In Depth

How does Storm Ophelia compare to the Great Storm of 1987?

Former hurricane bears down on UK on the 30th anniversary of the worst storm in living memory

Parts of the UK braced for impact today, as the former hurricane Ophelia began unleashing its fury.

Storm Ophelia, which originated as an Atlantic hurricane before downgrading to a storm as it headed west, made landfall on the southern Irish coast this morning. Almost 5,000 homes are said to be without power in Cork and Kerry, The Guardian reports.

The Met Office has issued an amber weather warning for Northern Ireland, where all schools are closed today as a precaution, as well as parts of Wales, Scotland and the north of England.

Coincidentally, Ophelia’s landfall on the British Isles comes on the anniversary of the Great Storm of 1987, believed by meteorologists to be the most severe storm to strike the UK since the 1700s.

The storm is best remembered in popular culture for the infamous weather forecast in which Michael Fish dismissed concerns about an impending hurricane.

Although the veteran forecaster was technically correct - the storm did not originate in the tropics, and thus did not meet the definition of a hurricane - at the height of the storm’s wrath, winds did indeed reach hurricane force.

However, on the evening of 15 October, it was believed that the main feature of the gathering storm - which was then creeping northwards towards the UK from the Bay of Biscay - would be heavy rainfall rather than high winds.

Those forecasts were soon proven as under in the early hours of 16 October 1987, when the storm made landfall, unleashing its full force on the south and east of England.

While Met Office is predicting that Ophelia might bring winds of up to 80mph - strong enough to be classified “a danger to life” due to the risk of falling trees or masonry - the gales of the Great Storm were even more ferocious, reaching more than 100mph at their peak.

The coasts bore the brunt of the raging storm - the highest windspeed, 100 knots (115mph) was recorded in Shoreham-on-Sea, Sussex - but even inland gales reached more than 80mph in places.

“Even the oldest residents of the worst affected areas couldn't recall winds so strong, or destruction on so great a scale,” says the Met Office.

Eighteen people died in the chaos, including two firemen crushed by a falling tree and a man buried by a collapsed chimney, ITV reports. Hundreds of thousands were left without power as electricity cables were ripped from their sockets.

The Met Office estimates that a total of 15 million trees were blown down in the gales. In Kent, one of the worst-affected regions, photos taken in the aftermath show swathes of trees shattered or uprooted completely by the howling gales.

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