Early warning and planning eased serious storm chaos

Trees brought down power lines during St Jude's storm.

Trees brought down power lines during St Jude's storm. - Credit: Archant

As a veteran who well remembers the storm of 1987, it is perhaps inevitable that this week’s gale would draw comparison with it.

There were some similarities – but for many reasons the response has generally been much better.

The first major difference was, of course, that we had plenty of warning of this week’s storm. Frankly you’d have had to be a herrmit not to know there were gales coming.

The weather forecasters were spot-on with their predictions – and many of the warnings from public services gave very good warning.

It was certainly sensible for the rail companies to decide on Sunday to suspend their services on Monday – and for them to use every method at their disposal to publicise that fact.

There was some frustration over the delay to the reopening of the line on Tuesday morning – but it would have been daft, and irresponsible, for Greater Anglia to try to run trains as the storm was brewing.

I was less impressed with the haulage companies that were sending their lorries to Felixstowe on Monday morning even though they knew that the Orwell Bridge was closed, as was the port.

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These closures were publicised well from Sunday afternoon, yet still the lorries were sent east, adding to the expected chaos in Ipswich.

Why on early weren’t they stay at their depots until the storm had passed? It was never going to last long and the Orwell Bridge was opened again by noon.

As it is the drivers used up hours of valuable tachograph time adding to the traffic chaos around Ipswich – a real triumph for forward planning!

Electricity distributor UK Power Networks had staff on standby before the storm and managed to reconnect most properties cut off within hours of the storm easing – although inevitably some communities faced longer power cuts.

And why it took so long for Ipswich and Suffolk councils to agree on the work necessary to open Key Street, a vital part of the town’s inner ring road, is a complete mystery. Didn’t they understand the misery having the road closed for two morning and one evening rush hour would cause?

But overall the region coped reasonably well with the storm – largely thanks to the level of planning as a result of the accurate weather forecasts.

The staff from Weatherquest in Norwich were supplying me with forecasts on Sunday that were accurate almost to the minute so far as Suffolk was concerned – a far cry from Michael Fish’s “There’s no hurricane” forecast that has lived with him since 1987.

We’ve certainly come through the biggest storm for many years – but thanks to planning and reasonably efficient reactions from most services, the storm of 2013 is unlikely go down in history.