The day the wind blew

During the early hours of October 16, 1987, the face of East Suffolk was changed by the great storm. PAUL GEATER remembers the day that almost blew the county away.

During the early hours of October 16, 1987, the face of East Suffolk was changed by the great storm. PAUL GEATER remembers the day that almost blew the county away.

SUFFOLK had already been hit by freak weather several times in 1987.

It had been a wet year with several downpours, and during August there had been a very heavy hailstorm which affected the east of the county from Ipswich to Aldeburgh and Leiston.

On the night of October 15, I had been to a concert in London and my wife and I caught the last train from Liverpool Street to Ipswich.

By the time we left just before midnight there was heavy rain and the wind was blustery, if not exceptional.

The train trundled, rather than sped, towards Suffolk and after several unscheduled stops arrived at Ipswich about an hour and a half late, just before 3am.

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The weather then was very windy, but we did not realise how bad it was as we drove home to our house in town.

The late arrival did not worry us too much - we both had the following day off work. But shortly after 6am the phone rang.

It was the news editor: “Paul, Thank God I've got through to someone. Come in to work, the county's in crisis!” he said.

There was little point in protesting about my lack of sleep or my day off - after turning on the radio it was clear how serious the situation was.

We did not lose power, but there was no television.

Many phone lines had come down, so it was difficult to assess what had happened - the only thing was to get out and see for ourselves.

I went out to Shotley with photographer David Kindred to see what had happened to a controversial detention ship containing Tamil refugees that had been moored at Harwich. There had been reports it had slipped across the Stour.

As we drove there we found the road partially blocked in many places and the wind was still fierce - but we made the journey safely there and back.

By the time we returned some people in Ipswich had been able to alert us to problems - a block of houses in Carolbrook Road was badly damaged as was a house at the junction of Bramford Road and Sproughton Road.

During the afternoon I was despatched to the north east of Suffolk, an area I know well, to find out if anything had happened there.

I drove to Framlingham, and was quickly directed to Cransford where the baptist chapel had been literally blown away.

In 1987 we did not have mobile phones, not even huge bricks, and it was unheard of for reporters to carry cameras.

It was difficult to find a telephone that worked - eventually I called the office from a friend's home in Saxmundham and got a photographer to meet me in the area.

At one stage I was almost zapped by a fallen electric cable, but never really felt at risk during the storm. By lunchtime on October 16 it had effectively blown itself out.

However the damage took years to repair.

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What are your memories of the 1987 Great Storm?

Write to Your Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

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Tomorrow: Memories of the rescuers on the frontline

Almost as well known as the storm of 1987 was Michael Fish's assurance on October 15, 1987 that there was no hurricane on the way.

He said: "Earlier on today apparently a woman rang the BBC and said she heard that there's a hurricane is on its way. Well if you're watching, don't worry there isn't."

The Great Storm of 1987 did not originate in the Tropics and was not technically a hurricane - but it was certainly exceptional.

If a similar storm hit the area today, forecasters are confident they would be able to see the winds coming. Barry Gromitt from the Meteorological Office said: “Since 1987 weather forecasts have improved significantly as we collect more data and have more advanced computer programmes. But a significant element of forecasts now is provided by our experts analysing the data and then predicting what it means.”

Mr Gromitt said that in the days leading up to the storm in 1987 there had been indications that bad weather was on the way: “About five days before the storm the programmes were telling us it was coming, but then there were subtle changes which seemed to suggest it was not on the way which was why it was not actually forecast,” he said.

“Since then there have been changes and I think we would have told people about the possibility if it happened today.”

Since the storm, weather forecasting has also developed and the Met Office issues regular severe weather warnings.

Sometimes it turns out that the weather is not as bad as had been feared - leading some to suspect that that weather experts are too quick to cry wolf.

Mr Gromitt said: “We are keen to give people as much information as early as possible - but we always give a probability factor for that weather so there will be times when it turns out not to be as bad as we had feared.

“We probably do need to educate people about understanding how this information should be used.”

Evening Star weatherman Ken Blowers said part of the problem with forecasting the 1987 storm had been the fact that the Met Office relied too much on computers.

He said: “Now they use both computers and their experts who are able to use their experience to analyse the data - that way the forecasts are much more accurate.”

And he was keen to dispel one myth about the storm: “It was not a hurricane. You only get hurricanes in tropical parts of the world where they pick up strength over warm seas.

“However there were times during the storm when there were hurricane-force gusts of wind.”

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