UK Storms: Worst storms in UK history—and why experts are VERY worried about Storm Eunice

Storm Eunice: Senior meteorologist Jim Dale on what to expect

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The Met Office has issued red and amber warnings across swathes of the UK on Friday as the nation braces itself for the full force of Storm Eunice. Winds of up to 100mph (160kmph) are forecast — the equivalent of a Category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale — with a “danger to life” warning in place. 

The Met Office is telling people to “stay indoors” on Friday as Storm Eunice threatens to fell trees and rip rooves off buildings. 

Heavy snow and possible blizzard conditions are also possible in some more exposed regions. 

But this won’t be the first time the British Isles have felt the full force of an Atlantic storm hit its shores. 

Here’s a look at five of the worst storms to ever hit the UK.

1. 1953 — The “storm of the century”

The deadly storm of January 1953 was dubbed “Britain’s worst peacetime disaster on record” at the time (now usurped by the Covid pandemic). 

It claimed the lives of 307 people in England and 19 in Scotland, before moving on to Europe and claiming a further 2,225. 

The high death toll was largely due to a lack of fore-warning and the sudden outage of phone lines, with people said to be going about “their daily business as usual”, according to The History Press. 

The storm surge — a combination of gale-force winds, low pressure and high tides — saw 32,000 people displaced due to thousands of miles of flooding. 

Fierce winds of 126mph (200kmph) were recorded at Costa Hill in Scotland and a tidal surge saw the North Sea soar up to more than five metres above its average level.

The event led to an official service for the forecast of coastal flooding and eventually the creation of the Thames Barrier.

2. 1987 — The Great Storm

In October 1987, a completely new weather phenomenon called a ‘sting jet’ hit Britain. 

A sting jet occurs when a small, narrow area of very intense winds form. They usually only last three or four hours, but a sting jet can smash through anything in its path, as was the case in 1987.

A total of 18 people died as trees were ripped out by the root, and hundreds of thousands were left without power for days. 

The storm has been called a “once in 200 years event”, and is sometimes referred to as the “Michael Fish hurricane”, named after the BBC weather forecaster who assured viewers there wouldn’t be a hurricane that evening. 

Douglas Hurd, the Home Secretary at the time, referred to it as “the worst night since the Blitz”.

3. 1990 — The Burns Day Storm

The storm on January 25, 1990, was deadly and tragic, largely as it hit during the day, rather than overnight when people were safe at home.

A total of 47 people died, including some children in a school in Sussex where a roof collapsed. 

Half a million homes were left without electricity, and an estimated £2billion of damage was caused.

4. 2018 — The Beast from the East

The winter of 2017/2018 was progressing in a mild manner until things changed dramatically in February, with widespread snow compounded by the arrival of Storm Emma. 

Schools were forced to close as thick snow blanketed the UK in an unprecedented manner and roads became impassable. 

When the snow did finally melt, high tides combined with melting snow lead to major flooding, with frozen pipes bursting as they thawed and compounding the issue, as well as leading to water supply problems. 

A total of 17 people died in the UK as a result of the Beast from the East — so dubbed as it was caused by an icy arctic air mass stretching from the Russian Far East.

5. 2020 — Storm Ciara

Storm Ciara, which struck in February 2020, was exceptional largely due to its length, relentlessly pummelling the British Isles for a full three days before slowly churning over to Europe.

It killed three people in the UK and led to a hefty cleanup price tag of at least £1.6billion.

Hurricane-force winds, flooding, and reports of cars being swept away and flood defences being totally engulfed led to widespread misery for millions of homes. 

Ciara was soon followed by Storms Dennis and Jorge, further compounding the issues. 

So why does Storm Eunice have experts worried? 

Just like the deadly Burns Day Storm, the worst of Storm Eunice is expected to hit over daylight hours, leading to repeated calls for people to stay indoors as much as possible to avoid flying debris, falling trees and sea swell. 

And like Storm Ciara, Eunice will add to the chaos already caused by Storm Dudley, which has only just made its exit from British shores.

In addition to this, the storm is set to coincide with the start of spring tides which, combined with storm surges, could lead to heavier than usual flooding.

The Met Office has issued a rare red warning for parts of Wales and the southwest of England between 7am and 12pm on Friday, warning of “significant disruption and dangerous conditions”. 

And much of the rest of the UK is blanketed in an amber warning for “danger to life”. 

Yellow snow warnings are also in place for northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

The Environment Agency has warned of the risk of flooding in southern England tomorrow.

The agency’s Katharine Smith said: “Strong winds could bring coastal flooding to parts of the west, southwest and south coast of England, as well as the tidal River Severn, through the early hours of Friday morning and into the early afternoon.

“This is due to Storm Eunice resulting in high waves and potential storm surge coinciding with the start of a period of spring tides.”

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