Did Weather Make the Spanish Armada Flee?

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When reading accounts of the defeat of the Spanish Armada, 420 years ago this month. They occasionally make a reference to the weather when it impinges on historical events, but they rarely do more than scratch the meteorological surface.

They tell, for instance, of "a contrary wind'', "a rain squall from the northeast'', and "a shift of the wind into the southwest''. They do not investigate how unusual the storms of summer 1588 were, nor do they make reference to the painstaking work of climate historians who have pieced together the sequence of weather events during those crucial weeks from ships' log-books and from daily weather observations on land.

Climatologist Professor Hubert Lamb deduced that the scattering of the Spanish fleet in the North Sea during the first week of August was due to two intense Atlantic depressions which tracked north-eastwards across northern Britain and thence to Scandinavia.

The complex sequence of wind-directions logged by both Spanish and English ships might at first sight appear random, but they fit exactly the pattern suggested by Lamb's reconstruction. In particular the violent north-westerly gale in the wake of the second depression would have been the sort of event to cause the losses suffered by the Armada as it limped around the Atlantic coasts of Scotland and Ireland.

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