Storm caused by most intense low to cross UK in September in 30 years

The low pressure system that has brought heavy rain, strong winds and flooding to the UK is the most intense to cross the UK in September for more than 30 years, with the lowest air pressure of 973mb being recorded on Tuesday morning.

Pressure chart at 6am on 25 September 2012

To find a similarly intense low pressure system that affected a wide part of the UK in September you need to go back to 1981, when pressures below 970mb were reported across central parts of the UK.

Like this week, this low pressure system brought unsettled weather as it crossed the British Isles – tracking east over the Isle of Man before heading north to Cumbria, Northumberland, eastern Scotland, Orkney and Shetland.

But what do we mean by ‘the most intense’? The intensity of a low pressure system is measured as the lowest pressure recorded at the centre of the system, as this gives an indication of how active it may be. This will relate to the rainfall amounts and wind strengths associated with it.

However, pressure is only one indicator of how much wind and rain there will be, so it is possible that other systems have resulted in stronger winds or heavier rain in some places than we have seen over the last few days.

Although the storm we have seen this week is certainly unusual in that it crossed central parts of the UK, some parts of the UK have seen pressure systems of this kind of intensity many times before at this time of year. In fact, Met Office records show some 31 occurrences of pressure below 975mb being observed in the UK in September, but the vast majority of these were confined to north and west Scotland, Northern Ireland or the far west of England.

For example a deep low affected the northwest of Scotland with pressure as low as 972mb as recently as 12 September 2011, whilst the Isles of Scilly and part of Cornwall saw pressure as low as 966mb on 7 September 1995. So, with regard to the system which has recently affected the UK, the key to what makes it remarkable is that it has tracked over a wide area of the UK rather than those areas which are more used to storms of this intensity.

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