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28 October 2014

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You are in: Cornwall > About Cornwall > About Cornwall > The 1987 Great Storm

Storm of 1987

The 1987 Great Storm

The weather forecast said it wasn't going to happen, but on 16 October 1987 one of the worst storms in living memory wreaked havoc across southern England. BBC Cornwall wants to hear your recollections.

"Apparently a lady rang the BBC and said she heard that there was a hurricane on the way. Well, don't worry, if you're watching, there isn't."

This famous quote from BBC weather forecaster Michael Fish has been used time and time again since the devastating storm hit the UK on 16 October 1987.

Storm of 1987

The aftermath of the 1987 storm

He was referring to a hurricane on the other side of the Atlantic that had already caused trouble for the eastern seaboard of the United States. And he was right because that hurricane never made it to our shores.

However, the definition of a hurricane is a wind of 64 knots or more, sustained over a period of at least 10 minutes.

In the early hours of 16 October 1987, the sustained winds reached 75 knots and lasted for well over an hour - causing devastation to much of southern Britain.

These statistics prove the storm was officially a hurricane – although not one of tropical origin.

The South West of England didn't suffer as badly as other areas - with the highest recorded gust of wind reported at Gorleston in Norfolk at 106 knots (120mph).

By the end of the day the damage was widespread and extensive, some 15 million trees had been flattened, 18 people died and it was deemed the worst storm for over 200 years.

We'd like to hear your memories of that terrifying night. You can also send us your photos for inclusion in a special Great Storm gallery.

There's no doubt the southerly wind direction, damp ground, and trees still in full leaf added to the problems, but the question that is still asked is why was there no warning.

An uprooted tree

An uprooted tree

The answer, as with all disasters, is not straightforward.

The Met Office claims that warnings were issued and it's true that several days before a severe weather warning had been given out. And on the night, when most of us were in bed, warnings did go out to the MOD and to civil authorities.

But there's no doubt that the forecasters' computer model performed badly, emphasising the rain rather than the wind. The dramatic rise in pressure behind the centre of the low, and its track had not been forecast well.

The storm will be remembered because of what Michael Fish said on TV as well as the damage caused. It's worth noting that in the South West region, the Burn's Night storm of 1990 was stronger and for many much more damaging.

Your memories

Listen to the memories of Mike Godfrey from Holsworthy who was an electrical engineer working for the power company in Kent. His job was to get the local power station back up and running again.

Listen to the memories of Bob Flowers, together with his wife, Sheila, who were on a cross Channel ferry from Le Havre to Southampton at the time of the storm.

Read memories from...

Magaret Elms:

I was in Camborne during October 1987 and on the morning of the 16th after a very windy night there were a lot of twigs with leaves attached and small branches on the ground. I happened to mention it to a neighbour who told me that they'd had it a lot worse upcountry.

The optician in Camborne, Brian Wearne of Chapel Street, had a barograph in his reception area and the day after the storm I went in there to see what the trace was like. It fell steeply but rose even more sharply and he said that he had never seen a trace like that before.

I felt that in Camborne we'd had a stronger wind storm in February or March of that year since we'd been sitting having breakfast one day when the end ridge tile from our neighbour's house was blown off and smashed on our drive.  Another great wind I remember was 25 January 1990 when it was very windy during the day and we had a power cut from about 11.30am to 2pm. 

Going back to the 1987 storm. The following week was school half term and we took our children up to visit Granny in Sussex and then we really saw what damage the wind had done. We had to pick up a lot of broken glass for her from a porch and push an apple tree back into the ground but her roof was OK. She had been prepared for it because she'd heard the weather forecaster on the Southern Region say that there was a strong wind coming and that they should 'batten down the hatches'.

Steve from Bude:

Margaret is right - there was a worse storm in March that year (I think it was on the 29th).  We'd only moved into our house just outside Bude six weeks earlier and we couldn't believe how fierce the wind around here could be. 

Our roof was badly damaged and our 18-foot greenhouse was completely demolished (I still find bits of glass from it in my veg plot more than 20 years later!).   The Great Storm of '87 did wake us up in the night but the damage that night was nowhere near as severe as in the earlier blow (which got virtually no news coverage as I remember!), though we couldn't get to work as our lane was blocked by a fallen tree!

Dave from Newquay:

On the day of the storm, I was working for the old Western National Bus Company. Myself and two workmates had to go to Kent to collect an old double decker bus.

The vehicle was used at that time for transporting workers to and from near Sandwich.We were taken to the farm by the vendor to collect the vehicle. On the way back we had to go to Sevenoaks to complete the sale. By the time we started our journey back to Cornwall the wind speed was nearing gale force. The first driver drove to Fleet Services, where I took over.

From then on it seemed that hell had taken over. On the way I had to steer around fallen tree's and try to keep the bus in a straight line .A police car passed me just as the wind blew me across the road, he stopped to inform us that tree's were down everywhere and that a WPC with him thought her end had come as the bus nearly hit the car. Across Salisbury Plane the wind was trying to push me off the road. When getting close to Exeter we ran out of fuel!

I stayed with the bus while the other two went for fuel. I don't think that I have ever been so scared in my life. The bus rocked violently and there was lightening flashing all over the place. Finally they arrived with fuel and I set off again. The rest of the trip was quite uneventful back to St Austell arriving there at day break. I hope never to experience a night like that again.

Use the form below to send us your Great Storm memories or e-mail your photos to:

The Great Storm - How did it affect you?

Great Storm Disclaimer

Your memories, and contact details, are for the use of the BBC Cornwall website and BBC Radio Cornwall.

last updated: 17/10/07

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