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The July 1985 Thunderstorm

  • 18-06-2023 9:47am
    Registered Users Posts: 522 ✭✭✭

    For those that remember this memorable storm on 25th / 26th July 1985, here is a sequence of images capturing the activity that occurred that day. Feel free to drop in any other images or data you have found about that day (sferics would be a good one). I hope you enjoy taking a look back at this event which is often referred to as the "worst in living memory". This post can also serve as a record of this event to compare with recent and future events.

    Met Eireann report of the event :-

    Overview of the synoptic pattern the morning of the event. Slack low SW of Ireland and southerly flow :-

    Close up of Ireland the morning of the event :-

    Lunchtime and the first activity kicks off in the Midlands west of Dublin. Convection occuring over NI :-

    Cold cloud tops over the Midlands west of Dublin at lunchtime :-

    By 2pm activity is ongoing across the North Midlands with a large amount of convection occurring now in the SE :-

    At 5pm activity is widespread away from the immediate SE, SW, and W stretching all the way from Cork up to western counties of Northern Ireland (I personally did not see significant lightning activity in Co.Antrim until 8pm in the evening. Though it was likely ongoing in Tyrone, Fermanagh, Derry at the time).

    By 7:30pm there are now two distinct areas of cold cloud tops. One in NI moving towards the north coast, and a larger one moving up the heart of the country. Basically two MCS systems. Note that Northern Scotland was having similar activity at the time with even colder cloud tops :-

    By 9pm the northern MCS is moving off shore from the north coast of NI and continuing to develop. The southern MCS is increasing in size and coverage with new development on it's southern flank and stretching out into the Irish Sea west of Isle of Man.

    Into the overnight hours, this 11:30pm shot shows a large MCS stretching from Cork all the way up the Midlands, Dublin, Sligo, Dundalk, NI. Also some action in the SE which had be missing out earlier in the day, although images suggest the focus was Midlands, Dublin, and North. Meanwhile the W and SW missed this event altogether.

    It's the middle of the night now at 1:00am. And at this stage there is a lot of activity going on where I lived in NI at the time. A large MCS is running up the spine of the country with everywhere except the W, SW, and far SE affected. At this stage if you refer back to earlier images, the Midlands and Northern Ireland would have already had hours and hours of continuous thunder activity :-

    2:00am shot appears to show cells decaying the further south you go south :-

    At 2:00am the most thunder activity likely occurring over NI. Coldest cloud tops there. Activity likely dying off in the South :-

    4:00am shot shows the remainders of the MCS moving north over NI. I can confirm that there was still plenty of lightning action in the North at this time. Further south the event was likely over at this stage with just heavy rain :-

    The last of the thunder activity finished up over eastern NI around 9:30am on the 26th. Although looking at 30 min sat images it is now clear that this actually came in from the Irish Sea rather than being a continuation of the overnight MCS :-


  • Registered Users Posts: 16,733 ✭✭✭✭nacho libre

    Thanks for this very good and detailed post. So that explains why I don't remember it as we missed out on this event. I was wondering why I could remember the May 2001 thunderstorm but not this event .

  • Moderators, Recreation & Hobbies Moderators Posts: 11,298 Mod ✭✭✭✭igCorcaigh

    The "worst best in living memory".

    I have distinct memories of this when I was just 12.

    Our house was positioned on the highest part of the North East of Cork City, and next to our house, a very high electricity pole. I stood there with my mother (bless) looking at all of the fork lightning going on for hours.

    I remember too, the reports on the newspaper the next of 24 cows that were killed whilst sheltering under a tree.

    Apart from that, I don't recall anyone injured or houses damaged, but perhaps there where. Never seen a lightning storm like it since. Truly epic.

  • Registered Users Posts: 10,586 ✭✭✭✭Jim_Hodge

    I've no idea what all the charts mean but it was a belter of a storm that I don't ever want to see the likes of again. We had just built our new house and moved in a month before. It got hit twice that night. Horrific and very frightening.

  • Registered Users Posts: 6,097 ✭✭✭Elmer Blooker

    Thunderstorms are usually associated (but not always) with warm summer weather but this storm was in the middle of an appallingly bad summer comparable with the infamous summer of 1946.

  • Registered Users Posts: 522 ✭✭✭glightning

    Here are the temperatures for Belfast International Airport from the 25th. Nothing special that day. Also, the METAR reports (current conditions) 25th / 26th for the time period of interest :-

    METAR reports from the 25th (see bottom of page) :-

    METAR reports from the 26th (see bottom of page) :-

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  • Registered Users Posts: 522 ✭✭✭glightning

    The conditions are actually very similar to the current setup. 20c temps roughly with a slack low off the SW

  • Registered Users Posts: 302 ✭✭Robwindstorm

    Great job there glighting, I remember that day well. Fork lightning from afternoon. It died away for a period in the evening but returned with vengeance overnight. Scary stuff but enthralling at the same time for a weather nut. There was another cracking storm in the end of June 1986 following a hot week. It lasted from evening and all through the night as well, epic stuff too. I would love to find reports on that storm.

  • Moderators, Science, Health & Environment Moderators Posts: 16,799 Mod ✭✭✭✭Gonzo

    I was only 11 during the thunderstorm of 1985. I remember it being a very warm and cloudy afternoon with distant rumbles starting around 3pm. These rumbles continued into the evening and became progressively louder however it remained dry until nightfall. Once the skies became dark the thunderstorm really got going with loads of sheet and fork lightning, like a strobe show on the continent and the constant loud thunder all through the night. Very heavy rain and some hail fell during the night and the thunder and lightning eventually faded away the next morning. Almost 18 continuous hours of thunder and about 12 hours of regularly visible lightning from that storm.

  • Registered Users Posts: 18,405 ✭✭✭✭Strazdas

    I actually remember it vividly. My abiding memory of it that night was the lightning storm that night (Dublin) which went on for hours and hours -huge flashes of lightning overhead and the bedroom being lit up like daylight every few seconds. I'm pretty sure it was the longest lightning storm I've ever experienced.

  • Registered Users Posts: 1 SuitableTiger85

    Was it a supercell? I'm curious also how frequent are supercells in Ireland, if any.

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  • Registered Users Posts: 522 ✭✭✭glightning

    I think it was probably two MCS’s rather than supercells.

    Supercells generally have specific characteristics like the tendency to be “right movers”. They tend to turn to the right as they move forward.

    Supercells have wall clouds due to rotation of the cell and I’ve never heard of reports about this storm having wall clouds (though it’s years ago now and people in this part of the world probably were not even wall cloud / tornado aware that much back then)

  • Registered Users Posts: 522 ✭✭✭glightning

    Here in Ireland I think that any supercells we ever do get (if any) are going to be low topped supercells. i.e. Towering to between 35k and 40k feet.

    The troposphere in this part of the world is too low to allow for 50K feet plus cloud tops like they get in US supercells.

  • Registered Users Posts: 522 ✭✭✭glightning

  • Registered Users Posts: 522 ✭✭✭glightning

    Have just become aware by the way after checking over a 2003 storm we had where I know exact times that the times in those images are out by 5 hours! (1985 and 1986 storms)

  • Registered Users Posts: 302 ✭✭Robwindstorm

    Brilliant thanks, I always thought it compared to the 85 storm. Epic lightning from it and to this day them two thunderstorms remain unchallenged since.

  • Registered Users Posts: 6,235 ✭✭✭Oneiric 3

    High res image of June 29th '86:

    New Moon

  • Registered Users Posts: 302 ✭✭Robwindstorm

    Wow, they're amazing images,thanks oneiric. There's not as much mentioned about this storm as 85, maybe some people get them mixed up. I remember being with my dad and neighbours trying to cover haystacks with loose hay and fertilizer bags as the sky suddenly turned black from the the southeast. Before a drop of rain fell the sky split across with lightning and scorched the hairs on my dad's arms while he was holding the pitchfork. The storm lasted the whole night . Sorry glightning, I know you're thread is the epic 1985 storm. I just couldn't leave out it's twin.

  • Registered Users Posts: 522 ✭✭✭glightning

    The 86 storm is more than welcome in here :)

  • Registered Users Posts: 179 ✭✭odyboody

    My memory is more of the '86 storm.

    Was in Croke park for the simple minds concert, when the lightening started flashing behind the stage 2 "young wans" behind me said it was the best lights they had seen at a concert.

    Remember going back to Churchtown and sitting with the patio doors open watching the lightening over three rock. Will never forget the smell of ozone in the air.

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,480 ✭✭✭Jpmarn

    I remember that big thunderstorm back in July 1985 when I was 14 living near Limerick City. It started very late in the evening wall after 10pm. When going to bed with fairly frequent lightning and rumbles of thunder. I don’t know what time it was over as I fell asleep in spite of the storm. Overall it was pretty poor summer with generally cool wet weather most days.

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  • Registered Users Posts: 6,097 ✭✭✭Elmer Blooker

    useless info: the next day was the World Cup final, remembered of course as the Maradona (RIP) World Cup.

  • Registered Users Posts: 211 ✭✭Banarol

    It started in Mid Tipp around 7.30pm. I remember being at my grandparents house that evening. My grandfather was out doing hay and ended up being stranded in a hayshed about a mile away from the house. I remember my grandmother giving out and being worried.He arrived back at the house around 3 am

  • Registered Users Posts: 312 ✭✭Strong and Faithful

    I was 9 and we got hit hard in the southern midlands. It got into it at 9.30pm brilliant fork lightning hitting galvanise sheds. My brother's yearling bullock was killed by lightning.

    It was a Thursday eve and we lost electricity until Sunday eve.

    July 1983 was a month with a lot of thunderstorm activity. Late August too. Before the Dubs v Cork semi final replay in PUC.

    Around either 24/25 August 2000 saw almost a day of thunderstorm activity around Dublin. Also hail and thunderstorms for a day in Dublin mid October 2003.