20 years ago today, something happened in my life that I have been obsessed with ever since. People outside of the UK won't have heard of it, but those in the UK will already be fed up with the anniversary being rammed down their throat, for 20 years ago today, Britain suffered a full grade 4 hurricane.
What started out as a typical autumnal week, being very wet indeed, by the end of the week was positively devastating. The storm itself was unforeseen, and the weatherman was famously lambasted for saying there wasn't a hurricane coming on the lunchtime news. The incredible thing was it wasn't until 60 minutes before it hit the mainland that the severe weather warning was issued, and only just after midnight when most people had gone to bed. I was woken up at 1:30 as it started to move across London, and things I saw that night I'll probably never see again.
Where I lived was on a very large hill (nothing's changed there then) and this meant that the wind was particularly ferocious. Apparently the highest recorded gust that night was 144mph in the middle of Kent, in a place called Toy's Hill. To this day you can visit the hill and a small local pub, where pictures of that night adorn the walls. At 3:30am, where I lived had a gust of 137mph, a noise I shall never forget. It started out as the usual 'whooosh' of wind, then become the rather more violent growling wind, and finally the roar that was like a long drawn out explosion.
The electricity in the area was flickering as one electricity cable after another was felled by trees, and even trees landing on substations were causing immense flashes of blue-white light. Eventually the electricity was turned off at 4:30 by officials as they realised it was better for people to have no power rather then be electrocuted.
A neighbour left at 2:30am and I remember thinking 'he's mad,' as he drove down the road. The next morning the devastation I saw outside was astounding. The backgarden was about a foot thick in leaves, where the trees had been stripped completely in one night. My father phoned from Sweden, worried because he'd just heard on the news that London had been hit by a hurricane. People in Benidorm were panicked when they heard that the town of Sevenoaks had completely vanished off the face of the earth, something that had been lost in translation methinks because all that had happened was 6 of the 7 oaks at the county cricket ground had blown over. Further venturing to school showed how bad it had been, where the roads were blocked completely. I made it to school, only 1 of 2 people in my year, and only about 50 turned up from the whole school, including 2 teachers. The school was on emergency generators and the sports hall now had a new feature down one side (aka a tree), but it came off relatively unscathed.
The fact is, 20 years on, some of the details are being pailed. The BBC is reporting the 110mph winds. ITV (always one to go better) are reporting 115mph winds. The 16 deaths that could have been saved (it was officially 19, but probably more) if the Met office had issued a warning. It was reported to have wiped out 2 - 3 billion trees, now only 15 million. We've had a few 'hurricanes' since. Officially they're called storms, because Britain doesn't have hurricanes, a North American trait. Just like Florida doesn't have typhoons. All I know is each winter we get a lot more storms. None have been as severe as that one, and probably won't be for another 250 years, but the dumbing down by those that don't remember it or didn't experience what I saw really shows how the press can 'adjust' people's perceptions.
As a treat, I have found on youtube an example of what I saw that night. A video of hurricane Charley at 145mph. Now bearing in mind this is Florida. Not many big trees, and those that are around are not exactly covered in leaves. Imagine the devastation winds like this would do in our country, and you have a small idea of what I experienced.
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