Monday 28 October 2013

Five dead and one missing as western Europe is hit by worst Atlantic Storm in a decade.

Five people have been confirmed dead and one is missing after the worst north Atlantic storm in a decade hit western Europe early in the morning of Monday 28 October 2013. In the UK a seventeen year old girl was killed when a falling tree struck a static caravan that she was sleeping in near Faversham in Kent, a man was killed when a tree struck his car at Watford in Hertfordshire, and a man and a woman were killed in a gas explosion in London, thought to have been triggered by damage to a gas main caused by trees being uprooted. In the Netherlands another woman was killed by a falling tree in Amsterdam, while in France a woman was swept out to sea from Belle Île, an island off the coast of Brittany, and has not yet been found.

Waves breaking in Porthcawl Harbour, South Wales. AAP.

A number of people have been injured in all three nations, again largely due to falling trees. Over 486 000 homes have been left without power in the UK as have 75 000 in France. Meetings were suspended at the Cabinet Office in London after a crane toppled onto the building. In Amsterdam a houseboat was sunk by the storm and several more were badly damaged. Flooding has been reported in low-lying areas of southwest England. Transport networks have been badly hit across the region, with roads and rail-lines closed by falling trees and planes and ferries unable to operate due to high winds. A number of exposed bridges have also been closed.

A car crushed by a falling tree in north London. AP.

Ocean storms form due to heating of air over the sea in tropical zones. As the air is heated the the air pressure drops and the air rises, causing new air to rush in from outside the forming storm zone. If this zone is sufficiently large, then it will be influenced by the Coriolis Effect, which loosely speaking means the winds closer to the equator will be faster than those further away, causing the storm to rotate, clockwise in the northern hemisphere and anticlockwise in the southern hemisphere.

Whilst the high winds associated these storms is extremely dangerous, the real danger from such storms is often the flooding. Each millibar drop in air pressure can lead to a 1 cm rise in sea level, and large storms can be accompanied by storm surges several meters high. This tends to be accompanied by high levels of rainfall, caused by water picked up by the storm while still at sea, which can lead to flooding, swollen rivers and landslides; which occur when waterlogged soils on hill slopes lose their cohesion and slump downwards, over whatever happens to be in their path.

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