 GMT on 27 November 2011. This deep depression brought strong winds to northern areas of the UK.

dec wind 27

Synoptic situation at 1200 GMT on 8 December 2011. Scotland bore the brunt of this violent storm which brought the strongest winds and by far the most significant impacts of the spell.

dec wind 08

Synoptic situation at 0000 GMT on 13 December 2011. The last storm of the sequence brought heavy rain and strong winds to the coast of Wales and the south coast of England. The centre of this depression was unusually low as it tracked across northern Scotland: South Uist (Western Isles) recorded a pressure of 945.7 hPa at 1400 GMT on 13 December, the lowest recorded pressure anywhere in the UK since 29 January 2000.

dec wind 13

During 8 December, winds gusted from 50 to 60 knots (58 to 69 mph) across north Wales, northern England and Northern Ireland, and 60 to 70 knots (69 to 81 mph) across much of Scotland. Exposed coastal locations saw gusts of well over 70 knots (81 mph) (Figure 1). The highest gust from a low-level site was 91 knots (105 mph) at Tulloch Bridge, Highland, the highest gust on record at this station. Several other stations recorded their highest gusts for 5 or 10 years. This is judged to be the most significant such storm across Scotland since that of 11-12 January 2005, when the peak gust speeds around the coast and in the Central Belt were typically 55 to 75 knots. Winds were stronger across the Western and Northern Isles.

Highest mean hourly wind speeds on 8 December were 40 to 50 knots (46 to 58 mph) across much of Scotland, and over 70 knots (81 mph) across the mountain summits (Figure 2).

Highest gust speeds (over 70 knots) 8 December 2011
Station Elevation (masl) Max gust speed (knots) Highest gust since
Tulloch Bridge, Highland 249 91 Highest gust on record - previously 28 January 2002 67 knots
Fair Isle 57 80 8 November 2007 81 knots
Tiree 9 79 6 November 1996 83 knots
Inverbervie, Kincardineshire 134 78 Highest gust on record - previously 9 January 2008 76 knots
Kirkwall, Orkney 26 76 29 January 2000 97 knots
Dunstaffnage, Argyll 3 76 21 January 1993 77 knots
Stornoway Airport, Western Isles 15 74 11 January 2005 88 knots
Point of Ayre, Isle of Man 9 74 8 January 2005 85 knots
South Uist Range, Western Isles 4 74 3 February 2011 75 knots
Wick Airport, Caithness 36 73 12 January 2005 76 knots
Salsburgh, Lanarkshire 277 73 31 December 2006 75 knots
Leuchars, Fife 10 72 26 December 1998 73 knots
Rosehearty, Aberdeenshire 4 71 29 January 2000 77 knots
Machrihanish, Argyll 10 70 31 December 2006 74 knots
Prestwick, Ayrshire 27 70 26 December 1998 80 knots
Aberdaron, Gwynedd 95 70 8 January 2005 89 knots
Orlock Head, County Down 35 70 7 March 2009 74 knots

Across Scotland's mountains, winds gusted well over 100 knots (115 mph) - including a gust of 143 knots (164 mph) on Cairngorm - the highest recorded gust in the UK since 6 November 1996 when Cairngorm recorded 146 knots (168 mph) - and not far short of the UK record of 150 knots (173 mph) set here on 20 March 1986.

Highest gust speeds 8 December 2011 at mountain stations
Station Elevation (masl) Max gust speed (knots) Highest gust since
Cairngorm Summit, Inverness-shire 1237 143 6 November 1996 146 knots*
Aonach Mor, Highland 1130 126 21 January 1993 132 knots
Cairnwell, Aberdeenshire 928 118 21 December 2008 124 knots
Glen Ogle, Perthshire 564 108 Highest gust on record - previously 28 January 2002 107 knots
Bealach na Ba, Highland 773 103 17 January 2009 116 knots
Great Dun Fell, Cumbria 847 93 31 December 2006 99 knots

*Also the highest recorded gust anywhere in the UK since 6 November 1996

Figure 1: Highest gust speeds (knots) 8 December 2011

dec wind max gust 1

Figure 2: Highest mean hourly wind speed (knots) 8 December 2011

dec wind mean speed 1

Last updated: 30 October 2012