Storm Ophelia and the Red Sun in Warwick

Red Sun over the Market Hall Museum, Warwick, 16/10/2017
Heritage and Culture Warwickshire
Red Sun over Warwick, 16/10/2017
Heritage and Culture Warwickshire

Over the week of the 9th of October, the five-day weather forecasts were predicting unseasonably warm weather for the weekend of the 14th, culminating on Monday 16th with temperatures in central England of up to around 22 degrees Celsius.  As the week progressed it became clear that these temperatures would be due to warm air being dragged northwards by the remnants of a strong Atlantic hurricane; Hurricane Ophelia.

It was predicted that Ireland and the west of Britain would take the brunt of the battering by Storm Ophelia (downgraded to a ‘post-tropical cyclone’) on the Monday, with strong winds nevertheless predicted for Warwickshire through the afternoon and evening. Away from the worst effects of the storm, parts of south-east England would enjoy sunshine and temperatures approaching the mid 20s.

The predictions proved correct; Ireland and west Wales experienced high coastal winds and considerable damage. Elsewhere however, over extensive parts of England, the calm before the storm was marked by something strange – the so-called Red Sun.

Here in Warwick, we woke up to very mild temperatures and light rain. By mid morning the brightening skies were taking on an increasingly cloudy and hazy quality, bathing the town and surrounding area in a slightly eerie yellow-tinged gloomy light. These conditions persisted until the early afternoon. On a few occasions the sun peeked through the murk, appearing as a dull but striking orange disc.  Social and mainstream media named this the ‘Red Sun’ and it was evident that the phenomenon was occurring right across England, even encroaching on the sunny south-east. On the ground in Warwick, the light quality was not unlike that of a partial solar eclipse. Automatic lighting came on, motorists were forced to use headlights, and many people were talking about the strange light, odd weather and red sun.

In Warwick, by mid afternoon, the freshening storm winds tracking up from the south-west had blown away the murk, leaving us with clear sunshine, and howling winds that persisted into the evening.

It turned out that the Red Sun phenomenon had been caused by a combination of Saharan dust and fine ash from forest fires over parts of Spain and Portugal, dragged up by the swirling remnants of the hurricane. The dust caused shorter wavelength blue light to be scattered, accounting for the red appearance. On the following day the local weather had returned to a cool seasonal average. Patches of pale dust on parked cars served as a reminder of the Red Sun, Storm Ophelia and its legacy.


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