A Personal Story: The Great Storm of 1987




How many people reading this remember the Great Storm of 15th October 1987, that battered southern England? 

If you said yes, was it because of the notorious broadcast of BBC TV weatherman Michael Fish saying, “Earlier in the evening a woman rang the BBC to ask if there’s a hurricane on the way. Well if you’re watching, don’t worry – there isn’t.”


The funny thing, he was right. He was actually referring to a different storm system over the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean that day. This storm, he said, would not reach the British Isles – and it didn’t. It was the rapidly deepening depression from the Bay of Biscay which struck. This storm wasn’t officially a hurricane, as it did not originate in the tropics – but it was certainly exceptional.

With winds gusting at up to 100mph, there was massive devastation across the country and 18 people were killed. About 15 million trees were blown down. Many fell on to roads and railways, causing major transport delays. Others took down electricity and telephone lines, leaving thousands of homes without power for more than 24 hours.


Buildings were damaged by winds or falling trees. Numerous small boats were wrecked or blown away, with one ship at Dover being blown over and a Channel ferry was blown ashore near Folkestone.

During the evening of 15 October, radio and TV forecasts mentioned strong winds but indicated heavy rain would be the main feature, rather than strong wind. By the time most people went to bed, exceptionally strong winds hadn’t been mentioned in national radio and TV weather broadcasts. Warnings of severe weather had been issued, however, to various agencies and emergency authorities, including the London Fire Brigade. Perhaps the most important warning was issued by the Met Office to the Ministry of Defence at 0135 UTC, 16 October. It warned that the anticipated consequences of the storm were such that civil authorities might need to call on assistance from the military.

In south-east England, where the greatest damage occurred, gusts of 70 knots or more were recorded continually for three or four consecutive hours. Even the oldest residents of the worst affected areas couldn’t recall winds so strong, or destruction on so great a scale.


My parents used to have a giant conifer tree in their back garden in Norwich. It was planted in 1956, the year I was born, and it towered above the neighboring trees. On that night, it was blown down, smashing my dad’s greenhouse as well.

I wasn’t there at the time, because I was in London, working for the NME. What do I remember of the storm itself? Nothing! I was sleeping off a drinking binge. Was the destruction of the tree in any way symbolic, because we were the same age? Did anything weird happen to me at around the same time?

Well now, there’s a question … stay tuned for the answer!







About J P Catton

Speculative storytelling and skewed fiction: the blog and website of author John Paul Catton.
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