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How Storm Ulysses From 1903 Can Teach Us to Prepare for the Worst of Mother Nature

A photograph showing the aftermath of Storm Ulysses

Researchers recover old weather records, revealing the UK's historic Storm Ulysses as one of the strongest to ever hit the British Isles.

A team of scientists has discovered that the severe windstorm Storm Ulysses, which struck the UK in February 1903, was one of the most powerful ever to hit the region. By converting hand-written weather data into digital records, the researchers have gained valuable insights into historical storms, floods, and heatwaves to better understand the risks posed by extreme weather events today and in the future.

Unlocking Secrets from the Past

Led by Professor Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at the University of Reading and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, the research team found that the rescued data places Storm Ulysses among the top four storms for the strongest winds across England and Wales. The study demonstrates the importance of recovering old paper records to enhance our understanding of past storms and their potential impacts.

From Archives to Digital Records

Published in Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, the research suggests that many pre-1950 storms remain unstudied as billions of data points exist only on paper, stored in archives worldwide. Professor Hawkins’ team converted hand-written observations from Storm Ulysses into digital data, enabling them to use modern weather forecasting techniques to simulate the storm and accurately assess its strength.

Reconstructing the Past, Assessing the Future

The researchers compared their findings with independent weather observations, photographs, and written accounts from 1903, lending credibility to the storm’s reconstruction. The reanalysis revealed that some locations experienced winds during Storm Ulysses that would be rarer than once in 100 years, providing valuable insights into the potential damage a similar storm could cause in the future.

Weather Records Recovery Efforts

This is not the first time Professor Hawkins has led weather record recovery initiatives. In 2022, national rainfall data dating back to 1836 became available after the University’s Department of Meteorology and 16,000 volunteers helped restore 5.2 million observations.