A very British look at the weather on the anniversary of the Great Storm of 1987

By Students at the Centre for Journalism

‘It was one of the busiest police nights of the decade,' recalls Nigel Newbury, police sergeant working in Land's End on the night of the Great Storm. ‘The phone didn't stop ringing all night.' Nigel Newbury, now retired, says the most memorable part of the night was, ‘when a telegraph pole came down and set fire to a manor house that had been converted into flats.'

 On the anniversary of the worst storm to hit Britain since 1703, the Centre for Journalism investigates what the night was like in all corners of the country - and, on the eve of the anniversary, gleans a snapshot of weather conditions today.

‘One lady on the island was killed,' says an official from the Jersey Maritime Museum in the Channel Islands. ‘There were trees down everywhere and roofs were blown off.'

Annette Blanchett of the Aqua hotel in Shanklin on the Isle of Wight remembers a night of utter devastation, ‘But it was amazing the next morning. The whole esplanade was nose to tail with cars all coming to see what had happened. The Arcade from the pier was completely missing and everyone was looking for the parts of it,' she says. ‘The leaves on the roses outside our hotel were black from windburn and the windows were covered with sand. It was just unbelievable. Pebbles from the beach were picked up by the force of the wind and blew over our hotel up to the cliff top doing damage up there."

However, despite the devastation -18 people lost their lives and 15 million trees in the south east corner of England were felled alone - people in northern Scotland have very different memories of that night.

Karen Fraser, a customer service librarian in Lerwick, on Shetland, speaks for most people living north of the Border when she says: ‘We didn't suffer a great deal in 1987 - it wasn't out of the ordinary as we very often get hurricane force winds.'

Maggie Fyffe, of the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust agrees, adding that although the Hebrides gets more than its fair share of violent gales, ‘Storms don't really disrupt the lives of people here.' Used to winter storms bringing wind speeds over 100 miles per hour, the crofters on the Hebrides get the livestock in, batten down the hatches and get on with life as best they can.

On the Orkneys, their great storm was not 1987, but 1953, as Councillor Alistair Gordon from Firth, member of the Orkney Islands Environment, Planning and Protective Services committee recalls. ‘During the great hurricane, a coal ferry travelling to Orkney was caught and blown to Aberdeen." 

 ‘Buff of wind' 

Indeed some Scots claim the English made too great a fuss about what for them is a fairly regular winter event.

Walter Mowat, owner of the ‘First and Last Gift Shop' at John O'Groats, the northernmost tip of mainland Scotland, said that even a ‘buff of wind' is big news south of the Border.

Sandy Barton, part-owner of the Bencorragh House Bed and Breakfast, also in John O'Groats says the English media suffers from ‘North of Watford Syndrome' - that anything north of the M25 isn't worth covering.

Several hundred miles south of the Scilly Isles, just off the Cornish coast, Kathy Steaderford, who runs Bryher Boat Trips, says a storm on the islands this March was worse than in 1987, adding that ‘Storms are just part of the way of life here. With no streets here, the wind just goes where it wants.' 

The main path of the 1987 storm was across Southern Britain, from Wales through to Kent, a fairly unusual path, according to a Met Office spokesman, and a possible reason why so much was made of it. ‘It is impossible to predict storms like the one in 1987,' said the spokesman. ‘It was odd for a few reasons - normally the South East and East Anglia miss a lot of the big storms off the Atlantic. Also - lots of rain in the previous few weeks before the storm lead to tree roots being weaker meaning that the trees collapsed more easily.'

The weathermen were of course famously caught off guard by the 1987 hurricane, with the BBC's Michael Fish enduring endless replays of his ‘There's no hurricane coming' forecast the evening before, ever since. 

Climate changing

With climate change promising increasing numbers of severe weather events including floods and storms, what of the future?  ‘The weather is always wet here but it is definitely warmer now in comparison to twenty years ago,' says Mike Shave, assistant harbour master on Saint Mary's, the Isles of Scilly.

Up in Shetland, Karen Fraser reports that winters recently have been milder than in the past: ‘We get just as many days of snow but it lies for less time.'

All those interviewed reported a mild, calm day throughout the British Isles on the eve of the anniversary of the Great Storm. Even an amateur forecaster would be safe in predicting a peaceful anniversary this year, or would they...?

Comments

I was living in Germany when this storm hit so have no first hand experience of the storm of '87 so it's been interesting to see how others recalled the day after Michael Fish's infamous blunder.  I do remember that our limited access to English news which came mainly via BFBS TV and day old papers (no internet in those days!) did concentrate heavily on Sevenoaks, which overnight had become 'Oneoak'.  One wonders if this was possibly the most exciting thing to happen in this town? 

Having spent many years living 'North of Watford' I would agree to a certain extent with Sandy Barton, however, I think it's more accurate to say that the media looks northwards to concentrate on the bad, sad stuff and perpetuates the 'grim up north' mentality of southerners. "Nottingham murder capital of the World!" Well I survived 6 years of living in that fantastic city and would rate it over sleepy dull Sevenoaks any day storm or no storm! 

A very interesting piece I enjoyed reading this (when I should be working).  Very much looking forward to the next one!

My contact on YouTube did get back to me about their experience of the storm, however, they failed to message me when I asked them for their name.

Ah well, at least Kelsey and I managed one quote between us!!!

Fires, Flying Roofs and Windburned roses