The Great Storm of 1987

A case study fact sheet with information on The Great Storm of 1987 in Southern England.

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  • Created by: Liz Hunt
  • Created on: 05-05-09 13:50
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In southern England, 15 million trees were lost, among them many valuable specimens. Trees blocked roads
and railways, and brought down electricity and telephone lines. Hundreds of thousands of homes in England
remained without power for over 24 hours.
Falling trees and masonry damaged or destroyed buildings and cars. Numerous small boats were wrecked or
blown away. A ship capsized at Dover, and a Channel ferry was driven ashore near Folkestone.
The storm killed 18 people in England and at least four more in France. The death toll might have been far
greater had the storm struck in the daytime.
Four or five days before the storm struck, forecasters predicted severe weather on the following Thursday or
Friday. By mid-week, however, guidance from weather prediction models was somewhat equivocal. Instead of
stormy weather over a considerable part of the UK, the models suggested that severe weather would reach
no farther north than the English Channel and coastal parts of southern England.
During the afternoon of 15 October, winds were very light over most parts of the UK. The pressure gradient
was slack. A depression was drifting slowly northwards over the North Sea off eastern Scotland. A cool lay over
England, Wales and Ireland. Over the Bay of Biscay, a depression was developing.
The first gale warnings for sea areas in the English Channel were issued at 0630 on 15 October and were
followed, four hours later, by warnings of severe gales.
At 2235, winds of Force 10 were forecast. By midnight, the depression was over the western English Channel.
At 0135 on 16 October, warnings of Force 11 were issued. The depression now moved rapidly north-east, filling
a little as it did, reaching the Humber estuary at about 0530. 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 that 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.
Journalists, looking for a sensational story, accused the Met Office of failing to forecast the storm correctly.
Repeatedly, they returned to the statement by Michael Fish that there would be no hurricane - which there
hadn't been. And it mattered not that Met Office forecasters had, for several days, been warning of severe
weather. The Met Office had performed no worse than any of its European counterparts when faced with
this exceptional weather event.
However, good was to come of this situation. Based on the findings of an internal Met Office enquiry,
scrutinised by two independent assessors, various improvements were made. For example, observational
coverage of the atmosphere over the ocean to the south and west of the UK was improved by increasing the
quality and quantity of observations from ships, aircraft, buoys and satellites, while refinements were made to
the computer models used in forecasting.

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