The Great Storm of 1987 doesn’t have a name like those hurricanes that devastate the Caribbean and the United States each winter — it wasn’t until Abigail in November 2015 that British storms were given a personality — but it deserves its capital letters.
The worst storm to hit England since 1703 killed 18 people, felled 15 million trees, famously reducing Sevenoaks to Oneoak, and cost the insurance industry more than £2 billion. It also left the City, where trading was closed at lunchtime the next day, unprepared for the Wall Street crash that led to Black Monday on 19 October.
The storm, which struck 30 years ago this Sunday, left such a mark on the nation that it even featured in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games. Between the theme music from The Archers and ‘Push the Button’ by the Sugababes, there was a snatch of Michael Fish’s infamously understated weather forecast. ‘Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way,’ Fish said. ‘Well, if you’re watching, don’t worry, there isn’t.’
He was technically correct. What raged over Britain that night was not a hurricane but a violent extratropical cyclone boosted by a phenomenon known as a ‘sting jet’ with gusts of force 12 on the Beaufort Scale. To my 11-year-old self, however, huddled behind a wall in the middle of the night as the gable end of our house was deposited on to my mother’s car, it certainly felt like a hurricane.
My family lived on Mersea Island, off the coast of Essex, in a semi-detached Victorian villa up the hill from the sea. Our immediate neighbours were single-storey buildings. The storm struck our house off a long run-up.