CREDIT: ALASTAIR GRANT, AP
Britain hunkered down for one of the worst storms to hit the island in many years — with damage and power outages spreading to the Netherlands and France as the storm moved northeast Monday morning.
Dubbed the St. Jude’s Day Storm for the patron saint celebrated on October 28th, it knocked down trees, flooded low-lying areas, and brought waves up to 25 feet high. A top wind gust of 99 mph hit the Isle of Wight, with gusts of 80 mph hitting the U.K. mainland.
Four deaths have been reported so far. A 14-year-old boy was playing in the surf off West Beach in Newhaven and was swept away by the current. Coastguard rescuers said that the effort had turned into a search-and-recovery operation.
Hundreds of trees fell across Britain, France and the Netherlands, causing the other three deaths. Two others were seriously hurt by falling trees in the Netherlands. Martin Young, Chief Forecaster at the U.K.’s Met Office, said “This weather system is typical of what we expect to see in winter but as it’s coming in during autumn — when trees are in leaf — and while the ground is fairly saturated, it does pose some risks.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg cancelled a press conference after a construction crane fell in the high winds and smashed into the Cabinet Office, a government building in the center of London.
Up to 270,000 homes lost power in Britain, though the figure changed constantly throughout Monday morning. Current totals looked to be 180,000 by Monday afternoon, local time. UK Power Networks said in an advisory that “the electricity network is built to be resilient but extreme weather can see wind-borne debris being blown onto our overhead power lines.” A nuclear power plant in Kent had to shut down due to storm debris. 75,000 French homes lost power as well.
Travel warnings were issued across the continent, with 130 flights cancelled out of Heathrow Airport, express train service suspended, and the Port of Dover (and ferry service to France) shuttered due to huge waves. A ferry carrying 1,000 people from England tried to dock in the Netherlands but could not, so it returned to sea. Airline delays also spread to mainland Europe, along with power outages, tree damage, and train cancellations. All train traffic into Amsterdam was halted. Dutch citizens received a warning from local officials to avoid riding their bicycles due to high winds.
The storm could not be called a hurricane because it did not form over warm tropical waters. It also did not have an eye. It was unusual, according to the Met Office, for such a strong storm to come in during fall rather than winter, and because the jet stream was moving particularly fast, the storm came in quickly.
Helen Chivers, spokeswoman for the Met office, said this storm was unusual because it continued to develop after previous storms would have slowed down:
The thing that’s unusual about this one is that most of our storms develop out over the Atlantic so that they’ve done all their strengthening and deepening by the time they reach us. This one is developing as it crosses the UK, which is why it brings the potential for significant disruption … and that doesn’t happen very often.
As sea levels rise, the risk for storm surges caused by storms like this one becomes even more dangerous.