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Extreme weather in Kent: The Great Storm in 1987 to the heatwave of 2018

By Chris Britcher

The weather has certainly thrown up some interesting conditions so far this year.

From the freezing sub-zero temperatures in January, to the record-breaking temperatures in February and the storms of March, it seems there's rarely a dull moment.

And while we collectively keep our fingers crossed for another glorious summer, we take a look at some of the most extreme weather conditions Kent has witnessed over the years.

Summer 2012: Rain, rain and more rain

Summer of 2012: Kent Show becomes a mud bath after torrential rain
Summer of 2012: Kent Show becomes a mud bath after torrential rain

There was a lot riding on 2012. Not only was the country hosting the Olympic Games, but there was a great deal of excitement over the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

Surely the gods would smile upon us and deliver some lovely sunshine for all those open air events planned across Kent and around the nation?

The start of the year had been all talk of hosepipe bans after months of dry weather, but then the heavens opened in April and didn't stop until July.

The summer as a whole was the wettest since 1912. The period between April and July the wettest on record.

Visitors to the Kent Show found the going tough. The first day was hit by such rain cars struggled to get both in and out of the Detling site prompting organisers to close it for the first time since 1964 due to the conditions.

Beaches around Thanet had to close after the heavy rain pushed raw sewage into the sea, while Kent cricket chiefs were counting the cost of flash flooding which washed out Tunbridge Wells Cricket Week and played havoc with its fixture list.

The rain couldn't dampen excitement around London 2012, although crowds who flocked to watch the Queen's jubilee pageant down the Thames were left as wet as the water the boats sailed on.

The following year would bring a rude awakening for those near Maidstone and Tonbridge as heavy rain saw rivers break their banks and leave many in the village of Yalding forced to ditch the turkey and flee from their homes.

Winter 1962-63: The Big Freeze

Winter of 62/63: The sea at Herne Bay freezes during prolonged cold spell
Winter of 62/63: The sea at Herne Bay freezes during prolonged cold spell

If you thought last year's Beast from the East was extreme, then it is worth taking a look at the conditions endured during the coldest winter for 200 years.

From Christmas 1962 the snow started to fall and would continue for a remarkable three months.

Kent saw the River Medway freeze, leaving boats and barges stranded. Around the coast, the sea started to freeze over with remarkable sights along the north Kent coast from Gravesend - where inland snow drifts as high as 8ft were reported - all the way along through to Herne Bay where waters were frozen for a mile out to sea.

Meanwhile in Maidstone's Mote Park the lake froze over providing an ice rink for the brave.

Average temperatures for January were zero - and not much more for February. In comparison, the Beast from the East was rather tame.

October 1987: The Great Storm

Great Storm 1987: A tree fell through the roof of a house in Hythe Road, Ashford
Great Storm 1987: A tree fell through the roof of a house in Hythe Road, Ashford

OK, so it wasn't actually a hurricane in the end - apparently that has to originate in the tropics - but the county was subjected to hurricane-force winds as literally millions of trees were ripped up, falling through homes, cars and blocking roads as they came down. An estimated £1 billion of damage was caused.

It was one of the most traumatic weather events in modern UK history. The early hours of October 16 would redefine our landscape such was the devastation so many areas felt. At least 22 people were killed in England and France as a result - including a number in Kent.

Sevenoaks famously lost the trees which give it its name, while off the coast, pity the poor folk on the cross-Channel ferry which was hit by a wave which nearly toppled it over and caused such damage to vehicles on board it took three days to remove the wreckage.

Great Storm 1987: The Hengist ferry beached near Folkestone Picture: Paul Amos
Great Storm 1987: The Hengist ferry beached near Folkestone Picture: Paul Amos

Another Sealink ferry, the Hengist, was blown from its mooring at Folkestone was beached further down the coast for a week Winds reached 110mph and none of the county escaped.

For those who lived through it, it was a night never to forget. For Michael Fish, the weather forecaster who dismissed a viewer's concern about high winds, a career defining moment.

Ever since then, the Met Office has not been shy in issuing weather warnings.

Just three years later, and often forgotten, another major storm hit the south east on January 25, 1990. Schools and colleges in the county were closed early as the winds whipped up. As it took place during the day, it claimed close to 100 lives, with winds in the county reaching speeds of 88mph.

Summers of 1976 and 2018: Phew, what a couple of scorchers

Summer 1976: Thousands flock to Margate in August 1976 during the hottest summer on record
Summer 1976: Thousands flock to Margate in August 1976 during the hottest summer on record

For decades, the summer of 1976 was held up as the epitome of a long, hot, sizzling summer.

Water supplies were short, reservoirs dried up, parks were parched, families were encouraged to share a bath and emergency measures were drafted by the government of the day.

The Labour administration even considered shipping in water supplies from Norway.

The River Medway reached a record low, while dairy farmers in Cranbrook found the heat too much to cope with as gallons of milk went off due to the heat.

Faversham brewery Shepherd Neame saw sales soar, however, as the heat pushed them to their highest since the war.

Summer 2018: Families enjoy the heatwave in the grounds on Tonbridge Castle
Summer 2018: Families enjoy the heatwave in the grounds on Tonbridge Castle

But then 2018 came along and gave it a real run for its money.

From June to the start of August, the weather was hot, hot, hot as thousands flocked to our beaches and the rest of us melted in our offices.

Ultimately, it didn't quite pip 1976 to the title of our hottest summer - but it was one which will live long in the memory.

January/February 1953: North Sea Flood

North Sea Flood 1953: A boat rescues residents of Nelson Road, Whitstable
North Sea Flood 1953: A boat rescues residents of Nelson Road, Whitstable

On the night of January 31 to February 1 an event would take place which would have a devastating impact on four countries and leave thousands dead in its wake.

A combination of a high spring tide, low pressure and severe wind over the North Sea saw the water swell to almost 20ft above sea level in some locations. As it swept down the east coast and into Belgium and the Netherlands, the sea swept in to cause massive destruction as it overpowered sea defences.

The low-lying Netherlands suffered the worse with more than 1,800 people dying. In England more than 300 were killed, with other fatalities reported in Scotland and Belgium. Kent somehow avoided loss of life but saw major coastal flooding.

From Gravesend to Herne Bay, Margate to Deal, streets were left under several feet of water. Thanet almost became an island again; Sheppey became practically cut-off; livestock drowned in their fields; people in Whitstable had to reach rescue boats through their bedroom windows; and Higham Marshes saw the sea stretch three miles inshore.

The aftermath saw major investment in improved sea defences and early warning systems.

For all the forecasts, warnings and weather related news, click here.

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