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A large stormy wave

6 of the deadliest storms from UK history

Image: Elias / Pixabay

While huge, deadly storms are happening more frequently on account of global warming, they are certainly nothing new. Here a six of the biggest storms in British history.

1. Bristol Channel - 1607

There is still some debate about the definitive cause of the Bristol Channel Flood. Was it a storm surge, a sudden rise in water caused by low pressure (essentially, strong winds blowing a body of water in one direction), or even a tsunami? Either way, the flooding reached as far as Glastonbury Tor, some 14 miles (23 kilometres) from the coast. It destroyed pretty much everything in its path and killed over 2,000 people.

2. The Great Storm - 1703

This one was so severe that it was widely believed God was punishing people for their sins. It’s also the one that’s most likely to catch the attention of climate change deniers, largely because it pre-dates the industrial revolution, and it may have been the worst storm to hit the UK, ever.

Claiming the lives of as many as 1,500 people, the storm (akin to a category two hurricane, with wind speeds hitting a dizzying 110 mph (177 kph)) took out 2,000 chimneys, over 17,000 trees in Kent, more than 4,000 in the New Forest, and blew ships miles off course. And by 'miles off course', we’re talking Harwich, Essex to Gothenburg, Sweden in the case of HMS Association.

3. Eyemouth - 1881

This one is still known to the people of Eyemouth on Scotland’s southern coast as ‘Black Friday’. 189 fishermen, the majority from Eyemouth, lost their lives when they were suddenly caught out by a spell of appalling weather conditions while at sea. The event may not be as widespread as some of the others on this list, but for the people of Eyemouth, it’s something they’ll never forget.

4. Blizzard - 1891

It’s not all about freakishly high winds and flooding, the blizzard in 1891 saw fifteen feet snowdrifts caused by high winds following three days’ worth of snow in March. Devon and Cornwall were completely cut off from the rest of the country.

The damage to infrastructure was almost unprecedented. Felled telegraph poles and buried trains added to the woes of residents trapped inside, and outside, their homes. 200 people died, mostly from the intense, unseasonal, cold, as well as 6,000 livestock.

5. North Sea Flood - 1953

It’s widely agreed that the North Sea Flood was caused by a sea surge following a huge storm. Not that that should in any way undermine the severity of the events that occurred around a number of coastal regions in Lincolnshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex, and across parts of Scotland.

The flood didn’t just affect the UK, areas in The Netherlands and Belgium were hit too, but the damage in the UK was far more severe. 24,000 homes were destroyed along with the 994 miles (1,600 kilometres) of coastline. It claimed the lives of more than 300 people.

6. The Great Storm 2 - 1987

Frankly, after reading the above, you could be forgiven for thinking we’ve taken leave of our senses to compare the events of 1987 to, particularly, the Great Storm of 1703. But its inclusion here is more about putting things into some sort of context.

Weatherman Michael Fish haughtily denounced an approaching storm, live on television, with the now immortal words: "Earlier on today a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way. Well, if you're watching, don't worry, there isn't!"

In the following 24 hours, 19 people lost their lives, 15 million trees were destroyed, and thousands of people were without power for weeks. The clean-up operation cost over £2 billion, which equates to approximately £6 billion in today’s money.