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Wild Weather: Why 1987 was exceptional year in Essex

By George Booth
Amateur Meteorologist and Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society

1987 storm damage in Shoeburyness
The great storm of October 1987 caused damage to trees, cars and buildings

As one of the counties in the south eastern corner of the British Isles, Essex enjoys a more benign climate than areas to the north and west.

The prevailing westerly winds become drier as they travel eastwards such that this part of Britain has some of the lowest annual rainfall totals.

The summers are generally warm and sunny although the heat does contribute to an above average number of thunderstorms.

In winter Essex is always vulnerable to particularly cold spells whenever easterly winds set in.

The Epping Weather Station in west Essex has been collecting data since 1979 and this shows a mean annual temperature of 10.3ºC and a mean annual rainfall of 669mm.

Sunshine data has been collected since 2002 showing an average of 1605 hours per year.

It is worth noting that in the last 10-years the mean temperature has increased to 11.0ºC and the rainfall 697mm.

Bitterly cold

Whilst 'Wild Weather' is unusual in Essex there have been a number of events in the last 30-years worthy of note.

Photo taken the day after the Big Storm. A house on Jaywick sea front, with its roof in the road behind by Ray Rogers of Jaywick.
Coastal resorts, such as Jaywick, were particularly affected by the great storm

1987 stands out as a year of some significant weather events.

On 10, January 1987 bitterly cold north-easterly winds set in bringing snow showers to the Essex coast.

Over the next few days the snow showers became heavier and more widespread giving particularly heavy falls in the south east of Essex with the Southend area reporting 21ins of level snow by the 14, January.

Epping, being further inland, recorded only four inches. However, on the 12, January Epping recorded a maximum temperature of only -8.0ºC, the lowest ever maximum in the 1979-2010 period.

The 29, July 1987 saw heavy thunderstorms in the Epping area.

In less than half an hour a thunderstorm produced 50mm of rain.

The result was serious flooding with local roads blocked by floodwater up to nine feet in depth in places.

For many years after this event the hedgerows on the eastern edge of the local North Weald Airfield displayed a tidemark of debris, several feet above ground level, which had been swept off the airfield by the floodwaters.

The Great Storm

However it was on Friday, 16 October 1987 that Essex experienced one of the most notable weather events of the 20th century.

The previous day had seen a low pressure system moving north-eastwards from the Bay of Biscay towards south west Britain.

In the early hours of the 16, October the depression followed a track from Devon to Lincolnshire.

To the south and east of this track the exceptionally strong winds caused widespread damage over many parts of southern England.

The damage was increased by the already wet ground and the fact that many trees were still in leaf.

Photo taken a few days after the storm on the Stebbing to Great Bardfield in 1987.
A familiar sight after the 1987 storms, this is Stebbing to Great Bardfield road

I was only estimating wind speeds at that time but would put the maximum gusts in the Epping area at some 80-85mph.

On the Essex coast Shoeburyness recorded a gust of 100mph.

In the heavily wooded Epping area many roads were blocked by fallen trees as was the Central Line into London.

Power lines were down as well. Property damage was significant from fallen trees and flying debris.

The following days saw an eerie silence interrupted by the sound of chainsaws and roofers at work.

Wettest dayWettest Day 50mm In half an hour on 29th July 1987 at Epping
Windiest dayWindiest Day 100 mph Shoeburyness on 15th October 1987


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