A European windstorm is a severe cyclonic storm that tracks across the North Atlantic towards north-west Europe in the winter months. These storms usually track over the north coast of Scotland towards Norway but can veer south to affect other countries including Ireland, Wales, France, Belgium, The Netherlands and Denmark. As these storms can generate hurricane-force winds, they are sometimes referred to as hurricanes, even though very few originate as tropical cyclones.

These storms cause economic damage of US $1.7 billion per year, and insurance losses of US $ 1.2 billion per year (1990-1998). They rank as the 2nd highest cause of global natural catastrophe insurance loss (after US hurricanes). [1]

Historic and infamous storms:

  • 26 November, 1703. 'The Great Storm of 1703'. Severe gales affect south coast of England.

  • December 28, 1879. 'The Tay Bridge Disaster'. Severe gales (estimated to be Force 10-11) swept the east coast of Scotland, infamously resulting in the collapse of the Tay Rail Bridge and the loss of 75 people who were on board the ill-fated train. [1]

  • October 14, 1881, 'The Eyemouth Disaster'. A severe storm struck the south-east coast of Scotland. 189 fishermen were killed, most of who were from the small village of Eyemouth.

Severe European windstorms in recent history include:

  • September 17, 1961, '1961 Ex-Hurricane Debbie'. Much of Scotland and the Northern Isles hit by severe gales, which were the residuals of Atlantic hurricane 'Debbie'. [1]

  • February 16, 1962, 'The Sheffield Wind-storm'. South Yorkshire (North England). The City experienced winds of at least 65 knots with reported gusts of 80 knots or more. These high wind speeds were very localised on the city area, possibly due to extreme lee-wave enhancement of the airflow downwind of the Pennines.

  • January 15, 1968, 'The 1968 Hurricane'. This storm tracked north up the west coast of Scotland. In Glasgow, some 20 people were killed and 2000 people made homeless, Ayrshire and Argyll also affected.

  • October 15 and 16, 1987, 'The Great Storm of 1987'. This storm mainly afffected south-east England and northern France. In England maximum mean wind speeds of 70 knots (an average over 10 minutes) were recorded. The highest gust of 117 knots was recorded at Pointe du Raz in Normandy. In all, 16 people were killed in England and 4 in France. 15 million trees were uprooted in England. This storm received much media attention, not so much because of its severity, but because these storms do not usually track so far south, and the trees and buildings (and London based journalists) are not used to such winds. [1]. [1].

  • February 13, 1989. During this storm a gust of 123 knots was recorded at the Kinnaird Lighthouse (Fraserburgh) on the North-east coast of Scotland. This broke the highest low-level wind speed record for the British Isles. Much higher (unofficial) windspeeds have been recorded on the summit of Cairngorm, and on Unst in Shetland.

  • January 17, 1990. Severe gales swept the north coast of Scotland, and the Northern Isles. A gust of 109 knots was recorded on the Fair Isles.

  • January 25, 1990, 'The Burns Day Storm'. Widespread severe gales in England, Wales and southern Scotland. Isolated gusts of over 105 mph were recorded, causing extensive structural damage. The area affected by this winter storm was much greater than the October 1987 storm, as it tracked east into mainland Europe, where it was given the name 'Daria'. In total, insurance losses resulting from this storm totalled about US $6bn. [1]

  • January 1, 1992, 'The New Year Day Storm'. This affected much of northern Scotland, unofficial records of gusts in excess of 150 mph were recorded in Shetland. Very few fatalities, mainly due to the very low population of the islands and the fact that the islanders are used to very high winds.

  • January 22, 1994. On the 22nd and 23rd, severe gales affected Central, Western and Northern Scotland, and the Northern Isles. A gust of 104 knots recorded at Sumburgh Airport on Shetland. Gusts were estimated to be well in excess of 100 knots at Fair Isle. [1].

  • December 24, 1997. On Christmas Eve, an intense secondary depression tracked north-east across Scotland, bringing severe gales and heavy rain. The storm caused 6 fatalities, extensive structural damage and disruption to National Grid. Blackpool pier in north-west England was also damaged.

  • January 4, 1998. Another intense secondary depression crossed Ireland and northern England. Severe gales also swept Wales and southern England. Widespread structural damage and power outages, and flooding along rivers and coasts.

  • December 26, 1998. Severe gales over Ireland, northern England, and southern Scotland. Widespread disruption, widespread power outages in Northern Ireland and southern Scotland.

  • December 29, 1998. Another severe gale tracks across Northern Ireland and Scotland.

  • December 26, 1999. On the 26th, 27th and 28th, France and countries to east hit by severe storms and rain. Over 100 people were killed, and the storm caused extensive damage to property and trees and the French national power grid.

See severe weather, hurricane, Beaufort scale.

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