The Great Storm of 1987: when was it, date of UK storm, was it a hurricane, Michael Fish forecast - and facts

The anniversary falls on the same weekend that Emmerdale ‘celebrates’ 50 years with a storm of its own

This weekend (15 and 16 October) marks the 35th anniversary of the Great Storm of 1987, one of the most powerful weather systems to ever hit Britain.

Those who lived through will no doubt remember the storm’s ferocity, while those lucky enough to be born in the years following it will have almost certainly heard tales of it told in near mythical fashion.

Also this weekend, the special, one-hour 50th anniversary episode of Emmerdale will see the fictional Yorkshire village hit with a storm of its own, causing chaos for the residents.

Here is everything you need to know about it.

What was the cost of the damage?

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Great Storm of 1987 claimed 18 lives in Britain, with further deaths on the continent in France. That toll could have been higher if the storm had occurred during the day.

Thankfully, it occurred during the early hours of the morning, when most people were at home sleeping, and not travelling to or from work. In terms of damage beyond the human cost, the storm also caused billions of pounds worth of damage to property and infrastructure.

The storm caused significant damage across much of England, and around 15 million trees were blown down. Many of them landed on roads and railway tracks, causing major travel disruption for millions of people.

Others took down power and telephone lines, knocking out electricity supplies to hundreds of thousands of homes for more than 24 hours; some power supplies not fully restored until more than two weeks after the storm, and local electric utility authorities said that the storm caused them to lose more cables to wind damage than they had in the previous decade.

In urban areas, falling trees crushed parked cars, and construction site scaffolding and billboards were also brought down in various places.

The storm cost the insurance sector £2 billion, making it the second most expensive UK weather event on record for insurers, after only the Burns’ Day Storm three years later in 1990.

And that figure does not account for inflation. In today’s money, the storm is thought to have cost almost £6 billion in damages to property and infrastructure.

How strong were the winds?

The Great Storm’s highest recorded wind speed was an estimated 119 knots (137mph) in a gust shortly after midnight at the Quimper coastguard station on the coast of Brittany, France.

The greatest recorded gust over the UK clocked in at 100 knots (115mph) at Shoreham on the Sussex coast, with gusts of more than 90 knots (104mph) recorded at numerous other coastal locations.

Even well inland, gusts of over 80 knots (92mph) were recorded: the London Weather Centre recorded 82 knots (94 mph), while Gatwick Airport recorded 86 knots (99mph).

Was it really a hurricane?

Michael Fish is remembered for downplaying fears of a hurricane - but he was talking about a different storm system (Photo: BBC/Wikimedia Commons)Michael Fish is remembered for downplaying fears of a hurricane - but he was talking about a different storm system (Photo: BBC/Wikimedia Commons)
Michael Fish is remembered for downplaying fears of a hurricane - but he was talking about a different storm system (Photo: BBC/Wikimedia Commons)

The Met Office was criticised in the days and weeks after the event, for failing to predict a hurricane would hit Britain. But, as they arequick to remind readers on their website, the Great Storm “wasn’t officially a hurricane as it did not originate in the tropics.”

And though the storm’s winds were clearly strong and exceptional (analysis of wind speed records suggests such extreme conditions over land in southern England are likely to occur, on average, only once in 200 years), they were not technically of Hurricane Force,

Hurricane Force winds are defined as those with a sustained speed of 64 knots (74 mph) or higher for at least 10 minutes. Gusts, which are very short-lived (yet cause a lot of damage), are not taken into account in this definition. Therefore, during the Great Storm, Hurricane Force winds occurred locally but were not widespread.

And TV forecaster Michael Fish will forever be remembered for informing viewers the night before the storm that there would be no hurricane. In fact, he wasn’t wrong in what he said, and he was actually discussing a different storm system over the western North Atlantic Ocean that day - which didn’t hit the UK.

“Media reports accused the Met Office of failing to forecast the storm correctly,” says the Met Office. “Repeatedly, they returned to the statement by Michael Fish that there would be no hurricane - which there hadn’t been.

“It did not matter that the Met Office forecasters had, for several days before the storm, been warning of severe weather. The Met Office had performed no worse than any other European forecasters when faced with this exceptional weather event.”

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