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1987 Great Storm in the UK
With winds gusting at up to 100mph, there was massive devastation across the
country and 18 people were killed. About 15 million trees were blown down. Many fell on
to roads and railways, causing major transport delays. Others took down electricity and
telephone lines, leaving thousands of homes without power for more than 24 hours.
Buildings were damaged by winds or falling trees. Numerous small boats were wrecked
or blown away, with one ship at Dover being blown over and a Channel ferry was blown
ashore near Folkestone. While the storm took a human toll, claiming 18 lives in England,
it is thought many more may have been hurt if the storm had hit during the day.
Four or five days before the storm struck, forecasters predicted severe weather was
on the way. As they got closer, however, weather prediction models started to give a
less clear picture. Instead of stormy weather over a considerable part of the UK, the
models suggested severe weather would pass to the south of England - only skimming
the south coast.
During the afternoon of 15 October, winds were very light over most parts of the UK
and there was little to suggest what was to come. However, over the Bay of Biscay, a
depression was developing. The first gale warnings for sea areas in the English Channel
were issued at 6.30 a.m. on 15 October and were followed, four hours later, by warnings
of severe gales.
At 12 p.m. (midday) on 15 October, the depression that originated in the Bay of Biscay
was centred near 46° N, 9° W and its depth was 970 mb. By 6 p.m., it had moved
north-east to about 47° N, 6° W, and deepened to 964 mb.
At 10.35 p.m. winds of Force 10 were forecast. By midnight, the depression was over the
western English Channel, and its central pressure was 953 mb. At 1.35 a.m. on 16
October, warnings of Force 11 were issued. The depression moved rapidly north-east,
filling a little as it went, reaching the Humber estuary at about 5.30 am, by which time its
central pressure was 959 mb. Dramatic increases in temperature were associated with
the passage of the storm's warm front.
During the evening of 15 October, radio and TV forecasts mentioned strong winds but
indicated heavy rain would be the main feature, rather than strong wind. By the time
most people went to bed, exceptionally strong winds hadn't been mentioned in
national radio and TV weather broadcasts. Warnings of severe weather had been
issued, however, to various agencies and emergency authorities, including the London
Fire Brigade. Perhaps the most important warning was issued by the Met Office to the
Ministry of Defence at 0135 UTC, 16 October. It warned that the anticipated
consequences of the storm were such that civil authorities might need to call on
assistance from the military.
In south-east England, where the greatest damage occurred, gusts of 70 knots or
more were recorded continually for three or four consecutive hours. During this time,
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To the north-west of this region,
there were two maxima in gust speeds, separated by a period of lower wind speeds.
During the first period, the wind direction was southerly. During the latter, it was
south-westerly. Damage patterns in south-east England suggested that whirlwinds
accompanied the storm. Local variations in the nature and extent of destruction were
How the storm measured up
Fig. 1 shows maximum gusts (in knots) during the storm.
Comparisons of the October 1987 storm with previous severe storms were inevitable.…read more
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Orkney and Shetland, winds as strong as those which blew across south-east England
in October 1987 can be expected once every 30 to 40 years.
The 1987 storm was also remarkable for the temperature changes that accompanied
it. In a five-hour period, increases of more than 6 °C per hour were recorded at many
places south of a line from Dorset to Norfolk.…read more