Channel Islands weather
November record in 1980

by Philip Eden


Rockall apart, they are geographically the most remote part of the British Isles although 'remote' is not a word that most people would use to describe them. They are also closer to the European mainland than any other of our islands. They are warmer and sunnier, on average, than anywhere in the UK or Ireland. They are, of course, the Channel Islands.


Jersey is the largest island in the group, the nearest to France, and the furthest from the English coastline. It is over 150km from Portland Bill but only 15 km from Normandy. Their distance from Britain, their proximity to France, their maritime location and their southerly latitude contribute to the Channel Islands' warm and sunny but rather moist climate. These factors also mean that the day-to-day weather here can be very different from the weather on the British mainland, and this is particularly true of Jersey.


There are occasions when Jersey is the only British island to enjoy a European heatwave, but there are other times when England and Wales are warm and sunny but the Channel Islands are fog-bound. A destructive gale in October 1964 caused millions of pounds of damage in Jersey and Guernsey but did not touch the English south coast. And on 31 October 1985 Jersey airport recorded the lowest October maximum temperature at a lowland site in the British Isles for over 40 years - just 3°C - courtesy of a bitter east wind blowing straight off the French mainland. That 15 km hop from France means that severe winter weather in Europe sometimes arrives with scarcely any modification; by contrast the British Isles in general are protected from continental extremes by the ameliorating influence of the surrounding seas.


Thus the weather can play outrageous tricks on Channel Islanders - as in November 1980 when another easterly wind blew without a break for over a week. At times the wind backed northeasterly, streaming down the length of the English Channel and bringing frequent showers of rain and hail. But from late on the 4th until the early hours of the 7th the wind came from due east bringing air which had originated over northern Russia several days before. Jersey as one might expect was more severely affected than the other islands. It snowed almost continuously for 48 hours with the temperature close to freezing point, and on the 6th snow lay 5cm thick at Jersey airport and 8cm deep in St Helier. The day's maximum temperature on the 5th at the airport was just 0.1°C. In over 150 years of weather recording there, substantial snow lying on the ground in the Channel Islands has never before nor since been noted so early in the season. The wintry weather in early-November 1980 was not confined to Jersey. A few centime tres of snow lay for a time over the hills of southern England, especially in Kent, Surrey and Sussex.