Lightning storms mark end of heatwave

Entertainment carried on at the Royal Mile. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
Entertainment carried on at the Royal Mile. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
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EDINBURGH’S sweltering heatwave came to an end with a spectacular lightning storm which caused travel chaos across the region – and generated enough electricity to boil water for millions of cups of tea.

The longest heatwave since 1976 ended with a dramatic electrical storm, which saw the Lothians peppered with hundreds of lightning bolts.

Thousands of rail travellers at Waverley station faced delays after signal boxes were knocked out. Traffic on the city by-pass was reduced to a crawl in torrential rainstorms and a Ryaniar flight was hit by lightning after taking off from Edinburgh Airport. Musselburgh swimming pool also took a direct hit, forcing its closure for almost an hour.

Forecasters say the storm saw 10,000 strikes across Scotland – with a huge number concentrated on Edinburgh and the Lothians.

In total, the 10,000 lightning strikes that struck Scotland contained a massive 2.5 million kWh of energy – enough to boil water for 90m cups of tea, figures from University Corporation for Atmospheric Research showed. And the bad news? Forecasters are predicting further humid thunderstorms are brewing.

Netweather forecaster Ian Michaelwhite said 25,000 lightning strikes had been expected overnight in the UK, but that number could easily have doubled.

Forecaster Brian Gaze, of The Weather Outlook, said: “This is the most lightning strikes I’ve ever seen at the same time. Amazing.”

When the heavens opened yesterday morning, shoppers in Princes Street were forced to take cover in doorways and shelter from lightning which lit up the city.

The ferocious storm knocked out East Coast main line signal boxes and reduced rail services between Waverley and Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Passengers faced cancellations and delays as rail workers were forced to operate 
signals manually.

The powerful strike at Musselburgh – which hit at about 10am – interfered with the workings of a water pump.

The Ryanair flight to Alicante was struck just before 7pm. It was diverted to Prestwick as a precauation but continued its journey 90 minutes later after being inspected by engineers and being given the all-clear

One centre user told the Evening News: “I’ve never heard a thunder crack like it. It was deafening, a rumble that you could feel with your whole body, never mind hear.”

Elsewhere – as the rods wreaked their powerful brand of havoc – lights flickered in homes and power temporarily faltered, while traffic on the south bypass slowed to a crawl as drivers faced a sheer wall of rainwater frantic flicking wipers were unable to pierce.

Commuter and part-time lecturer Gillian McKenzie, 40, was in her Volvo on the Bypass South when chaos erupted. “It was terrifying – I couldn’t see the road for the rainwater and it was aquaplaning.”

Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service reported six call-outs in a 15-minute period as humidity and lightning strikes played havoc with alarms across the city, leading false warnings to sound in buildings including St George’s School for Girls.

Police Scotland also reported having been called out to a number of malfunctioning alarms, but said this was “not uncommon” in this type of weather. Around 40 homes in Midlothian also briefly lost power as a result of the 
electrical storms.

A spokesman for Network Rail said extra staff had been drafted in in anticipation of further travel problems caused by the dramatic weather. Their move could be prudent – as the bad weather is forecast to continue today with deafening thunderstorms rolling across the Capital – followed by 
torrential downpours.

The Met Office said the region is roughly halfway through a 45-hour severe weather warning – with estimates up to 50mm of rain could fall in a three-hour period today. Average rainfall for the whole of July in eastern Scotland is around 60mm, with the west averaging around 100mm.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency has also issued an amber flood warning for Edinburgh and the 
Lothians, which remains 
active until this afternoon.

A spokesman warned residents of Edinburgh and the Lothians to remain vigilant, adding: “Very heavy rainfall could cause flooding in the area. Intensities could be very high in some places. This could cause flooding due to local surface water run-off, particularly in urban areas and on roads, and over-spilling of small watercourses.

A Transport Scotland spokesman warned motorists in Edinburgh city to be wary of greasy roads – a product of quenching after long hot spells. The body said patches can be worse than black ice and urged 
extreme caution.

A spokesman for the body said: “Once again we’ve seen how quickly weather conditions can change in Scotland. We’ll do all we can to minimise travel-related disruption and would ask drivers and commuters play their part by planning journeys in advance, using all the available traffic and travel information.” The Traffic Scotland website and twitter, Variable Message Signs and internet radio are being used to provide up-to-date travel information.

The forecast for the rest of the week is not much brighter, with storms predicted to continue all the way through to Saturday.

A spokesman for Exacta Weather said: “For the foreseeable and much of August, a relatively very unsettled theme is ahead for Edinburgh, with the best spells of weather to the south and east of the country, although some brief and more widespread settled weather may be possible at times.”