A storm is an intense low pressure system with an extremely deep low pressure at its centre; this creates steep pressure gradients and strong winds. Rising air gives rise to instability and heavy rainfall. The Great Storm of 1987 passed over Britain in the early hours of the morning of the 16th October 1987. The night before, TV weatherman Michael Fish referred to a viewer claiming that a hurricane was on its way. He assured viewers that there was nothing to worry about, hours before the worst storm in 300 years.
The storm developed progressively across the Atlantic Ocean and formed because of a dense, cold polar maritime air mass meeting the warmer, less dense tropical maritime air mass. The depression sat over the Bay of Biscay which supplied heat and moisture, meaning that as warm air rose, condensation occurred which released much latent heat and resulted in the surrounding air being more buoyant and caused further uplift; leading to intense low pressure. There was great controversy over the build up of the storm as no warnings were sent out to the British people until the day before.
The storm affected southern England and by midnight the depression was over the western English Channel and its central pressure was 953mb. The depression moved rapidly north-east, reaching the Humber estuary at about 5:30am, with its central pressure at 959mb. The depression’s journey across southern England caused substantial damage resulting in many different impacts. The largest social impact is that 18 people were killed, including 2 firemen in Sussex, mostly due to falling trees and buildings being blown down. Wind speeds were of Hurricane strength, force 11, but the storm itself was not classified as a Hurricane because winds of over 64 knots did not sustain over a period of at least 10minutes. (Gusts, which are comparatively short lived, are not taken into account.) Therefore Hurricane force winds occurred locally but were not widespread. In London wind speeds were recorded at 94mph and caused shop fronts to be blown out, the Channel Isles recorded wind speeds of 110mph. These immense winds uprooted 15 million trees and led to troubles with communications, trees fell and blocked roads, onto telephone wires and electricity cables. It also affected the timber industry after the storm with a huge fluctuation in prices because these trees were being made into timber and were sold. Different ecosystems and environments were also hit hard by the loss of so many trees at once. This may have also had an impact on global warming as after the storm there were 15 million less trees to absorb carbon dioxide which continues to trap heat in our atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect. In another unforeseen consequence, a number of wild boars also escaped captivity during the storm and went on to successfully breed in the wild, helping to re-introduce the species to the UK after a gap of 400 years.
Another major impact of the storm is that 3 million people were without power on the morning of 16th October and power stations had to be shut down to prevent overloading the systems. This resulted in hardly any deals being struck on the London Stock Exchange because of a lack of power resulting in numerous economic repercussions. In addition to this a channel ferry was driven ashore and a crane, at Folkestone Port, was blown over by the extreme gusts and caused secondary effects on imports and exports, therefore also accumulating to the economic disruption.
Losses from the storm totalled to £1.4 billion in the UK and cost the insurance industry £2 billion where one in six households in south-eastern England submitted insurance claims.
A final social impact of the storm is that people may have had feeling of anxiety and loss as their roofs were ripped off in their sleep and the sheer scale of where to start in the clear up…