London: Millions hunkered down as Storm Eunice pummelled Britain with record-breaking winds on Friday, leaving the streets of London eerily empty and disrupting flights, trains and ferries across Western Europe. The UK capital was placed under its first ever “red” weather warning, meaning there is “danger to life”. The same level of alert was in place across southern England and South Wales, where schools were closed and transport paralysed.
Eunice knocked out power to 80,000 homes and businesses in Ireland and more than 5,000 in Cornwall and Devon, southwest England, as towering waves breached sea walls along the coast. One wind gust of 122 miles (196 kilometres) per hour was measured on the Isle of Wight off southern England, “provisionally the highest gust ever recorded in England”, the Met Office said.
A large section of the roof on the Millennium Dome in southeast London was shredded by the high winds, while all trains in Wales, western England and Kent in southeast England were cancelled.
Britain’s meteorological service also forecast heavy snow in Scotland and northern England.
At the Tan Hill Inn, Britain’s highest pub in Yorkshire, staff were busy preparing even if the winds remained merely blustery in the region of northern England.
“But with the snow coming in now, the wind’s increasing, we’re battening down the hatches, getting ready for a bad day and worse night,” pub maintenance worker Angus Leslie told AFP.
Eunice accrued potency in a “sting jet”, a rarely seen meteorological phenomenon that brought havoc to Britain in the “Great Storm” of 1987, and sparked a red alert also in the Netherlands.
High waves battered the Brittany coast in northwest France. Long-distance and regional trains were being gradually halted in northern Germany, while warnings were also in place in Belgium, Denmark and Sweden.
Ferries across the Channel, the world’s busiest shipping lane, were cancelled, as were flights from northern Europe’s aviation hubs. Hundreds were cancelled or delayed at Heathrow and Gatwick in London, and Schiphol in Amsterdam.
One easyJet flight from Bordeaux endured two aborted landings at Gatwick before being forced to return to the French city.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has placed the British army on standby, tweeted: “We should all follow the advice and take precautions to keep safe.”
The Met Office warned that roofs could be blown off, trees uprooted and power lines brought down across southern Britain. Widespread delays and cancellations were reported on bus and ferry services, with high bridges closed to traffic.
In the UK, National Rail warned that the storm would severely disrupt travel. Train services between London’s St. Pancras and Bedford are currently disrupted because of damage to overhead electric wires north of the capital. Services in Wales were canceled, and ferry operators scrapped a number of voyages to Ireland. Crossings between Dover and Calais in France, were suspended until further notice. “We expect this to be the case for most of the day,” P&O Ferries said in a Twitter post.
Five departments in northern France were placed on orange alert Friday morning for strong winds and flooding. TER trains in the Nord, Pas-de-Calais and Somme departments were no longer running as of noon, though high-speed TGV services and lines into Paris were largely unaffected.
In Germany, the national forecaster issued its most severe — level four — weather warning for parts of the country’s northwest.
Rail operator Deutsche Bahn warned train connections, particularly across northern regions, might be impacted on Friday and Saturday. Trains toward northern coastal areas have been canceled, while the service between Hamburg an Hannover is running an hour behind schedule, Deutsche Bahn said on its website.
A larger area in the north of the country, including Berlin, Hamburg and Dusseldorf, have a warning in place for “severe” weather, one step below the highest caution level.
The storm is bringing some relief to the electricity market, as Eunice spins the nation’s fleet of wind turbines. After the storm passes, the U.K. could post record wind power output on Sunday.
However, the powerful gusts mean that some wind farms may not be operating at full capacity today as many turbines turn off when wind speeds go above about 56 miles per hour to protect the machinery.
There is a less severe amber warning for all of southern England and parts of the midlands until 9 p.m. Friday. Further north, in Scotland, heavy snow is forecast and may cause disruptions.
Scientists said that wind from storms like Eunice likely aren’t made more severe or frequent due to climate change. But warming global temperatures do mean the atmosphere can hold more water and sea levels are rising, leading to increased risk from flooding when such extreme weather strikes. Winds could be more affected by global warming in the second half of the century, depending on the extent of temperature increases, according to a Met Office spokesperson.
“Once in a decade storms like Eunice are certain to batter the British Isles in the future but there is no compelling evidence that they will become more frequent or potent in terms of wind speeds,” said Richard Allan, professor of climate science at University of Reading. “Yet with more intense rainfall and higher sea levels as human-caused climate change continues to heat the planet, flooding from coastal storm surges and prolonged deluges will worsen still further when these rare, explosive storms hit us in a warmer world.