The Great Storm of 1987

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  • Created by: Fiona
  • Created on: 14-05-13 15:36


  • The depression started over the Bay of Biscay - south westerly winds carrying warm wet air from the North Atlantic met north easterly winds carrying cold air from the Pole (rising warm air causes the atmospheric pressure to reduce)
  • The depression then deepened rapidly due to the unusually warm sea surface temperatures in the Bay of Biscay and a steep pressure gradient between the two air masses - low atmospheric pressure in the centre of the depression led to very strong winds (winds are large scale movements of air from high to low pressure areas)
  • The polar jet stream was also located further south than normal and this meant the depression formed over northern France and southern England as opposed to above northern Scotland like it would normally
  • On the 15th October pressure in the centre of the depression fell from 970mb at midday to 953mb at midnight, much lower than the average air pressure in the UK of 1013mb
  • The storm hit Cornwall and Devon just after midnight and then moved across to the Midlands and reached the Humber Estuary (east coast of England) at 5:30am
  • The south-east experienced very strong winds, with Gorleston in Norfolk receiving gusts of up to 196km/h and in Shoreham-by-Sea there were speeds of 136km/h for 20 minutes
  • After 6am the depression began to weaken and moved away over the North Sea
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Impacts - Social

There were 18 deaths in England as well as another 4 in France

Power and telephone lines were knocked down, with 150,000 homes losing their telephone connection and several hundred thousand being left without electricity for over 24 hours

Some historic buildings were either damaged or destroyed - for example Shanklin Pier on the Isle of Wight was completely destroyed by the waves

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Impacts - Economic

Over 1 million buildings were damaged and this led to insurance claims that totalled £1.4 billion (this then led to an increase in insurance premiums the following year)

Transport was disrupted because fallen trees blocked roads and railways

Gatwick Airport had to shut because it lost power

Hundreds of thousands of boats were wrecked - for example, MV Hengist (a cross-channel ferry) was beached

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Impacts - Environmental

15 million trees were blown down

Some areas lost 97% of their trees (this caused a loss of woodland habitat)

Some plants benefitted because they received more light on the forest floor to help them grow

The fallen trees provided new habitats for some animals

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During the storm the emergency services, including the fire service and police, dealt with an enormous number of emergency calls - it was the equivalent of 1 months worth of calls in 1 night

After the storm there was a huge recovery and clean up operation - phone companies and electricity companies worked all hours to repair and replace damaged equipment until phone lines and power were restored, highways agencies began clearing roads and railway companies cleared railways - to help with this operation, troops from the north, where there had been less damage, were drafted in to help 

Forestry workers began clearing the fallen trees - in total there was 4million m3 of timber that needed recovered and this job took 2 years - there was some criticism by ecologists of the clean-up because damaged broad-leaf trees were removed even though they would have recovered with time

The Forestry Commission established the Forest Windblown Action Committee to help woodland owners recover fallen trees and offer advice on replanting

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Responses - Met Office

The Met Office was criticised for how they forecasted the storm and issued warnings (although it should be remembered it was very difficult to predict due to the sudden drop in pressure)

Problems included:

  • Severe storm warnings were only issued 3 hours before the storm actually hit
  • The Ministry of Defense was not warned military assistance might be needed to deal with the impacts until 1am on 16th October

An inquiry was held and as a result changes were made:

  • More observations of weather systems, in particular those over the ocean to the south and west of the UK, are now made by ships, aircraft and satellites (better quantity and quality)
  • Improved computer models are now used to forecast the weather (as a result the Met Office purchased an additional Cray supercomputer)
  • The government established a national severe warning service to improve the way severe warnings are made and issued

Warnings for the Burns Day Storm (1990) were accurate and on time, this suggests success

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