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'St Jude's Day' storm - October 2013

Trees blowing in strong winds

We forecast that a severe storm would affect southern England in late October 2013.

On Monday 28 October 2013 a severe storm, which the media named the 'St Jude's Day' storm, travelled across southern England. The timing of the storm meant that trees were still in full leaf and vulnerable to strong winds. The path of the storm was also significant - strong gusts of 70 to 80 mph are rare in southern England, making these areas more vulnerable to the impacts of severe weather. Falling trees were the main cause of disruption, contributing to transport disruption and power outages. Tragically, four people died as a result of falling trees. Our trusted forecasts enabled contingency planners, emergency responders and the general public prepare for and limit the impacts of the storm.

What we forecast - timeline

Thursday 24 October
We issued warnings for the risk of potentially damaging winds across southern parts of England five days ahead of the storm - the earliest possible warning on our five-day National Severe Weather Warning service.

Friday 25 October
The amber warning area was extended across southern England on Friday 25 October.

Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 October
The areas we identified as most at risk changed very little in the run-up to the storm on Monday.

Monday 28 October
The storm arrived in line with our forecasts in terms of timing, wind speeds (we talked of 60 to 70 mph inland, and potential for over 80 mph), and the areas most likely to be affected by the strongest winds.

We highlighted a broad area for the amber warning to convey the risk of damaging winds depending on potentially relatively small variations in the storm track. In the event, the storm closely followed the most likely forecast track, meaning some areas on the northern edge of the amber area avoided the strongest winds.

Working with partners

We began communicating the potential for severe weather more than a week ahead, giving increasing detail as it became available. In the run up to the storm, Met Office advisors took part in 90 teleconferences with local resilience groups around the UK to keep them up to date with the latest information so they could plan for likely impacts.

Here are just some of the people we worked with to help the UK prepare:

  • Utility companies.
  • Government agencies.
  • Transport agencies and companies (road, rail, air and sea).
  • Media partners, to help ensure safety messages were received by the public.
  • Emergency responders such as the police, ambulance, fire and coastguard services.

We communicated warnings using social media, our apps and our website including:

  • News releases shared across all platforms.
  • Graphic explaining what to do during severe wind.
  • Regular updates via Twitter on the latest storm track.
  • Sharing videos explaining likely track of storm with Yahoo, BBC, Sky News, Channel 5, Mirror Online, Daily Mail Online and Express.

Met Office twitter and YouTube sites had a 10 percent increase in followers and subscribers over a three-day period, while our videos had over half a million views. Many more people visited our website with a peak of 2,510,603 visits and 1,768,424 new visitors on 27 October.

How did our forecasts help?

Our trusted, authoritative warnings enabled many people, including contingency planners, emergency responders and the general public, prepare for and take action to avoid the impacts of the storm, for example:

  • People opted to work from home to avoid travelling in adverse conditions.
  • Local councils cleared drains of leaves the day before and had staff on standby throughout the night and clearing up during the morning of the storm.
  • Train services were cancelled to avoid the danger of trees on the lines. Extra buses were able to get passengers to their destinations.
  • Insurers received fewer claims as people protected their property against the wind.

Impacts - what happened?

Fallen tree

  • Hundreds of trees were blown over.
  • Four people died as a result of falling trees.
  • More than 660,000 homes were left without power.
  • Gusts of up to 99 mph were recorded on the Isle of Wight.
  • Heavy rain caused some localised flooding with the highest rainfall of 53.6 mm recorded in Cardiff.
  • Widespread transport disruption to road and rail with cancelled or delayed trains and flights.

Comparisons to other storms

The storm is a notch down in terms of the strength of the winds in comparison to the Great Storm of 1987 or the Burns Day Storm of 1990. You don't have to go far back to find a more powerful storm than this - for example, we saw winds of over 100 mph in Edinburgh when Winter storms, early January 2012

To find a storm of similar strength in southern parts of the UK, and at a similar time of year, you'd have to go back to the Strong Winds - 27 October 2002 over much of the south of the UK.

Working together

We're grateful to all our partners in the media, government and agencies for helping us get our trusted warnings out to the public and those who keep them safe. 

Our accurate forecasts received widespread praise. Here's a selection of some of the comments:

Prime Minister, David Cameron, speaking about the response to the storm said: "I got together with the different agencies to make sure that everything that could be prepared was being prepared.  The emergency services, as ever, do a brilliant job.  These are difficult things to handle because you don't know for certain how strong the storm will be.  I think the Met Office provided good information and updated it regularly. That really is the advice to people: things will get back to normal but make sure you consult the relevant websites before you travel"

London Mayor, Boris Johnson thanked utility companies for helping to restore power, gas and water as soon as possible and the Met Office, "who gave accurate and useful predictions of what was to come".

Transport Minister, Robert Goodwill, praised the efforts of workers who have tried to minimise disruption: "We knew this was coming, the Met Office got this absolutely right and of course this couldn't have happened at a worse time. the early hours of Monday morning are the most difficult time. It isn't as if we weren't aware this was going to happen and people have been out all night ensuring what can be done, is being done."

Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, Mr Francis Maude
"The primary responsibility for emergency planning sits with local responders. The Cabinet Office works with other Departments, devolved Administrations and emergency responders to enhance the country's ability to prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies. The whole House will want to thank the emergency services, local authorities and the Met Office, who did a brilliant job working together to prepare effectively for and respond to the effects of Monday's storm."

Steve Barnes, Policy Manager, Civil Contingencies Secretariat Cabinet Office
"Thank you to yourself, the advisers and forecasters for all your work in this event. Everyone here and at No10 thought it was spot-on and a really good call."

Mark Taglietti, Head of ICT Service Delivery & Vendor Management, University College London Hospitals
"I used the forecast that was widely communicated in the press last week and over the weekend to pro-actively engage a range of managed services providers to conduct pre-storm assessments and remedial activities across some of these locations in preparation for potential flooding.  This resulted in a range of short term mitigation activities and the provision of local accommodation for our 'core ICT engineers' on Sunday night into Monday morning. I am extremely pleased to advise that the level of warning provided, its accuracy, and subsequent activity across the NHS Trust almost certainly mitigated against service disruption. Therefore thank you and all at the Met Office for providing the information in a timely manner and enabling a critical NHS Foundation Trust to assure network and service availability to our values customers, i.e. nurses, administrator, consultants and patients etc."

What makes our accurate forecasts possible?

Without our warnings, the threat to public safety and damage to the UK economy and infrastructure would have been a lot worse. New ways of collecting, measuring and interpreting data have helped us to correctly predict the timing and severity of the 'St Jude's Day' storm.

Increased observational coverage of the atmosphere over the ocean to the south and west of the UK has improved by increasing the quality and quantity of observations from ships, aircraft, buoys, radar and satellites. Developments in our science over many years, investment in our supercomputer and continually refining the computer models used in forecasting further increase the accuracy and reliability of our forecasts.

In summary, advances in science, technology, communication and platforms, and working with partners all contribute to being able to make forecasts that were previously impossible.

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