The TORRO Windstorm division was established in 2000 to research and disseminate the magnitude, severity and impacts of windstorms in the United Kingdom. The UK is one of the windiest countries in Europe and the number of severe storms that hit the UK varies from year to year. Major damaging windstorms have occurred regularly in the past for example, the October 1987 storm, which ranks as the fourth most severe storm since records began, caused damage estimated at £1.9 billion and an unparalleled 15 million trees were lost. The catastrophic 'Burns Night' storm of January 1990 was estimated to have cost the insurance industry about £2.0 billion, over the whole UK. Seven other storms in the last 70 years are estimated to have caused losses in excess of 30p per £1000 sum insured, while events such as the Sheffield gale of Jan 1962, caused very substantial damage locally with over 60% of houses in that city sustained some damage!
Windstorm is ranked according to the maximum recorded wind speed, duration and geographical location of the storm. Wind speeds tend to be highest closest to the depression tracks in the north western UK and decrease toward the south and east. Coastal areas experience higher wind speeds than inland areas. The Beaufort wind scale is used to classify wind speeds on land as follows:
British Windstorm Summary for 2002
JANUARY 28TH WINDSTORM
Maximum wind gusts at high level stations were impressive: Cairngorm summit (1090m) reported 141mph around noon, Aonach Mor (1130m) 130mph and the summit of Ben Nevis 120mph. Lower down, Glen Ogle (564m) recorded 123mph - the highest gust since the station opened in 1996.
Gusts from low level stations were rather less severe. Barra reported 85mph, the (joint) highest gust for any day in a series going back to July 1997. Edinburgh Gogarbank reported 82mph, the highest gust since the site opened 3 years previously.
Across northern Britain, 7 people were killed by the storm, several as a result of lorries being blown over. Railtrack suspended all of its train services in Scotland, 35,000 homes suffered power cuts in Northern Ireland, and a further 40,000 homes were left without power across Scotland (mainly the Western Isles, Argyll and Tayside).
OCTOBER 27TH WINDSTORM - "JEANETTE"
During the 26th a small low originating in the West Atlantic moved rapidly ENE towards Ireland. It crossed Ireland and northern England during the morning of the 27th exiting in north eastern England and giving very strong winds and damaging gusts on its southern flank. By evening, the low was over southern Sweden, leaving the UK in moderating WNW winds to the north of a high (1035) over Biscay.
At the very exposed Needles lighthouse on the Isle of Wight, a gust of 102 mph was recorded around 0500 GMT. 96 mph was recorded at the (also very exposed) station at Mumbles Head (south-west Wales). Many stations over England and Wales experienced their strongest gust speeds since the 29th / 30th October 2000 windstorm and some stations in East Anglia experienced their highest gusts since the Burns day storm of 25th January 1990.
7 people were killed as a direct result of the storm in the UK and at least a further 23 across northern Europe. Most deaths were the result of falling trees. Property damage in the UK was worst in Wales, the Midlands and East Anglia. 300,000 homes were left without power, and electricity companies were criticised, as many homes remained without power even a week later! A replica inflatable army tank and a 25ft inflatable Ronald McDonald both broke free from their moorings and were being eagerly sought by their owners!
The storm also caused considerable disruption to transport. In Scotland, a ferry carrying 80 passengers was stranded for 80 hours after it failed to land at Lerwick in the Shetland Isles and at Heathrow Airport, over 60 flights were cancelled. Insured loses across northern Europe were estimated at £500M with the most severe losses in Germany and the Netherlands and further substantial losses in the UK (£50M), France, Austria, Poland Czechoslovakia. Economic losses were estimated at £1Billion.