The Great October 1987 Storm

  • A tree crushes a car after the Great October 1987 Storm. Photo: PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images.

    A Sealink ferry, like the one pictured, was driven ashore near Folkestone during the Great Storm. Photo: PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

    The Stock Market was badly disrupted through Friday 16th October and did not reopen properly until Monday. Photo: Nick Ansell/PA Wire/Press Association Images

    Emmetts House and Garden, Ide Hill, Kent shortly after the storm which destroyed 95% of its woodland. Photo: Mike Howarth/PA Archive/Press Association Images

  • The Great October 1987 Storm
    17.10.2013 15:37

    This week marks the 26th anniversary of one of the most infamous UK weather events in living memory. The Great Storm, as it is often referred to, struck a large part of southeast England in the early hours of October 16th 1987. It is doubtful that any weather event since the second World War, bar possibly the severe winters of 1947 and 1963 and the exceptional summer of 1976, have had as much effect on the national consciousness as those events which played out during that fateful October night back in 1987.

    One of the reasons for the storm’s infamous reputation is that it was not accurately forecast, although windy conditions in the Channel and northern France had been indicated since the previous Sunday. The other reason is Michael Fish’s declaration the previous weekend that there wouldn’t be a “hurricane” affecting the UK during the coming week, although he did say it would become windy later in the week.

    Of course it is not possible for a hurricane to directly affect the UK, as they are very different in terms of the way they form and also their structure. However, ex Hurricane Floyd did play a part in the storm’s occurrence. The remnants of this hurricane, along with some cold air over Iceland, resulted in the rapid deepening of a depression to the west of Portugal.

    This depression then tracked northeastwards across the Bay of Biscay and then, in the early hours of Friday 16th, reached the Cornwall coast and then moved very quickly northeastwards across the Midlands and Lincolnshire and out into the North Sea.

    The strongest winds were to the east of the depression’s track, with the very strongest winds found along exposed coasts. Gorleston in Norfolk saw the highest gust at 122mph, although wind gusts approaching 120mph were recorded along parts of the English Channel coast and up to 140mph over parts of Brittany. Sustained wind speeds did locally reach hurricane force (at least 74mph) in exposed coastal areas of southern England.

    The storm caused much damage over southeast England: it blew down many power cables: there was considerable damage to many buildings, construction sites and streetlamps; more than one ship and a cross-channel ferry foundered off the Kent coast, and up to 15 million trees were uprooted. Famously, 6 of the 7 old oak trees, after which the town of Sevenoaks in the west of Kent were named, were felled. As the storm struck well after midnight, only 18 people died in England (along with another four in France). It cost UK insurers around 2 billion pounds, making it the second most expensive weather event in UK history.

    The repercussions of the storm lasted for some time and there was intense media interest for a while. “Why weren’t we warned?” screamed the front pages of the newspapers on the morning of Saturday 17th. Ironically, although the subsequent “Burns Day” storm of January 25th-26th 1990, which saw similar strength winds over a much greater part of the UK, caused much more death and destruction and cost insurers over 3 billion pounds, it did not have anything like the same notoriety as the 1987 storm, although this was at least partly because it had been accurately forecast well in advance.

    By: Tony Conlan