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Monday, 30 October, 2000, 13:45 GMT
You think this is bad?

Storms have brought southern England to a standstill, but if you think this is bad, BBC News Online looks back at the extremes of British weather.

Floods, fallen trees and travel chaos. No sooner than the clocks go back, the UK seems to be in the grip of truly abysmal winter weather.

However, before we start talking of the "Great Storm of 2000", it might be worth reciting that classic Britishism: "It could be worse."


The Great Storm of 1987

The "hurricane" which hit southern England on October 15 1987 was indeed worse than the current spell of inclement weather.

Winds fell a tree in Brighton, October 2000
Bringing back memories of 1987
Winds gusting up to 115mph cut a swathe of destruction across London and the Home Counties. There were 19 deaths and caused an estimated 1bn of damage.

Although not technically a hurricane, the gale force winds of the 1987 storm were more than enough to pluck 20 million still leafy trees from the rain-softened ground.

In terms of wind speed, the 1987 storm was trumped by a gale which hit northern Scotland two years later. A gust of 142mph was recorded at Fraserburgh.


The Great Storm of 1703

For truly Biblical scenes of destruction, the gale which hit southern England on 26 November 1703 takes some beating.

Winds of up to 80mph killed 123 people and destroyed more than 400 windmills - many of which caught fire due to the friction of their wildly spinning sails.

Waves lash Selsey Bill, October 2000
Is the sea as angry as in 1703?
Robinson Crusoe author Daniel Defoe reported seeing a tornado which "snapped the body of an oak".

Destruction on land, bad as it was, paled into insignificance compared to the tragedy played out on the seas around Britain.

Some 8,000 sailors perished as the storm decimated the British fleet. Hundreds of vessels were lost, including four Royal Navy men-of-war.

One ship at Whitstable in Kent was lifted from the sea and reputedly dropped some 250 yards in land.

The first Eddystone Lighthouse, a timber structure heroically built on a semi-submerged rock 14 miles from Plymouth, was also a victim of the 1703 storm. It was washed away, together with its flamboyant designer, Henry Winstanley.


Tornado

The tornadoes which hit Selsey and Bognor Regis, West Sussex, in the space of 36 hours this week are perhaps not as unusual as some may think.

Bognor Regis hit by a tornado
There are an average 30 UK twisters each year
The south and Midlands experience an average of 30 such "twisters" every year - though few are powerful enough to cause the damage seen in recent days.

The UK Tornado and Storm Research Organisation says the worst day for British twisters was 23 November 1981 - when some 105 were reported.

The UK's most deadly tornado hit on 27 October 1913, killing six residents of Edwardsville, a Glamorgan mining town.


Cold snap

If high winds were not enough, parts of northern England are enduring snowfalls.

October snows are a rare event, particularly away from exposed parts of Scotland. Heavy snows have not hit the East since 1836, when Newmarket was said to be buried a foot deep.

Floods in London, October 2000
"So much for the Frost Fair!"
Our ancestors certainly had their share of harsh winters. While we have seen average annual temperature rise, Britons between 1550 and 1850 endured what was known as the "Little Ice Age".

The River Thames froze over 14 times, becoming the location for "Frost Fair" festivities. A rise in temperatures, as well as changes to the river, put paid to the tradition in 1814.

The Thames has frozen since, though mainly outside London. The odds against the waters around Tower Bridge turning to ice stand at 40-1.

The people of Braemar, Aberdeenshire, may justly take "southerners" moaning about the weather with a pinch of salt.

The village holds the record for the lowest temperature in the UK. The mercury has twice dipped to -27.2C, once in 1895 and again in January 1982.

See, it could be worse.

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30 Oct 00 | UK
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