Saturday, October 26, 2013
October 15th 1987, was a very ordinary day, it was the day before my husbands important exams towards his BSc. It was a mild autumn Wednesday, and that night, London, and all of south-eastern England was pulverised by the most violent storm in to occur in over three hundred years.
Now many of you will live in places where real hurricanes or typhoons are part of everyday life, but for us, sitting smugly in our little semi’s in London, it was cause for some amusement when the weather announcer (with the rather unfortunate name of Michael Fish) announced that a lady had phoned up the BBC, and said that a hurricane was brewing. He rather condescendingly said not to worry, it would be just a little windy over night. The poor man never lived those words down!
It was a little windy when we went to bed at about 11pm. I went quickly to sleep but was awoken by banging at about 2am. The curtains were dancing the gay fandango from the draught around the windows. We had an old fashioned fireplace in our bedroom. Someone over the years had covered the opening with hard board, and affixed a gas fire to it. The noise that had awakened me, was the fire and hard board being alternately pushed away, then sucked back to the chimney. I laid in bed listening to the howling of the wind. My husband, oblivious, slept peacefully on. I always said that he could sleep through the last trump, and here he was proving it.
The wind was like a live thing, screaming round the house. We faced west, and that was the direction the storm was coming from. A little white face appeared around the bedroom door, the children were awake, they were then aged 17, 14 and 7.
We sat on the landing for a while. My son said he had been woken by the noise of slates sliding down the roof. You could hear nothing but the sound of the wind, it was deafening. The loft hatch was also bouncing up and down in its hole.
My husband slept on! The children weren’t frightened exactly, just in awe of the power of nature, so after a while they went back to bed. I slipped downstairs to the toilet, and to check on my cats, very grateful that I always insisted that they were indoors at night. It was quieter on this side of the house, I looked out of the kitchen window into the darkness of the garden. The wind was still strengthening. The old apple tree outside the window was being almost pulled up by the roots. It was extraordinary watching it, almost like it was a human, being picked up by the hair and then dropped again!
At about 4.30 the electricity went off. I had gone back to bed, but it was impossible to sleep. I must have made a noise, because my husband asked what was the matter, then told me not to be so stupid, and went back to sleep!
Finally I did sleep. In the morning there was chaos. My husband actually wouldn’t believe me, and set off for his exams on his motorbike, only to be turned back by the police as all the roads into Guildford were closed by fallen trees. Shops and schools were shut. Trees were down by the thousands, if not millions. In October in south-east England, all the leaves are still on the trees, so there had been devastation. Oaks Park had lost all its oaks, Kew and Wisley Gardens mourned their losses. To this day, under the undergrowth, in English woodlands, you can see lines and lines of pushed over trees, all pointed the same way.
Ships from the English Channel had been blown inland and dumped by the waves. It took over a week to get power back to some of the more rural parts of Sussex. The slates, fortunately, came from a neighbours roof. Equally fortunately, it was not full moon, so there was no accompanying storm surge.
So why am I blogging about this now?
Forecasting has improved a lot over the intervening years, satellite and radar have got it down to a fine art. Just off the eastern coast of America, a storm is brewing. It is forecast to meet up with the jet stream which is lying across the south of England at present. The low pressure will intensify and deepen, then rush across the middle of England, on Sunday night. The wind speed forecast across south east England in the early hours of Monday morning, is in excess of 80 mph in the gusts, about the same as 1987.
Also in the intervening years have come a number of false alarms. We have been forecast wind, hail, snow and some events of almost biblical proportions. So far, they’ve all amounted to nothing, so in all probability, this will be another storm in a teacup. (sorry, couldn’t resist!)
But, it just might...just might,...be another night to remember...like the hurricane of ’87.