December 1981 windstorm

The December 1981 windstorm was a severe storm that particularly affected southern England, Wales and south west France during December 13, 1981. The storm formed as a secondary low.[1]

In England, the storm started with violent winds and snow, which reached Cornwall during the morning. Prior its arrival a number of record low temperatures were reached for December, with -25.2C at RAF Shawbury in Shropshire,[2] -5.5C in Southampton,[3] while in Wales a record of -22.7C was recorded at Corwen in Denbighshire.

In the evening spring tides combined with a 1.45 m (4.8 ft) storm surge[4] resulted in the highest water levels recorded in the Bristol Channel since the start of the 20th century.[1] Water from melting snow, caused by milder weather accompanying the depression, added to the flooding.[5] The maximum surge at Hinkley Point was measured at 1.3 metres (4 ft 3 in) above the 7.4 metres (24 ft) tidal level Ordnance Datum (OD) at 2025 hours, and 1.3 metres (4 ft 3 in) measured at Avonmouth. The wind was measured at 40 knots (74 km/h; 46 mph) from the west. Over topping of the sea defences along a 7 miles (11 km) stretch of the North Somerset coast at 22 locations from Clevedon to Porlock began after 19:30, and continued until about 21:30 when the wind speed had reached 50 knots (93 km/h; 58 mph) from the west. Although there was no loss of life, the resultant flooding covered 12,500 acres (5,100 ha) of land, affecting 1072 houses and commercial properties, with £150,000 worth of livestock killed and £50,000 of feed and grain destroyed. Wessex Water Authority estimated the total cost of the damage caused at £6m, resulting in a three-year programme of sea defence assessment, repair and improvement.[6][5]

In France, the storm caused widespread flooding in the south west, causing considerable damage in the river basins of the Garonne and Adour and flooding the city of Bordeaux.[7]

The MV Bonita, an 8000 tonne Ecuadorian cargo ship sailing from Hamburg to Panama was caught in the storm in the English Channel. 29 were rescued from the ship, 4 by helicopter until the storm was too strong for the helicopter to operate. The remaining crew were rescued by the Guernsey lifeboat, however there were 2 fatalities.[8][9]

Water entered the cooling water pump house of Hinkley Point nuclear power station, causing a shut-down for weeks after the storm.[10]

See also


  1. 1 2 Storm surge prediction in the Bristol Channel--the floods of 13 December 1981 R. Proctor, R.A. Flather, Continental Shelf Research, Volume 9, Issue 10, October 1989, Pages 889-918, ISSN 0278-4343, doi:10.1016/0278-4343(89)90064-2, accessed 2011-03-25
  2. Philip Eden: Snowiest of 20th century-, accessed 2011-03-25
  3. Weather forecasters predict -12 tonight in Hampshire Southern Daily Echo, published 2010-12-02, accessed 2011-03-25
  4. "CLIMATE CHANGE ON THE SEVERN ESTUARY Sea level" (PDF). Severn Estuary Partnership. Retrieved 8 February 2012.
  5. 1 2 1981 Storm in photos - December 13th 1981 published 2006-12-13, accessed 2011-03-25
  6. "Somerset and the sea" (PDF). Environment Agency. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
  7. Inondations généralisées sur le Sud-Ouest Météo-France, accessed 2011-03-25
  8. "Guernsey lifeboat's 1981 rescue of Bonita crew remembered". BBC. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  9. "I felt urge to slide into sea to escape nightmare... these brave men gave me 30 more years". The Sun. Retrieved 10 April 2012.
  10. "Storm event: 13TH DECEMBER 1981 Severe coastal floods in Somerset". Retrieved 23 May 2015.
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