Weather Wise with Gordon Currie

The annual fall of the leaf is a fascinating process in relation to the weather conditions during October. (S)
The annual fall of the leaf is a fascinating process in relation to the weather conditions during October. (S)

Columnist Gordon Currie explores the current weather and gives prospects for the week ahead:

Dawning rapture to behold

Above the hills a tide of gold,

Treasure of the morning skies –

A tapestry of colour dyes!

Woodland nooks where leaves have shed

Reflect the light in fiery red,

Ploughland shades in molten glow

Shadows blue stretch long and low

Across the meadows green and bright

Responsive to this brilliant light;

Upwards, in fulfilled desire

To blend with hues of rich sapphire,

No greater beauty could there be

Than this celestial scene for me!

One very striking feature reflected in some of the glorious sunrises and the crystal clarity of blue skies which welcomed some of the month’s earlier days was the manner in which this year has demonstrated a remorseful spirit, almost a feeling of repentance for the wrong doings of the gloomier summertime weeks.

Little wonder that we still live with the legendary brilliance of St Luke’s Little Summer (October 18), the consecration of which arrived prematurely in the form of strong sunshine and dew-drop jewellery across the gossamer clad fields and hedgerows.

In every corner of the cottage garden, a little summer lingered with peacock butterflies rested upon the sun-warmed late flowers. Human inspirations created by such benign moments bring meaning and equilibrium back to the spirit, Nature’s curious consolation and reward, revealed in this atmospheric, windless peaceful perfection.

Time waits for no-one and our sweet reveries begin to fade. Slowly, with the passing of October’s shortening days we begin to notice how the season of autumn is gaining the upper hand, in places where tumultuous sounds rose from the harvest gatherings, silence now reigns in a world of decaying brown tints and dry stems.

In the outdoor world, age and beauty make a remarkable combination, presented annually and unfolded daily from Nature’s veil of mists, beginning with the higher moorland places and ending with the reluctant revelation of autumn’s valley mysteries upon the woodland floors.

Opportunity abounds in these days to see the flames of autumn licking up through the brambles and hedgerow thorns of the lowland plains to the rusty elm and oak forests, touching the shoulder of some remote Dale.

As the sun thrusts upwards in its curve towards the noonday zenith, one’s acquaintances with the colour schemes becomes more and more startling.

The annual fall of the leaf is a fascinating process in relation to the weather conditions during October.

If we disregard all the popular “selective theorising” of the climate change lobby with their endless claims of later defoliating in recent years compared with earlier years, the incidence of sharp frosts, coming hard on the heels of very wet seasons are very influential factors.

Certainly, dry warm autumns in the wake of dry summers seem to produce leafy Novembers, and these rather exceptional seasons are scattered through the weather records of history.

The ancient portents relating to the on-coming winter centuries ago declared that if the oak and beech trees retained their leaves well through November, a cold winter could be expected.

The logic behind this belief reflected upon a scientific basis was the idea that large blocking high pressure systems over the British Isles and neighbouring areas in late autumn prevented the mild Atlantic westerlies from reaching continental Europe in order to prevent or discourage the formations of cold, severe winters which would spread towards Britain.

This mechanism of the pressure patterns seemed to prove validity of this occurrence during many of the Victorian winters, especially in the 1870s and 1880s.

Richard Jeffries’ eloquent portrayal of the colourful effects of snow upon the foliaged trees in October and November 1879 and 1880 is vividly documented in the Victorian countryside’s preludes to severe winters.

There are many characteristics to be observed in relation to the hardiness of various woodland species and the effects of frost intensity. An air temperature of 28 - 25F (-2 to 4C) is quite enough to sever the soft, stalky tissues of the sycamore and chestnut trees, causing a windless and premature fall of the leaf.

The hardy ash leaves however require a temperature down to around 22-21F (-6C), a real leaf-stripping frost before any effective fall takes place in calm conditions.

Temperatures down to this level are usually infrequent before the end of October, consequently the ash trees retain most of their leaves until November.

Leaves fall more quickly from the lower branches of the trees than they do from the crowns in frosty conditions, giving an ideal example of the air cooling off much more rapidly than the air some 20 - 30ft above the ground.

However, the gallant beech trees on frosty mornings stand regal in their golden glossy draperies against the sunrise sky.

It is heartening to know that their crisp, brown foliaged remnants will hang on, almost like threads to link the seasons across winter, from autumn to springtime.

The expression “fall of the year” has a very literal application, known only too well to estate gardeners and park superintendents.

Few people realise that the aristocratic adult beech tree holds on average 119,000 leaves, while the Queen of the Woods, the birch, possesses a modest 200,000 leaves. The common elm must surely top the list, producing 7,000,000 leaves.


After the clear blue skies of so many October mornings, the weather situation is now reaching a more significant down-turn of autumn. High pressure remains very resistant over Greenland and the Arctic region – a slightly worrying factor for the months ahead. This means the current tracking of very active atlantic depression will be further southwards, probably in direct line for the British Isles through the coming week, bringing vigorous warm and cold frontal systems sweeping in from the south-west, with intervening small ridges of high pressure.

Very unsettled throughout the week, with periods of heavy rain at times separated by interludes of clearer weather with sunny interludes and a few scattered showers –possibly becoming wintry over the higher Dales later in the week. Temperatures inconsistent. A few mild days, 57 - 61 F (14 - 16 C) but colder spasms later in the week, with night frosts down to 28F (-2C). Overnight fog patches in the Vale of York. Some strange winds likely in this period.