WORLD

A devastating wind

Britain suffers its worst storm in 300 years

JOHN BIERMAN February 5 1990
WORLD

A devastating wind

Britain suffers its worst storm in 300 years

JOHN BIERMAN February 5 1990

A devastating wind

WORLD

EUROPE

Britain suffers its worst storm in 300 years

An 11-year-old girl was killed at her school desk and dozens of her classmates were injured when hurricane-force winds tore the roof off her school last week. An 11-month-old baby was crushed by a falling chimney as her father rushed from his crumbling home with the child in his arms.

Two workmen fell to their deaths when scaffolding was blown down while they were restoring the facade of a 17th-century building. And off the southwest coast, a sailor was blown from the deck of a freighter and drowned in mountainous seas. They were all among

the casualties of a violent -

storm that struck Britain last Thursday—the country’s worst in three centuries—leaving 46 people dead and damage provisionally estimated at almost $2 billion. After ravaging the British Isles for four hours, the storm crossed the North Sea and wreaked similar havoc in France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark and West Germany, claiming at least 50 more lives. And in the storm’s wake, some weather experts theorized that the so-called greenhouse effect,

the global warming phenomenon caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels, was to blame for the speed of the winds, which at times reached 120 m.p.h.

The storm blew in from the mid-Atlantic, where cold air travelling south from the Arctic meets warm air travelling north from the tropics. Vortexes or depressions are caused where the air masses collide. And meteorologists agree that the higher the tem-

perature of the warm air, and the colder the cold air, the deeper those depressions are likely to be, causing exceptionally violent storms. Said Prof. Peter Evans of northern England’s University of Durham: “Most scientists believe that the weather will become more violent as there are more extremes of temperature.” But he added, “We cannot agree on when it will happen or exactly how it will manifest itself.”

Britain was the hardest hit of all the affected countries last week. An estimated 500,000 people were left without electricity— some for days. Overturned vehicles blocked the six-lane M25 freeway, which encircles London, while fallen trees halted traffic on hundreds of lesser roads. Towns and villages across the country were choked with debris. In London’s renowned Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, hundreds of greenhouse windows were smashed and scores of rare trees, including some 200-year-old cedars, were uprooted.

Reinforcing the theory that global warming is making Atlantic storms progressively more violent was the

fact that last week’s gales

were considerably more destructive than those that hit Britain in October, 1987. That storm took 17 lives. Last week’s blast of wind set a frightening new modem record, leaving the British and their Western European neighbors with a long and costly cleanup and a new nervousness about the future.

IAN MATHER

JOHN BIERMAN with IAN MATHER in London