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How does Storm Eunice compare with UK’s worst weather in recent history?

  Thirty-five years ago Michael Fish chirpily told BBC television viewers that a woman had called in and said she heard there was a hurrican...


Thirty-five years ago Michael Fish chirpily told BBC television viewers that a woman had called in and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way. “If you’re watching,” he told the woman, “don’t worry, there isn’t.”

Of course Fish was correct, it was not a hurricane. But it was an unforgettable monster of a storm that caused incredible damage and killed 18 people.

The Great Storm of 1987 took hold in the early hours of 16 October and brought winds that peaked at 120mph. It caused mayhem and devastation not seen for 250 years, including damaged buildings, major travel disruption and the uprooting of 15m trees. Numerous small boats were wrecked or blown away and a Channel ferry was blown ashore near Folkestone.

The most damaged areas of the country were London, the south-east and East Anglia.

In the Observer Tim Walker compared the sensational coverage of the storm - arguably justified – to Daniel Defoe’s account of England’s last great storm in 1703.

Defoe wrote: “Very early in the morning there began a very great and dreadful Storm of Wind … which continued with a strange and unusual violence.”

The winds caused 2,000 chimney stacks to collapse in London and ships were blown hundreds of miles off course. More than 1,000 sailors died on the Goodwin Sands off the Kent coast. Meteorologists now believe that storm was a hurricane.

That is not the case with Storm Eunice, with the predicted wind speeds comparable to what can be seen in northern Scotland during a storm. But the Met Office is sufficiently concerned to give it a red weather warning.

An arborist cuts into a fallen tree following the Great Storm at Wakehurst Botanic Gardens in 1987 in Haywards Heath

The last red weather warning was for Storm Arwen in November 2021 which caused particular chaos and heartache for the north-east of England and Scotland. The damage was much worse because, unusually, the winds came from the north.

Falling trees damaged power lines leading to power cuts for about 9,000 people, some without heat and light for more than two weeks during bitterly cold weather. If it had happened in London, politicians and numerous callers to local radio argued, it would have been condemned as a national scandal with an instant visit from a concerned prime minister.

Arwen, which brought a recorded wind speed of 110mph to Settle in north Yorkshire, was the worst storm in a generation for many.

Before Arwen, you would have to go back to March 2018 for a similar red warning. That was during the beast from the east when the mild weather changed dramatically in the last week of February. Temperatures plunged as low as -11.7C overnight and Storm Emma prompted wind warnings for parts of south-west England and south Wales.

Before then only two red weather warnings had been issued by the UK Met Office since the current system came in to force in 2011.

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