The latest report from Michael Walter:
My last routine task of each day is to go outside to take the maximum and minimum temperature readings. On the evening of 12th October it was still a beautifully beguiling, sultry 20° at 10.15pm and a check the following morning showed that the temperature hadn’t dropped below 18.5°C during the night. With a slight mental shudder, I was instantly put in mind of the night almost exactly 31 years ago when the Great Storm wreaked havoc in southern England, its worst excesses being in the south east. In the lull before that storm on the evening of 16th October, I had remarked to my wife on how warm it was just before going to bed, little knowing what that observation portended. If you didn’t experience it, you can’t begin to imagine the terrifying strength of the storm that night, and the appalling, dawning realisation that you were totally at the mercy of the elements. The reason for the unusual weather this time was Storm Callum; air swirling anti-clockwise around a depression in the near Atlantic drew warm air up from southern Europe, but without deepening sufficiently to blast the country as had happened in 1987. By morning on 17th October 1987 the storm had abated and it was fairly safe to venture out to the wood to inspect the damage. The sight of gaping roofs and fallen trees in Rough Common should have prepared me for what I encountered in Blean Woods, fallen oaks that blocked the access track being the first indication of how severe the storm had been. Abandoning the car, I clambered over trunks and torn limbs and managed to reach the car park, finding it flooded with light, the gloomy plantation in which it had been tucked away now almost totally demolished. All the waymarked trails were impassable and hazardous in places where trees leaned drunkenly across them. My initial thoughts must have classed this as an unmitigated disaster, with a huge amount of effort needing to be expended on reopening the paths and making the place safe. A more considered reaction in the following days was how lucky I had been to witness one of those rare events that can shape habitats for decades to come. Now, 31 years later, walking around the wood, it is almost as if the storm had never happened; admittedly, the mature conifer plantations suffered catastrophically, and natural regeneration of birch and other species has converted them to more natural young woodland, but elsewhere the scars are hard to find if you don’t know where to look. For the most part blown oaks were scattered throughout the wood rather than in large clusters, and the small canopy gaps they created closed over long ago as surrounding trees extended their boughs towards the unexpected light. Oak heartwood is extremely resistant to fungal decay so, while the smaller branches have rotted and crumbled away, the trunks still survive in the cool shade as a mute reminder of that once-in-250-years’ event.
The meteorologists may tell us that summer has ended, but the weather continues to surprise, with temperatures several degrees above the long-term average for October, and a few common darter dragonflies still patrolling the rides. Regardless of temperature, though, decreasing daylength triggers deciduous trees into preparing for winter, and autumn colours are appearing; it will be interesting to see if the display of russet, yellow, amber and occasional flaring crimson has been affected by this year’s monumental summer.
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