Thursday 15th October 1987 and a Great Storm that was not quite what some said!

It was on the night of Thursday/Friday 15th/16th October 1987 that hurricane-force winds caused casualties and damage in England, France and the Channel Islands as a severe depression in the Bay of Biscay moved northeast. With winds gusting at up to 100mph, there was massive devastation across Britain with 18 people being killed. Some 15 million trees were said to have been blown down with many falling on to roads and railways, causing major transport delays. Others took down electricity and telephone lines, leaving thousands of homes without power for more than 24 hours.  By midnight of the 15th the depression was over the western English Channel and, at 1.35 a.m. on the 16th October, warnings of Force 11 were issued.

All of us of developing years will remember the TV weather presenter Michael Fish on 15th October telling viewers there would be no hurricane during the coming night.

It was unfortunate that he had said that!  Why? Because he was actually talking about a different storm system over the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean! That storm, he said, would not reach the British Isles – and it didn’t!  Michael was right on that – and knew nothing of the other one blowing in from the south!

After the storm of the 16th Media reports accused the Met Office of failing to forecast the storm correctly. 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.  However, good was to come of this situation. Based on the findings of an internal Met Office enquiry, scrutinised by two independent assessors, various improvements were made. For example, observational coverage of the atmosphere over the ocean to the south and west of the UK was improved by increasing the quality and quantity of observations from ships, aircraft, buoys and satellites.


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