Five of the worst storms which have hit Scotland

Think of the Scottish weather, and the chances are you’ll not come up with images of sunshine and blue skies.

Most of us are more than used to battling the typical Scottish weather, and fighting our way through driving wind and rain, than anything else.

We round up five of the worst Scottish storms ever.

Hurricane Low Q

The 1968 storm which reeked absolute devastation and chaos on Scotland focused its destruction particularly on the City of Glasgow. It claimed 20 lives immediately – nine of which in Glasgow – and a further 30 lives of the men repairing the damage in the aftermath. Often denoted as ‘The Great Storm’ or Hurricane Low Q, the blast has been described as Central Scotland’s worst natural disaster since records began, leaving 2,000 Glaswegians homeless, 300 homes completely destroyed and a further 70,000 damaged.

In total, the gale affected 250,000 homes. Many families had to live with make-shift tarpaulin roofs for an abnormally long time whilst hospitals were asked to give mattresses to those who lost their homes and were forced to bed down in local schools.

It was in the early morning hours of Monday 15 January that Hurricane Low Q moved easterly from the Atlantic and raged its way up the River Clyde. Peak gales topped at 140 mph and tore down power lines in its path, leaving the whole city in darkness. The typhoon was also responsible for sinking seven ships and setting an oil rig adrift. 8,000 hectares of forestry and over 1,000 of mature trees were destroyed and downed.

A Glasgow police spokesman at the time said that it was ‘absolute havoc’ in the city, lampposts bent, and mounds of earth, stones and rubble built up around the city.

The storm cost millions, totalling at a mere £30 million (£516 million in today’s day in age). Before the disaster hit, many of Glasgow’s housing estates were in extremely poor condition and due to the killer winds, half of Glasgow’s 140,000 council houses were damaged.

The then Europe’s tallest flats were evacuated by tenants as they shook violently and ‘swayed back and forth’; their trademark chimney heads filled the streets. Many locals saw whole buildings collapse whist the storm was compared to the wind speeds of the Lothar Cyclone in Paris in 1999, which saw 110 fatalities.

Hurricane Low Q devastated Glasgow in 1968

Officials in Glasgow said that the destruction that was caused was similar to that of the German bombings in World War II. It was on the 16th January that 150 troops from Edinburgh came to help in the clean up – the immediate aftermath showed identifiable tracks suggesting a tornado-type storm similar to the twisters found in the American mid-west.

After all the devastation, the only positive to come from the ordeal was that Glasgow City Council quickly imposed a new policy to improve housing in the city. Tenements in the city were set to be revolutionised. Raymond Young, an architect who regenerated the tenements, told the BBC Scotland: ‘The great storm was a God who was fed up with a city not getting its housing right. He sent a storm to take off the roofs and make you realise the scale of the problem and get on with the job.’

Despite the absolute pandemonium that was caused, there was little media coverage of the event along with little support from Government. Labour lent an interest-free loan of £500,000 to the city – expecting it to be paid back in full once the £30 million pound worth of damage was renovated.

Eyemouth Disaster

In Eyemouth, the morning of Friday 14 October 1881 is forever known as ‘Black Friday’ – the worst ever Scottish fishing disaster which left 189 lives lost to the sea. After weeks of bad weather, crews were desperate to get back to sea. On waking up to a clear and calm Friday morning, the fishermen chose to ignore the low reading on their barometer and set sail. Just when they began line fishing around midday, the entire country was blasted by a storm.
Many ships tried to sail home as quickly as possible but most either capsized or crashed into the Hurkar Rocks at the harbour entrance – the families of the sailors looked on, unable to help. Left behind were 93 wives, now widows and 267 fatherless children. One boat stumbled its way into the harbour hours later. The ‘Ariel Gazelle’ rode out the storm rather than rushing their way home – all crew members were safe. A fund was set up for the families affected by the tragedy. A century later in 1981, a commemoration service was held and a memorial stands at the seafront, along with a tapestry dedicated to those who died and is hung in the Memorial Room of Eyemouth Museum.

The Burns Day storm

There was no cause for celebration on Burns Day in 1990 as one of Europe’s strongest windstorms on record approached southern Scotland. Strong gusts of up to 104 mph were reported – which caused extensive damage. Subsequently, it was the country’s most expensive weather event to insurers – costing £3.37 billion. In the UK, a total of 97 deaths were reported, the fatality number is thought to be so high due to the storm occurring during the day, rather than at night when people would be asleep. The storm has since been deemed an example of when the Met Office ‘got the prediction right’ after observations from two ships in the Atlantic who were near the storm the day before it reached the UK.

Boxing Day 1998

Festivities came to an abrupt end on Boxing Day in 1998 when large parts of Scotland’s power went out. It’s thought that two million people were without electricity for at least 24 hours, with some homes not restored of power until the New Year. Gusts of 103 mph were recorded at Prestwick Airport whilst Hunterston B Nuclear Power Station was shut down when power was lost resulting in a level 2 on the International Nuclear Event Scale. This was due to safety measures not following through regarding the cooling of the reactors – but no lasting damage or injuries occurred.

Cyclone Friedhelm

Hurricane-force winds were brought to Scotland in December 2011 with the summit of Cairn Gorm recording a speed of 165mph, though the average wind speed was 105 mph on the ground. Transport was largely affected – Glasgow Airport cancelled 37 flights and Edinburgh Airport had to follow suit, cancelling 21. Rail services were also affected as Scotrail operated a reduced timetable whilst one of their journeys left 64 people stranded on a train near Crianlarich after the line was forced to close.

Double-decker buses had to withdraw operation after a number of them were blown over, including a school bus travelling near Dalry in Ayrshire. Chaos continued as the River Clyde burst its banks and overflowed and a wind turbine near Ardrossan burst into flames due to the high wind speeds. The Met Office had issued a red-weather warning – its highest warning level – the day prior to the storm for Central Scotland.

This was the first ever red level warning for wind in the UK. University exams were cancelled and schools were closed around the country, along with museums, galleries, sports centres and many council operated buildings. Edinburgh Castle and Princes Street Gardens were also closed, as fears rose that structural damage would affect the tourist spots. Despite the storm labelled a Hurricane-force 12 on the Beaufort scale, there were no fatalities.