How the lessons of earlier storms helped with this week's clear-up

The tree pictured resting on the home in Gainsborough Street, Sudbury

Storm Eunice caused widespread damage - like this in Gainsborough Street in Sudbury. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

The storms of the last week have caused widespread disruption across the region to power supplies, roads, rail services and other aspects of life - but how do they compare with other gales that have disrupted our lives?

For everyone who was about at the time, the hurricane of 1987 is still the yardstick alongside which all other events tend to be judged.

1987 hurricane damage in Ipswich

Homes in Ipswich suffered serious damage in the 1987 hurricane. - Credit: Archant files

This month's storms were certainly on a par with that in terms of the intensity of the gales - especially Storm Eunice, which hit last Friday and had wind speeds among the highest ever recorded in the UK.

The fact that it wasn't alone is also significant - it was preceded by Storm Dudley two days earlier and followed by Storm Franklin on Monday.

Neither of them was as severe as Eunice, in this region anyway, but Franklin, in particular, did cause problems in a region that was already recovering from the most severe storm for decades.

What was also significant was that all the storms reached their peak during the day - the winds were blowing at their fiercest at times when most people would have been out and about. 

And while 1987 remains the most significant storm in most people's minds, there have been other storms that have also caused real problems.

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Probably the greatest disruption since then came in October 2002 when high winds at the end of the month caused really severe problems - and knocked out electricity supplies to hundreds of thousands of people across the region.

One of the main factors that made the 1987 storm so devastating was its unexpected arrival - no one, least of all the Met Office, had predicted the level of devastation.

It blew in during the early hours of a Friday morning, waking people up from their sleep and causing major devastation.

Pix for EA Flashback 1987
October 16. A storm force wind hit the region in the early hours. Hous

Cransford Baptist Chapel, near Framlingham, was destroyed in the 1987 hurricane. It has now been replaced by a modern building. - Credit: Archant files

In this region, many buildings - homes, offices, even a chapel - were destroyed or badly damaged by the wind. And the lack of preparation made the clear-up even more difficult and protracted. 

It was a week before train services were restored between the region and London - and the failure to prepare adequately for the storm prompted a major review of weather forecasting and emergency response procedures.

By the time the next really severe storm hit, in early 1990, there had been warnings and the disruption was much less severe. Although the highest winds came during the day, life returned to normal very quickly.

It was the storm of October 27, 2002, that really caused problems across the area - the electricity network operator was then called 24/7 and across East Anglia 200,000 properties lost power. About half of them were in Suffolk.

Car hit by tree in Felixstowe

Gales in August 2002 caused major disruption - this car was destroyed by a fallen tree in Felixstowe. - Credit: Archant files

The company struggled to get on top of repairs, even calling in engineers from France to work on the network, and a significant number of customers lost power for up to a week. Again there were promises of inquiries in a bid to ensure lessons would be learned.

Electricity workmen repairing power cables at Creeting St Mary in 2002.

In 2002 power workers struggled all week to reconnect properties - this is work at Creeting near Stowmarket. - Credit: Archant files

There have been high winds since then - but nothing approaching this week's storms in East Anglia. But it does seem as if many of the lessons have been learned.

We had plenty of warning of the storms - weather forecasters had been talking about them and organisations did have time to prepare.

Storm Eunice at Southwold

Last week's storm at Southwold. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Greater Anglia and Network Rail were actively telling people not to travel before the storms hit - and even closed two lines that were known to be vulnerable to trees and other debris.

There was disruption caused by both Eunice and Franklin but by Tuesday afternoon, the day after Franklin hit, normal services were resumed.

UK Power Networks has undertaken a programme of work to minimise the danger of tree damage to its overhead lines - but also closely monitored weather forecasts to ensure staff were on hand to deal with any issues that arose.

On Friday (Storm Eunice)  the company had 100 teams of engineers ready to respond to any issues that arose. During the day 14,000 properties in Suffolk did lose power, a much smaller number than in 2002, but the vast majority were reconnected within hours. 

Shed flipped over at Jimmy's Farm

This shed was blown over at Jimmy's Farm near Ipswich last week and had to be recovered. - Credit: Jimmy's Farm

The Suffolk Resilience Forum, a group of public sector organisations set up with county council administrators, met regularly to co-ordinate the response and to ensure roads were cleared, liaise with public transport operators, and keep the public informed about the situation in their areas.

Nothing can be done to stop storms like those which have hit Suffolk over the last week - but preparations and past experience have helped to reduce the impact on people's lives.

Working together was the key

A close working relationship between public sector organisations over the last two years was vital during the planning of the response to the storms, said the chair of the Suffolk Resilience Forum's response to the emergency.

Jon Lacey

Suffolk Chief Fire Office Jon Lacey. - Credit: Suffolk County Council

Suffolk's Chief Fire Officer and director of public safety Jon Lacey chaired the forum, which declared a "major incident" as the storm hit on Friday morning.

He said: "The partners had got to know each other well over the last two years (while dealing with the Covid pandemic) so we were able to work closely together as we saw what was likely to happen.

"That close working relationship helped to identify people who might be vulnerable and we worked with those who were working to restore services to try to ensure we were as effective as possible."

The forum has continued to monitor the situation - and will later have a full debrief on how its response had worked and what lessons can be learned in the future.