April Create: The Great Storm of 1987

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How many of Bluebottle's friends can remember the Great Storm of 1987?

The answer, my friends, is blowin' in the wind.

Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang 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 having said that, actually, the weather will become very windy, but most of the strong winds, incidentally, will be down over Spain and across into France.

- Michael Fish, a weather man (and so was John Ketley).

On the night of 15-16 October, 1987 the south of England was battered by hurricane-force winds. Homes were destroyed or left without power, sadly people died and over 15 million trees were uprooted and lost their lives.

The Great Storm of 1987 has become part of the British consciousness, remembered for Michael Fish promising there's not going to be a hurricane only for trees to blow down, landmarks to be washed away and schools to shut the day after. Whenever a storm is predicted to hit Britain, the words 'biggest storm since 1987' is mentioned in the media.

This was the worst storm to hit Britain since 1703. Michael Fish still claims he was correct:

  1. All the evidence pointed to no storm.
  2. Technically it wasn't actually a hurricane per se, merely hurricane-force.

In Hertford, Hereford, and Hampshire, Hurricanes hardly happen

Of course the Isle of Wight is not, nor has it ever been, in Hampshire, and so when a hurricane happened, it happened. In fact the damage to the Isle of Wight, with the unforgettable pictures of the destroyed pier there, have become synonymous with the storm and its most reported image.

Bluebottle's Blustery Blog

I really remember The Great Storm of '87. It is one of my clearest childhood memories. I was kept up all night when the sash windows of our room shook.

The next day we went to school, St John's Primary School in Sandown, Isle of Wight, just along the road from our house, and the road was blocked by a fallen tree. I got the day off school as my teacher couldn't get in because of all the trees, my older sister's teacher lived locally and had made it in, so she had to go in.

My Mum, Dad and I made sure my grandparents were all right, and then we went to Shanklin, where the pier, only 2 miles from my house, was destroyed. The pier was ripped into three parts, with large sections torn away by the winds. The dome in the middle was gone. South Wight Borough Council authorised the demolition of the remains of the pier, and much of the remains of the pier was recycled to make sea defences. The Sandown Pier to Shanklin Pier swim was never the same again.

The beach around the pier was swarming with people with metal detectors – perhaps they were looking for coins from the arcade machines that used to be on the pier?

Thinking back, it is one of the few memories I have before my parents got divorced.

Storm Survivors

Mol described the storm with the words:

Yes, I remember it. Incredibly noisy all through the night and then half an oak tree fell on the house round about 6am. I still get nervy when the wind picks up, all these years later.

Icy North remembers the storm took all the large ridge tiles off the roof and deposited them neatly around the garden. The cat managed to avoid being hit by them. As did the car, which was parked wind-side of the house. An astonishing number of trees were flattened. In his local nature reserve they left the fallen trees as habitats for fungi and insects. They still have a few there from 1987, but the wood's pretty much rotted down now.

MMF more clearly remembers Kent's Great Storm of 1978, however the Great Storm of 1987 has left a lasting impression, despite sleeping through it.

I was working in the retail trade at the time, and the day of the aftermath was my day off, so I'd been out that evening, looking forward to an empty house and a lie-in. The next morning the house was in uproar, with my four flat-mates shouting about the 'damage' and being unable to get to work, although not one of them attempted it.

I eventually gave up sleeping, and left the house, for a bit of peace and quiet. I decided to cycle from Streatham, where I lived, to Chelsea, to assess the damage. In Wandsworth there was quite a bit of foliage littering the streets, but nothing of any serious note, until I reached Clapham Common, where there was quite a bit of arboreal damage, with branches down, and a fair number of elms and maples flattened. In places it was difficult to cycle across the common. Eventually I arrived in Chelsea, having seen some more storm damage, but not as much as I expected. I believe the surrounding Counties took the brunt of the storm and we got off lightly.

When I arrived at the work-place I found that around 33% of staff had phoned in to say they couldn't make it so, as I was there, and wanted to get away from my raving flat-mates, I offered to work, which was gratefully accepted.

Orcus has said,

I remember the 87 storm very well. I watched Michael Fish make that pronouncement on (probably) the final weather forecast of the day the night before. Then awoke to almighty winds.

Our school didn't close but it was a struggle to walk there (yes people still walked to school back then!) On the way home at lunchtime my mate got blown into a low wall and then over as it took his legs from under him. We laughed.

At home at lunchtime I was making my dinner when I heard a noise from the garden. I looked out to see the back wall only half standing. Interesting! I thought then watched in a mixture of wonder and horror as the other larger chunk got blown over before my eyes.

On the way back to school we saw a house where the garden shed roof had been blow off and straight through the wall of the main house. Oops.

This was in Bedford well away from the main force of the storm in the true South of the UK. It must have been truly terrifying down in Kent.

SiliconDioxide spent that night in one of the Heathrow hotels and has described the experience with the words,

I lay awake listening to the remains of the air-conditioning hut from the roof blow around the carpark. We watched the first aircraft land at Heathrow the following morning, sideways. There were several trees that had fallen across the road on the way Old Windsor.

I travelled round the Southern side of the M25 in the weeks following. At the A2 junction there was a field of trees all broken off, as though wiped with a huge scythe. My parents, who lived not far from there, lost a few tiles, but fortunately on the single story utility room behind the garage, so they were easy to replace.

highamexpat also remembers it well.

I remember it well. I was in Jersey and due to fly back to Heathrow at 4.30 in the afternoon. however the plane couldn't land until around 10.00 in the evening. we got on the plane and took off sideways I kid you not. we got from Jersey to Heathrow in around 20 mins half the normal time. I remember the pilot saying we've got a 100mph tail wind.

I woke up and started the drive to work and the BBC was transmitting on standby power and they were talking about this great disaster that had struck. I finally did make it in to work after about 4 hours from Northamptonshire to New Malden. there were people who lived within walking distance phoning in to say they couldn't get the car out of the drive and wouldn't be in. Need I say more?

2legs recalls quite clearly listening to Michael Fish's weather forecast, when he said those immortal words, though not the storm itself.

Sho / Flo read about the storm and was in Bielefeld at the time so didn't experience it directly. But a while later was stationed in Ashford, Kent and as it was one of those rufty-tufty soldiery type of courses we did an awful lot of log runs in the morning - unluckily there were a LOT of available bits of dead tree lying around.

We think Still Incognitas still remembers. Do you?

Yes I do. Listened as the house next door but one lost all it's tiles one by one. It was like bombs going off all night and if it sounded bad to me, my neighbour must have been terrified as many of them hit her house. I then spent the early hours of the morning checking that the sycamore tree next door didn't fall onto my house, finishing off the morning watching the roof of next door's garage being torn off inch by inch..

I was due to go to work that day but called in to say I was staying home because the Portsmouth Ferry services were cancelled. Just as well as there was a flood in the school. Later I found there were walls, fences, trees down all over. The worst damage in my road was one house that lost the entire side wall. Very, very scary.

Clive the Flying Ostrich: I was about six years old at the time, and being told I could not play outside because it was "windy."
Peanut: Yes because you were six and if let out you would all be making your anoraks into human sails.

Teasswill has a better reason than most to remember it well...

My second baby was slightly overdue then. My husband was lying awake in the spare room feeling the house shake while I slept through. In the morning there were reports that the road to the maternity hospital was blocked with fallen trees, but luckily baby didn't arrive until 5 days later.

We had one tree fall down in our garden but no damage done.

Not the End of the World

Gnomon recalled that The Great Storm bypassed Ireland by coming in from the southwest, and so didn't experience it. He was able to inform us that the reason the weather forecasters had no warning was because government cuts had removed some of the weather monitoring ships in the ocean. (It had to be done by ships in those days). A vital weather ship in the Bay of Biscay would have spotted the storm but it had been retired to save money.

On the other side of the world, paulh was reading about the storm and feeling bad for the destruction that it caused. He couldn't quite believe that a storm with hurricane-force winds could be regarded as not a hurricane.

And Party like it's 1999 remembers it being on the news, but slept through it and went to work the next day with nothing out of the ordinary happening...

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