Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Great Storm of 1987
The Great Storm of 1987 occurred on October 15 and 16, 1987, when an unusually strong weather system caused hurricane force winds to hit much of the south of England. It was the worst storm to hit England since 1703 and was responsible for the deaths of approximately 23 people.
The storm originated from a cold front in the Bay of Biscay that met with cold air coming from the north. When the two systems collided, a severe low pressure front developed with a central pressure of 958mb (comparable to a Category 3 hurricane, which has a central pressure between 945 and 964mb). How such a low pressure system could develop is still a mystery, but one theory is that it was as a result of the jet stream coming from America in the wake of Hurricane Floyd and exceptionally warm weather of the Bay of Biscay.
BBC meteorologist Michael Fish drew sharp criticism for reporting several hours before the storm hit, in seemingly flippant fashion: "Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rung the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way...well, if you're watching, don't worry, there isn't, but it will be extremely windy, particularly across the south." He predicted that the storm would move further south along the English Channel and not affect the British mainland. His analysis has been defended by weather experts. In particular, the lack of a weather reporting ship in the southwest of England, thanks to Met Office cutbacks, meant the only manner of tracking the storm was by using satellite data (automatic buoys had not been invented at the time). The storm was also a highly unusual occurrence and therefore, very difficult to predict.
The lack of reporting during this storm led to reforms in the way severe weather is reported by the Met Office, leading to substantially more warnings being issued in the future, the deployment of improved tracking devices and an increase in the depth of the simulations supported by the puchase of an addtional Cray supercomputer. Warnings for the Burns' Day storm 3 years later were accurate and on time.
The storm made landfall at Cornwall before tracking northeast towards Devon and then over the Midlands, going out to sea via The Wash. The strongest gusts, of up to 100 knots, were recorded along the southeastern edge of the storm.
The storm caused substantial damage over much of England, downing some 15 million trees (including six of the seven famous oak trees in Sevenoaks), blocking roads and railways and leaving widespread structural damage to buildings. Several hundred thousand people were left without power, which was not fully restored until more than two weeks later. At sea, as well as many small boats being wrecked, a ship capsized at Dover, a cross-channel ferry was driven ashore at Folkestone, and the transmitting mast of the Radio Caroline pirate radio boat the Ross Revenge was wrecked. In addition to the 19 lives lost in England, at least four more died in France. The estimated cost of the storm was £1.2 billion.
The storm is often mislabeled as being a hurricane; although the storm did have winds equivalent to a Category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, the storm was non-tropical in nature and origin. Although the storm was declared a rare event, expected to only happen on average every several hundred years, the Burns' Day storm hit England in January 1990, less than three years later and with comparable intensity.
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