The Burns' Night Storm of 1990 - similar on the way?

  • A 100-year old tree falls down at Kew Gardens, West London. Photo: PA/PA Archive/ Press Association Images

    Scaffolding collapses as a result of hurricane-force winds. Photo: PA/PA Archive/ Press Association Images

    Prospects for the week ahead as snow melt and heavy rain are forecast. Photo: David Cheskin/PA Archive/Press Association Images

  • The Burns' Night Storm of 1990 - similar on the way?
    26.01.2013 14:56


     Twenty-three years ago this week, hurricane-force winds wreaked havoc on the British Isles in what became known as the Burns’ Night Storm of 1990. More of a truly nationwide event than the Great Storm of 1987, dozens of lives were lost and damages exceeded £3 billion.

    Development of the storm

    One of the strongest extra-tropical storms on record, the Burns’ Night Storm formed out in the Atlantic on 23rd January 1990. Over the next 48 hours, the depression tracked eastwards towards Britain and matured over southern Scotland with a central pressure of 949hPa. With the centre of the depression over Scotland, it was further south in England and Wales where the strongest winds and greatest damage were recorded. Sustained wind speeds were widely above 70mph, while several locations reported gusts greater than 100mph; both Aberporth and Gwennap Head recorded wind gusts of up to 107mph with Culdrose and Sheerness following closely behind with 102mph and 101mph respectively.


    The storm led to a total of 47 fatalities, along with widespread transport disruption and the failure of power and communication lines. Despite it being famously known as the Burns’ Night Storm, the majority of the event occurred during daylight hours, a factor which is likely to have contributed not only to the amount of disruption but also to the number of people injured or killed.

    The storm was the most costly weather event to hit the UK with approximately £3.37 billion of insurance claims made in the aftermath. This is more than £1 billion greater than the events of October 1987. Unlike the 15 million trees which were uprooted in the storm three years prior, the Burns’ Night Storm downed just 3 million trees. This is due to a couple of factors; the Great Storm occurred in mid-October, a time when many trees were still in full leaf, meaning that they were more vulnerable to the effect of strong winds. Also, thanks to the Great Storm, many of the most vulnerable trees had already been uprooted three years before.

    23 years on… (A forecast for the next few days)

    In the wake of the recent cold spell, a combination of snowmelt, strong winds and high rainfall totals are likely to bring some hazards of their own in the coming days. Similar to the events leading up to the Burns’ Night Storm, a strong jet stream over the British Isles will bring a succession of low pressure systems from the North Atlantic. While this will restore temperatures to their seasonal average (or a few degrees above), it also means that many areas will experience strong winds and plenty of rain. The west coast of Scotland is perhaps most at risk with sustained wind speeds forecast to exceed 60mph and gusts in excess of 90mph on Monday – not far from those recorded in the Burns’ Night Storm.

    By: John Lee