The Great Storm of 1987

Tonight marks the 25th anniversary of the ‘Great Storm of 1987’. That night 25 years ago southern England was hit by winds as strong as a hurricane – reaching 120 mph. We hadn’t experienced anything like it since 1703 – and it’s unlikely any of us alive today will experience anything like it again.

The British take pride in their weather. Our forecasters are a national institution – we watch them every evening. But that night in 1987 one of our best – Michael Fish – told us that a weather feature forming off the Bay of Biscay west of France was nothing to worry about; how wrong he was.

Lucky this wasn’t the States – he’d have been a goner if it had been left-hand drive

The storm headed north-east, up the English Channel and devastated southern England, taking down 15 million trees (which at that time of year were still covered with foliage, so went down like dominoes). 18 people died. Of course, being 17, I slept through the whole thing. Waking up that morning I got ready for school and started off on the 30 minute trek.

Our road was impassable. Except for those walking.

My parent’s road – no one went to work that day

Which of course I was so I carried on, cursing my bad fortune at being able to get to school on foot. But school was a non-starter that day. Although I managed to get there, only about 10 others joined me.

A few feet to the left and we’d have had no maths for a while

Nothing moved anywhere for days. The council had to remove untold quantities of trees from the roads but more importantly the railway lines; where we live most people get to work by train and all the lines were blocked by hundreds of fallen trees. In fact ever since that night the railway companies have removed millions of trees from the sides of the tracks.

I know that this kind of thing happens all the time in other parts of the world – but for good old leafy Surrey some of us still go a bit funny if the wind picks up!

All photos courtesy of my parents who had the foresight to realise this event was worth photographing.

28 thoughts on “The Great Storm of 1987

  1. hi thanks for posting this, I remember that time very well, had just come over to the UK to live in London, had found a job about a week before that storm, so wanted to get into work and to keep my first job!!…. Tube was not running, buses were overflowing and hundreds waiting at every bus stops. I walked and walked and walked thinking I would eventually find a bus, But no way! walked all the way to work. From Kilburn to the City. I was the only one in the office……nobody believed me the next day 🙂 ….

  2. Oh my gosh. Scary photos! A couple of years ago there was a terrible storm in NYC. Some trees in Central Park came down during the storm, but no one knew that many more trees had branches that were weakened. They came down unpredictably days later with tragic consequences.

    Nature is a humbling force indeed.

    • Yes I think we had some incidents like that – its pretty windy at the moment over here and when you’re driving to work at 6.45am in the dark you have to keep an eye out for things flying about!

  3. I have to say, nothing frightens me more than a strong wind storm. I think it’s also because it’s used in a lot of horror movies and so the sound of the wind moaning and shrieking outside unnerves me. It almost always happens at night and I lay in bed wondering if everything in the yard has been lifted up and thrown down the street.. and sometimes it has!

  4. It reminds me of Don Kent, our Boston forecaster telling everyone “stop panicking, it’s no big deal, this is going to be nothing”, during our blizzard of 1978 – which at the time of his famous broadcast cars were already being abandoned in snow over their tires. We ended up with 3 ft. of snow & everything closed for a week.. Hundreds died, many caught on the highway in their cars. Too bad,they didn’t give Don Kent a window to look out of.
    And we had to get special permission to drive to get to the airport toward the end of the week because we were flying out to Wyoming…to go skiing!
    Those are great photos but I have to say you must have been a dedicated student to continue walking all the way to school!

      • Funny thing about Don Kent. When he did the broadcast he was as old as Moses & we always thought he’d died years before. I think they’d just look out the window & see something like snow then do a re-run of a prior broadcast. Even in his better days he never seemed to get it right! Give me George Carlin’s hippy dippy weatherman any day.

  5. When the weather guys say it won’t be much, that’s probably a good time to prepare for the worst. They are rarely right around here. We’ve had quite a few storms in the past few years (wind, ice, and snow) that have done a number on the trees. Wind and ice scare me more than they used to after seeing the damage.

    • It’s a good point – you wouldn’t know now. Except along railway lines – they look really bare now (although thats also because they cut trees down all the time because leaves on the line stop the trains working – can you believe that!)

  6. I remember this! Henley was complety cut off due to fallen trees. Mum picked us up from school in Reading. Claudine and I ate our tuna pasta bake in the car – we made that day in ‘Home Economics’. Mum kept shouting Put your Heads Down!!’ as we drove home…

  7. I remember this so well – thanks for posting about it! I was on a ferry from Ostend the next morning… We were in a waiting line to dock at Dover for 6 hours, in a tremendous swell. Scary! The bus ride from Dover to London was incredible – like there’d been a war! Hardly a tree standing. No traffic. Bits of debris everywhere. Poor Michael Fish will never live it down!

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