• Sryan Bruen

Storm Eunice - exceptional or not?

As the storms have passed and the weather decides to calm down, it is time for an analytical approach to try and answer the question on if Storm Eunice was an exceptional windstorm or not. There may be brief mentions of impacts or damages as a result of Eunice but this post is primarily looking at the statistical side of the windstorm.

On the 17th of February 2022, the day before Eunice was expected to make landfall over the United Kingdom, the Met Office issued a red wind warning for parts of south Wales and southwest England. In the early hours of the 18th, this was succeeded by a red wind warning for southeast England including the London area. This was the second time this season that a red weather warning was issued for the United Kingdom with Storm Arwen being the other back at the end of November. This was the first time however that London has received a red weather warning since the current system began in 2011 - though some sources have mentioned about a red snow warning in London in February 2009. The Government had held an emergency Cobra meeting in advance of Eunice given the weather warnings. The modelling did not do their usual go over the top charts in Fantasy Land and then downgrade in strength as the day got closer, in fact winds at times were increased. So anticipation was high for a very significant storm to affect the country.

The day came and brought a new record wind gust for England with Needles Old Battery (Isle of Wight) observing a maximum wind gust of 122 mph beating the old record of 118 mph at Gwennap Head (Cornwall) on 15 December 1979. This was an outlier however and the station is notorious for being exposed to recording wind gusts significantly higher than all other stations. It should also be noted that records here only go back to 1996 so did not get to measure wind gusts in the infamous storms of 1987 and 1990. Its previous record was only recently in November 2019. Wind gusts for the rest of England were not as exceptional compared to storms of the past but nevertheless recorded some of their highest gusts of recent times. For example, Camborne (Cornwall) had a maximum gust of 76 mph which was its highest since January 1998. Herstmonceux (East Sussex) had its highest wind gust since January 1990 with 72 mph. Most others had their highest since Kyrill of January 2007.

The great graphic below by Dan Holley indicates the return periods for the last time a select number of stations in the UK seen stronger wind gusts than the values they recorded during Storm Eunice. As can be seen, Eunice was very much a southern England focused storm with wind gusts nothing outstanding at all for Scotland, Northern Ireland, northern England and much of Wales.

Return periods on the last time a select number of UK stations received stronger gusts than Storm Eunice. Credit: Dan Holley.

We can further compare to old storms using a similar selection of UK stations courtesy of a fantastic tool by Dan Harris here and get a good comparison of how Storm Eunice stacks up against the likes of St. Jude's Day in October 2013, Kyrill in January 2007, Jeanett in October 2002, 8 December 1993, Burns' Day in January 1990 and the Great Storm of October 1987. This selection of storms was selected as I felt they were the most relevant to compare to Eunice due to their storm track behaviour. Each of the storms are going in chronological order backward in the grid below, starting with Eunice in the top left and ending with October 1987 in the bottom left. If you would like to view any of these maps in full with the gridded values and their stations, go check out Dan's site. It is a brilliant resource whether you are a big statistics nerd like me seeking all the weather data he can find or you just want to have a gander at events or periods of the past.

By looking briefly through these maps, we can see that Storm Eunice was certainly more widespread than that of the St. Jude's Day Storm in 2013 and was of similar widespread nature to Kyrill, Jeanett and December 1993. In terms of strength and being widespread, Kyrill and Burns' Day storms stand out here whilst the Great Storm of October 1987 was more limited to southern and southeastern England but values here were exceptional.

There has been many mentions of Eunice and the two other storms, Dudley and Franklin, being record-breaking in the media and we should expect more in future given climate change which has said to increase the number of storms reaching the UK due to changes in the track of the jet stream. However, whilst we may indeed see more powerful storms in future, there is nothing to suggest from official data that there is an increase in storms reaching our stores.

The naming storm system began in the UK & Ireland in 2015-16 following on from the St. Jude's Day storm in 2013 as a means of spreading awareness for potential hazards and disruption that Atlantic depressions would bring. The most active season so far was the first one in 2015-16 with 11 named storms by the Met Office or Met Éireann. None of the seasons since have had as much as this. Two issues that come with this system are:

1. By creating awareness of these storms with names, people will remember them more easily and feel like there has been an increase in windstorms when that is just not the case. It paints a misleading picture in the mind of the average Joe who doesn't remember what happened last year. In fact, mean wind speeds as a whole have declined since the turn of the century on average and recently, the UK was having a wind drought with 2021 among the calmest years on record (see image below courtesy of World Climate Service).

How 2021 compares to 1991-2020 for 100m wind speed across Europe. Credit: World Climate Service.

2. Whether a depression warrants a name or not is open to controversial debate and like the warning system has led to many unfriendly arguments on forums and social media platforms. A storm is named, there will always be someone who says it shouldn't have been and it was all overhyped. On the other side, if a storm isn't named, there will always be a case of the boy who cried wolf and somebody says it should have been. There is no win situation here for the meteorological agencies.

I know this has sort of gone off on a tangent and off-topic to the matter at hand with regards to Storm Eunice but I think these are all important points to mention. Also, let's not forget where our location is. The UK & Ireland are on the eastern side of a large body of water known as the North Atlantic Ocean with a prevailing westerly wind where depressions or cyclones are driven directly our way. Storms are part of our winter norm, it's within the realms of our climate. A couple of storms every winter is nothing unusual! This storm or any individual event cannot be directly attributed to the effects of climate change, particularly as it could easily have been the result of the natural variability of the UK climate.

So after all that, was Storm Eunice an exceptional storm? I am going to refrain from using the word exceptional to describe Eunice because whilst yes England set a new wind gust record, this was set at a highly exposed location that is notorious for high wind gusts and most had higher gusts during the storms compared in this analysis. Eunice did not stack up to what the modelling had projected and we should be thankful for that! Nevertheless saying that, Eunice was a pretty notable and unusual event as storms like this do not happen every other year. Large sections of the 02 Arena's fabric in London were torn away by Eunice and the Grain Power Station in Kent lost one of its three chimneys. There were unfortunately 3 deaths attributed to Eunice in the UK and 1 in Ireland. No doubt there were bad effects from Eunice which cannot be understated but from a pure statistical viewpoint, Eunice just does not compare for southeast England to 1987 and 1990.

I'd be interested in hearing how you were impacted by Storm Eunice and what do you think of my stance on it? Please keep all discussion civil and thank you for reading!

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