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October 15th 1987, London, England.

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, another night to the hurricane of ’87.


Member Comments About This Blog Post:
SUNNYBEACHGIRL 12/8/2013 11:45PM

    How is winter doing. Stay safe and warm

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SEAJESS 11/17/2013 12:42PM

Thank you for an engaging piece of writing.
emoticon What a tale to tell!

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HARMONIUM 11/13/2013 6:06PM

    It just occured to me that this day was very well treated in the novel "WHITE TEETH" by Zadie Smith. It was a fascinating (if quasi-fictional) depiction.

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ASPENHUGGER 11/12/2013 11:37PM

    I remember this well, even though I was back in California after having spent the summer over there. I read the news about the devastation, & how many old trees were blown down, and the grieving that England wouldn't look the same for centuries. The photos of huge tree trunks all jumbled together like pick-up sticks. I feel so fortunate that I was able to see it as it was.

And glad you didn't suffer much damage personally!

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ALIHIKES 11/6/2013 6:57PM

    Great blog, and very well written! I remember the first (and only) time I saw a tornado, I was living in Portland Oregon -- which never has tornados. But freak weather conditions gave us one!

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DANAPRIME 11/3/2013 12:43PM

    Hope you came through it safely!

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GOANNA2 11/2/2013 10:22PM

    What a storm that was. I can imagine the
devastation.Did your husband get to his exams, lol?
I loved reading your blog. You are a born writer.
As for DH sleeping through the storm, I have to say
that I can sleep through almost anything also. If
anyone ever attacked me in my bed, I would never
feel any pain I suppose. Have a great Sunday. emoticon

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LOLABLACK69 10/31/2013 5:47AM

    I saw the forecast, and there was a lot in the news about storm in England that spread on to Germany and rest of the north-west Europe. Luckily, we in Croatia didn't get any of it. I must say it looked very frightening.
Is everything OK now? Hope there's not a lot of damage in your part. emoticon

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SUNNYBEACHGIRL 10/31/2013 1:31AM

    What a descriptive blog? Hope this last storm was not as bad and that you got through it

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HARMONIUM 10/30/2013 7:49PM

    What a mesmerizing read! You really convey so well all that you went through at the time. You are a true natural-born writer!

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4-1HEALTHYCYNDI 10/30/2013 7:35PM

    Fantastic blog! You describe what you went through then so clearly. I can see how the weather forecast had you thinking about that momentous night. May you weather any other storms teacup variety or not as well.

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TEKRU1 10/29/2013 12:48PM

    Wow! I felt like I was there with you - great blog! Hoping the next storm won't be one of those. Incredible to witness what can happen though, isn't it?

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FEISTYOWL 10/28/2013 11:55PM

    You have a gift with a story! Hope it turns out to be nothing much, another false alarm. But if not, I hope you are handling it as well as the last one!!

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ANAIS57 10/28/2013 12:50PM

    Evelyn, keeps us posted... read your status and see that you are still in the middle of it all.

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A_BIT_AT_A_TIME 10/28/2013 11:46AM

    What a great tale! Glad the worst of this storm is over now. emoticon emoticon

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PCOH051610 10/28/2013 10:41AM

    Hopefully things didn't get that bad this time! We don't get that many storms either where we live although the coastal communities do get a fair bit of wind and tide.

Your husband sounds like mine! Mine slept through a tree falling on our house and coming in through the dining room on the floor below are bedroom! That was a combination of an old tree and late spring frost.

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WATERONE 10/28/2013 9:07AM

    Wow, that was some night. I hope you didn't get a bad storm on Sunday night.

I am also on the East Coast of America and we have had several bad hurricanes in the past decade. There was one the week I was born (many decades ago) that almost prevented my mom from bringing me home from the hospital. They are scary and awe inspiring events.

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BONOLICIOUS2 10/28/2013 8:10AM

    Wow! Your poor husband and his exams!

I live on the East Coast of the US where hurricanes are frequent. You never know which way nature will go and they always give us the best and worst case scenarios. All you can do is prepare and hunker down. Last year this week was when Hurricane Sandy came through - we've been very lucky this year but you always remember the bad storms of the past!

Hopefully you have a set of spare candles and matches on hand and this storm just passes you by! Good luck and let us know how it goes!

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EOWYNRUSS 10/27/2013 10:31PM

    You are an incredible writer. Your words brought back memories of my first experience with a freak storm. We had moved from Chicago to southern Missouri, to a small ranch house in the middle of farmland in the middle of nowhere. Our living room (sitting room) stretched the entire center of the house, like the middle of a capital H. It was a huge room, with five enormous picture windows--2 side by side in the front wall, three in a row in the back--to take advantage of the views. In late spring of 1984? we went to bed with storms forecast. Tornadoes are common there, and storms have a lot of open space to gather strength. At 2am we were all awakened by the most horrific noise. Thunder, lightning, howling wind, and...gravel?...pounding the house like a giant dump truck was pouring a load right onto the south wall. I sleep like the dead, and it woke me up. I jumped out of bed to find my family huddling in the hall, wondering what was going on. We walked into the living room, towards those 3 back picture windows. The glass was jumping in the frames. I put my hand out to touch the window. It felt like rocks hitting the glass, thousands of them. Then the lightning flashed, and all we could see was white. My Dad pulled me away from the window. We went to the dining room, and found a window we could look out of. The ground was covered with what looked like snow. We all stood there, mouths hanging open, staring dumbly out at the storm. It had been 80 degrees that day. That couldn't be snow. Finally, one of us bumped into the truth. "That's hail. Holy hockey pucks, those are hailstones, piling up in drifts in the yard." Shell shocked, our parents turned us back towards bed, probably thinking it was all a dream. The gravelly sound stopped halfway there. The thunder and lightning kept going. Next morning, all was quiet. I got ready for school, and ran outside as soon as I was dressed. Up against the south wall of the house was still a six inch drift of hailstones. All the others had melted. There were branches, leaves, and buds everywhere. A friend had lost 2 cats. Some people lost livestock. Never saw anything like it, before or since. Your story really reminded me of that night. Hope your predicted bad weather turns out to be a false alarm.

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JUNEAU2010 10/27/2013 11:34AM

    I lack the words, yes, me, with a BA in English, to say anything more impressive than comments you have already received. What a fabulous story teller you are! I love the humor, I can almost hear and feel everything.

I've lived in Juneau, Alaska, where the Taku winds are legendary. The story goes that they used to have an instrument to measure wind strength on top of the mountain. The wind blew it away at something over 200mph (the top measurement it could record).

Umbrellas are useless when it's windy and rainy at the same time! They serve as levitation devices!

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MYTHMYTH 10/27/2013 8:23AM

    You did a wonderful job of telling the story - made me feel like it was right there. Hope that you escape the one that is brewing.

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WATERDIAMONDS 10/27/2013 5:30AM

    Your recall is astonishing, your story-telling vivid. Kudos!

All I can add is my best wishes that this particular storm NOT come to pass!

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JIBBIE49 10/27/2013 2:08AM

    emoticon I live on the Gulf Coast of Florida and we had Hurricane Ivan in 2004 that had a 43 foot storm surge. Yes, that means that the water level came in at 43 feet high so it did a HUGE amount of damage. A number of people died, including one truck driver who's truck cab was washed out to sea when the bridge over the bay collapsed. The highway was closed but he continued to drive in the storm. It was 24 hours of a horrible storm. I don't know about in England but in America the worst part of a hurricane is THE TORNADOES that occur in the Hurricane. In Hurricane Andrew in south Florida there were over 500 in that one night. Water damage from the storm surge is another thing that does so much damaged on the properties near the waterfront. But, people don't realize that the water can come into the town up through the drain areas that naturally flow out to the sea. It is bad. My friend got four feet of water flooded into her house.
Yes, with each storm, we get a LOT of hype on getting ready, but you can't just act like this won't amount to anything, because when it DOES come your way, you have to be prepared. We didn't have electric for 12 days after Hurricane Ivan & it was hot September. It is better to be safe than sorry. Thankfully, the 2013 Season had few storms and we were LUCKY, as that helped save billions of dollars in damages that no one needs.

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AKROXIE 10/26/2013 10:13PM

  Super memory & what great telling. Thanks for sharing!

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WALKINGBYFAITH2 10/26/2013 10:03PM

    Excellent writing! Typical husband! Lots of wishes for a safe ride through the next one!

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COCK-ROBIN 10/26/2013 9:52PM

    I hope it misses you.

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MT-MOONCHASER 10/26/2013 8:53PM

    I hope that the storm isn't too bad. Here in Montana we are preparing for the first blast of winter weather. Wind and snow, just in time for Halloween. It's amazing how often we have nasty weather near Halloween and fairly nice before and after...


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MEADSBAY 10/26/2013 8:38PM

    Wow, what a good memory you have, Evelyn.
I hope you never have to live through another one like that!

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RAINBOWCHOC 10/26/2013 8:22PM

    I was in the city that afternoon and we watched a piece of building fall onto a car and give it a sunroof! We survived quite well, let's hope it soon blows over.

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PATRICIAAK 10/26/2013 8:13PM

    hope it blows over

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KATESQUEST 10/26/2013 6:51PM

    Your writing had me sitting right there with you on that night not sleeping! I'll lift some prayers that if the storm comes, it brings only memories and no damage!

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MARYJEANSL 10/26/2013 6:46PM

  I most sincerely wish you a storm in a teacup. ;-) But it wouldn't hurt to lay in a supply of candles and/or flashlight batteries.

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CATLADY52 10/26/2013 6:06PM

    Prepare for the worst and you will be fine. emoticon

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DR1939 10/26/2013 6:00PM

    I can remember standing at my grandmother's back door watching a hurricane. I was less than 5 years old. It was dramatic. I've lived through others but none made the impression that that one did. Here's hoping it is that tempest in a teapot for you.

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    wow emoticon

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SIMPLELIFE4REAL 10/26/2013 5:45PM

    I love that your husband slept through it all! Amazing story. Thanks for sharing it!

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MALAMI518 10/26/2013 5:09PM

    You painted an amazing picture with your words. I felt like I was with you for that hurricane. I hope that this next storm does not bring the same devastation!

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SLIMMERJESSE 10/26/2013 4:26PM

    Wow, hope it's not as bad as the other one. BTW, loved that family pic of Prince George with his little arms open.

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NEW-CAZ 10/26/2013 3:57PM

    I remember it well, Micheal Fish will never live it down LOL

Comment edited on: 10/26/2013 3:59:12 PM

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STFRENCH 10/26/2013 2:16PM

    I heard about the 87 storm, even though I only came to England 10 years later. We're in Yorkshire, and I think the South is more at risk, so I do hope it turns out to be nothing more than a storm in a teacup.

Be safe emoticon

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MRSBETH99 10/26/2013 1:45PM

    That was a fascinating read! I pray that you truly do have a tempest in a teacup and stay safe and snug.

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SALLYLEE84 10/26/2013 1:41PM

    Wow, very well written. And ya'll sound like a very calm family, I wouldn't have been able to sleep a wink. Here in the U.S. in the non-coastal south we don't have to worry much about hurricanes, but tornadoes are a different matter. Here's hoping you weather down and nothing comes of it! emoticon

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    Hope this new storm becomes a gentle giant with minor imprints left behind.
Even better is that it just dies a non-violent death at sea and causes no grief at all.
Thanks for sharing your memory of that major storm.
hugs, Audra

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LEANNAW4 10/26/2013 1:33PM

    Great story - a very interesting and well written read! Thanks for sharing!

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ZANNACHAN 10/26/2013 1:25PM

    Yikes! I hope that the storm you get is not that devastating--but in any case, take care of yourself and stay safe.

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GARDENQE2 10/26/2013 1:00PM

    I remember seeing pictures of the damage!
I hope you get off lightly this year! emoticon

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REGILIEH 10/26/2013 12:48PM

    HOLD ON!!!!!

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LIS193 10/26/2013 12:45PM

    I remember that storm - we had family living in Kent (Biggin Hill), so much devastation!

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