The UK has woken to scenes of havoc and dismay in the wake of the St. Jude storm that swept through overnight claiming at least two lives. A 17-year-old girl was killed as she slept in a static caravan in Kent, after a tree fell and crushed the roof. Another falling tree caused the death of a man in his fifties as he was traveling in his car near Watford this morning. There is widespread chaos. Commuters all over southern England face massive disruption as they battle to get to work, while 220,000 homes are reported to be without power. On Sunday, a 14-year-old boy was swept out to sea and drowned in another death said to be related to the storm. The coastguard at the scene in Newhaven, East Sussex described the conditions at the time as “atrocious.” And the bad news is that the wild weather is not going away anytime soon.
The storm, named St. Jude, whose feast day is today, was named after the patron saint of lost causes and despair, and the name seems apt. It brought down many trees, as predicted, and has wrought substantial damage to property across the whole of the southern parts of Britain. In Twitter updates from the Sussex police force 125 trees were reported down by 6.30am.
Flooded roads are impassable in many areas and remain on flood alert warnings. Road, rail and air service are all subject to lengthy delays and cancellations. Two major motorway, the M4 and the M48 have been closed, 130 flights have already been cancelled at Heathrow, and Network Rail has warned that all services in and out of London will be affected. No trains were running before 9am. Most ferry companies are non operational. Gusts of 90 mph winds were recorded on the Isle of Wight and storm force 11 winds at Dover.
In Whitehall, the seat of the UK Government, a huge construction crane collapsed, leading to the closure of the roads between Parliament Square and Horseguards Parade. Outside of London, the QE2 bridge across the River Thames is closed between Kent and Essex. London Overground trains were halted but the London Underground remains functional, having cleared the falling debris from the storm on six of its lines.
Said to be the worst storm to hit the UK in five years, St. Jude has certainly wreaked havoc and caused two deaths so far. An empty passenger train hit a tree near Ivybridge in Devon and a police car was hit by a falling tree in Sussex, but nobody was injured in these events. Another driver has escaped unscathed after a tree hit a car in Eastbourne.
Although the ferocity of the storm has passed, having moved out into the North Sea after departing the Norfolk Coast by mid morning, the after effects are suspected to impact throughout the day while a massive clear up operation begins. Tony Archer, the Head of the Energy Network Association said he expected the number of homes without power to rise as damage was assessed, and trees and branches begin to be moved from power lines.
Many workers have elected to stay at home and telecommute given the circumstances, and are taking the opportunity to engage in a lively debate on Twitter as to whether the media had over estimated the ferocity of St. Jude. This may be some consolation to veteran forecaster, Michael Fish, subject to national lampoon after the Great Storm on 1987 which he failed to predict. This time, he was more accurate. Described by the Met Office as a “short, sharp storm” it has been graded at the top end of amber alert, one scale down from a full strength emergency.
The financial market is relatively unrocked by the storm damage, as St. Jude was so well anticipated and the preparations to limit its impact have helped to minimize the inflationary effect on insurance claims. UK insurance shares were trading roughly in line with the rest of the market.
Whether this mood will prevail is dependent upon the longer term forecast. Widespread flooding is still a significant fear. Wet and stormy weather is anticipated throughout Europe this winter with high intensity precipitation. Climate experts are concerned that their simulation models show increasing windstorm risks and prolonged periods of heavy rainfall.
With two people dead and substantial havoc wreaked throughout the country the UK is trying to recover from the storm today, with the risk from falling trees far from over. The Woodland Trust are urging people to stay away from woods and forests where the threat from toppling trees is still acute. Conditions remain treacherous and complacency is unwarranted.
Written by: Kate Henderson