ITV1: Britain's Biggest Storm

Britain’s Biggest Storm
Tuesday 16 October 2007 9:00pm – 10:30pm on ITV1.

In October 1987 Britain was hit by the biggest storm on record – it claimed 19 lives, was four times as big as a hurricane, had wind speeds of 110mph and caused a billion pounds worth of damage. And we had no warning it was coming.

Now, 20 years to the day since it struck, ITV1 uses reconstructions, computer graphics and actual footage to recapture the moment the country was hit by the worst weather on record. Experts explain what caused the storm to build up and the Met Office reveals the reason why they had little warning about how bad the weather was and in which direction it was heading.

Teachers and students who felt the brunt of the gale during a geography field trip relive their evacuation from their caravan park in the middle of the night as the winds started lifting the holiday homes and overturning them.

One couple tells the film how they battled through high winds and past fallen branches to try to make it to the hospital in time for the birth of their second child. An overturned tree blocked their path and the heavily pregnant mum had to climb over tree trunks and walk for two-and-a-half hours to get back home.

The staff at Kew Gardens talk about the devastation they encountered when they arrived the morning after the storm to see ancient trees ripped from the ground. The south-east lost a total of 15 million trees in one night.

And a fire crew recall the tragedy of losing two colleagues as a tree fell into the cab of their engine.

The film also features an interview with the National Grid boss who had to make the decision to turn off all electricity in London for the first and only time in living memory.

Plus the emergency services reveal they took four months’ worth of calls in just one night and had to deploy every member of staff and machinery they had to help the victims of the storm.

Ian McCaskill, who was working at the Met Office at the time of the storm, tells the programme: “The first time we realised there was something out of the ordinary happening was when wind speeds started coming in from south west approaches, much higher winds than we’d anticipated.

“It was not behaving as it should have done, it was not behaving the way computers said it would behave. All the forecasts we’d put out up to that time were wrong.

“I think by the middle of the next morning we were well aware that damage had been far greater than anticipated. We were in for a troublesome morning.”

Dr Gabrielle Walker, author of the book An Ocean of Air, tells the programme: “It was supposed to go down the channel but, if you can imagine this great unwieldy thing, it was almost like a spinning top that can go here or there, and it just went where it shouldn’t have.”

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