European Windstorms Wiki
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A European windstorm is a severe cyclonic windstorm associated with areas of low atmospheric pressure that track across the North Atlantic towards northwestern Europe. They are most common in the winter months. Deep low pressure areas are relatively common over the North Atlantic, sometimes starting as nor'easters off the New England coast, and frequently track past the north coasts of the British Isles onto the Norwegian Sea. However, when they veer south they can affect almost any country in Europe. Commonly-affected countries include Britain, Ireland, Norway, the Faroe Islands and Iceland, but any country in central, northern and especially western Europe is occasionally struck by such a storm system.

These storms cause economic damage of €1.9 billion per year, and insurance losses of €1.4 billion per year (1990–1998). They rank as the second highest cause of global natural catastrophe insurance loss (after U.S. hurricanes).


Up to the second half of the 19th century, European windstorms were named after the person who spotted it. Usually, they would be named either by the year, the date, the Saint's day of their occurrence or any other way that made them commonly known. This has meant that the same storm could be named differently from one country to another.

Inspired by the practice of the U.S. National Weather Service to assign names to hurricanes and typhoons, a student at the Free University of Berlin (FU), Karla Wege, suggested in 1954 that all high- and low-pressure systems affecting Europe should be given names in order to make tracking the systems simpler. Lows were given female names and highs male names, and the names of notable extratropical cyclones were retired after each event.[1] This practice was soon adopted by the German media.

In 1998 the system changed to alternating male and female names for highs and lows each year. In November 2002 the "Adopt-a-Vortex" scheme was started, which allows members of the public to buy names that will then be assigned to storms during each year. The money raised by this is used by the meteorology department to maintain weather observations at the Free University.[1]

The FU names became gradually known across Europe through the media. Even though these are not sanctioned by any official organizations, like the World Meteorological Organization, they are commonly used. However, a storm may still be named differently in different country. For instance, the Norwegian weather service also names independently notable storms that affect Norway.[2]

Several European languages use the word Ouragan or cognates thereof (Huragan, Orcan, Orkan) to indicate particularly strong European windstorms. This is not in reference to the tropical cyclone of the same name but to the Hurricane strength of the wind in the Beaufort scale (winds ≥ 118 km/h or ≥ 73 mph).


Historic and notorious European storms

Event Date Notes
Grote Mandrenke January 16, 1362 A southwesterly Atlantic gale swept across England, the Netherlands, northern Germany and southern Denmark, killing over 25,000 and changing the Dutch-German-Danish coastline.
Burchardi Flood October 11–12, 1634 Also known as "second Grote Mandrenke", hit Nordfriesland, drowned about 8,000-15,000 people and destroyed the island of Strand.
Great Storm of 1703 November 26, 1703 Severe gales affect south coast of England.
Night of the Big Wind January 6–7, 1839 The most severe windstorm to hit Ireland in recent centuries, with hurricane force winds, killed between 250 and 300 people and rendered hundreds of thousands of homes uninhabitable.
Great Storm of 1850 Winter 1850 Severe windstorm in combination with high tides stripped away the turf and sand which had covered the Neolithic settlement at Skara Brae in Orkney.
The Tay Bridge Disaster December 28, 1879 Severe gales (estimated to be Force 10-11) swept the east coast of Scotland, infamously resulting in the collapse of the Tay Rail Bridge and the loss of 75 people who were on board the ill-fated train.[3]
Eyemouth Disaster October 14, 1881 A severe storm struck the southeast coast of Scotland. 189 fishermen were killed, most of whom were from the small village of Eyemouth.

Severe European windstorms between 1900 and 1999

Event Date Notes
North Sea Flood of 1953 January 31–February 1, 1953 Considered to be the worst natural disaster of the 20th century both in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, claiming over two thousand lives altogether. A storm originating over Ireland moved around the Scottish west coast, over Orkney, down the east coast of Scotland and England and across the North Sea to the Netherlands. Sea defences in the Netherlands and eastern England were overwhelmed. The ferry MV Princess Victoria, travelling between Scotland and Northern Ireland, was lost with 133 people drowned, and over a quarter of the Scottish fishing fleet was also lost. In the Netherlands, flooding killed 1,835 people and forced the emergency evacuation of 70,000 more as sea water inundated 1,365 km² of land. An estimated 30,000 animals drowned, and 47,300 buildings were damaged of which 10,000 were destroyed. Total damage was estimated at that time at 895 million Dutch guilders.
1961 Hurricane Debbie September 17, 1961 North-west Ireland, much of Scotland and the Northern Isles hit by severe gales, which were the residuals of Atlantic Hurricane Debbie.[4]
Sheffield Windstorm February 16, 1962 South Yorkshire (Northern England). The city experienced winds of at least 65 knots with reported gusts of Template:Convert or more. These high wind speeds were very localised on the city area, possibly due to extreme lee-wave enhancement of the airflow downwind of the Pennines.
North Sea flood of 1962 February 17, 1962 The above mentioned storm had moved south-east and reached the German coast of the North Sea with wind speeds up to 200 km/h. The accompanied storm surge combined with high tide pushed water up the Weser and Elbe, breaching dikes and caused extensive flooding, especially in Hamburg. 315 people were killed, around 60,000 were left homeless.
1968 Hurricane January 15, 1968 This storm tracked north up the west coast of Scotland. In Glasgow, some 20 people were killed and 2,000 people made homeless, Ayrshire and Argyll also affected.
? January 11-January 12, 1974 Record winds, sometimes of hurricane force, recorded in many parts of Ireland. The strongest ever sea level gust in Ireland, at exactly 200 km/h, was recorded in Kilkeel, County Down. Many trees and buildings were damaged and 150,000 homes were left without electricity.
? January 2, 1976 Central UK windspeed gusts measured RAF Wittering Template:Convert, Middlesbrough Template:Convert.
Ex-Hurricane Charley August 25, 1986 Rainfall records were broken in Ireland (e.g. 200mm in Kippure) with consequent flooding, up to 2.4 metres in Dublin, and the storm also caused flooding in Wales and England. At least eleven people were killed in Ireland and Britain.
1981 December storm December 13, 1981 In England, high tides combined with a storm surge resulted in extensive flooding and £6 million worth of damage along the Somerset coast of the Bristol Channel, with the highest water recorded in the Channel since the start of the century.[5][6] 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 Bordeaux.[7]
Great Storm of 1987 October 15 and 16, 1987 This storm mainly affected southeastern England and northern France. In England maximum mean wind speeds of 70 knots (an average over 10 minutes) were recorded. The highest gust of Template:Convert was recorded at Pointe du Raz in Brittany. In all, 19 people were killed in England and 4 in France. 15 million trees were uprooted in England. This storm received much media attention, not so much because of its severity, but because these storms do not usually track so far south, the trees and buildings are not used to such winds (indeed, in mid-October most deciduous trees still have their leaves and were therefore more susceptible to windstorm damage and, following weeks of wet weather, the ground was sodden, providing little grip for the trees' roots), the severity of the storm was not forecast until approximately 3 hrs before it hit and it struck after midnight, meaning few people had advance warning.Template:Citation needed
February 13, 1989 During this storm, a gust of Template:Convert was recorded at the Kinnaird Lighthouse (Fraserburgh) on the north-east coast of Scotland. This broke the highest low-level wind speed record for the British Isles. Much higher (unofficial) windspeeds have been recorded on the summit of Cairn Gorm and on Unst in Shetland.
Burns' Day storm (or Daria by FU) January 25, 1990 Widespread severe gales in the United Kingdom, France, the Benelux countries, and Germany. Isolated gusts of over 45 m/s were recorded, causing extensive structural damage. The storm tracked across the United Kingdom into mainland Europe, where it was known under the name "Daria" and caused severe damage, especially to forests. In total, insurance losses resulting from this storm totalled about US $6bn.Template:Citation needed.
New Year's Day Storm January 1, 1992 Also named Nyttårsorkanen. This affected much of northern Scotland and western Norway, unofficial records of gusts in excess of 130 knots (67 m/s) were recorded in Shetland, while Statfjord-B in the North Sea recorded wind gusts in excess of 145 knots (75 m/s). DNMI estimated the strongest sustained winds (10 min. average) to have reached 90 knots (45 m/s), comparable to a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. Very few fatalities occurred, mainly due to the very low population of the islands and the fact that the islanders are used to very high winds.
? January 22–23, 1994 Severe gales affected Central, Western and Northern Scotland, and the Northern Isles. A gust of Template:Convert was recorded at Sumburgh Airport on Shetland. Gusts were estimated to be well in excess of Template:Convert at Fair Isle.[8]
? March 7, 1997 An intense hurricane hit the Faroe Islands, with recorded sustained speeds of 50.0 m/s (97 knots) and gusts of 66.9 m/s (130 knots).[9]
Yuma December 24, 1997 On Christmas Eve, an intense secondary depression tracked north-east across Scotland, bringing severe gales and heavy rain. The storm caused 6 fatalities, extensive structural damage and disruption to National Grid. Blackpool's North Pier in north-west England was also damaged.
Désirée / Fanny January 4, 1998 Another intense secondary depression crossed Ireland and northern England. Severe gales also swept Wales and southern England. Widespread structural damage and power outages, and flooding along rivers and coasts.
Boxing Day Storm / Hurricane Stephen December 26, 1998 Severe gales over Ireland, northern England, and southern Scotland. Winds speeds of 103 mph were recorded at Prestwick airport, and Template:Convert in Glasgow. Widespread disruption and power outages in Northern Ireland and southern Scotland. The Forth Road Bridge was fully closed for the first time since its construction in 1964.
Silke (Boxing Day) December 27, 1998 Another severe gale tracks across Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Anatol December 3, 1999 Hurricane like storm Anatol hits Denmark and neighbouring countries. Killing 7 in Denmark alone. Pressure: 952.4 hPa. Wind speeds above 85 mph (38 m/s), gusts up to 115 mph (51 m/s).
Lothar, Martin December 26–28, 1999 France, Switzerland and Germany were hit by severe storms and rain. Over 100 people were killed, and the storm caused extensive damage to property and trees and the French and German national power grids, including an emergency due to flooding at the Blayais Nuclear Power Plant. The first storm in the series, dubbed Lothar by European forecasters, rapidly developed just off of the French coast and swept inland. Each of these systems was associated with an intense jet stream aloft and benefitted from latent heat release through atmosphere-ocean exchange processes. "Lothar" and "Martin", as the second storm was dubbed, were extratropical cyclones and had a hurricane-like shape, with an eye at the center Template:Citation needed. In the first storm, a gust of 184 km/h was recorded at Ushant (Fr. Ouessant) in Brittany and in the second storm, the highest gust was of 200 km/h at Île de Ré in France.

Severe European windstorms since 2000

Event Date Notes
Oratia October 30, 2000 A deep area of low pressure swept across the United Kingdom bringing gusts in excess of Template:Convert and severe flooding to Southern England, it was the strongest system of its kind to hit the UK since the Burns Day Storm of 1990.
Dagmar December 17, 2004 A storm generating Template:Convert winds hit northern France, including Paris, killing 6 people and leaving thousands of homes without power.
Erwin (Gudrun) January 8, 2005 Northern Europe was hit by the storm Erwin (German weather service), also called Gudrun by the Norwegian weather service, with sustained wind speeds of 126 km/h and wind gusts of 165 km/h. About 341,000 homes lost power in Sweden and several thousand of these were out of power for many days and even weeks; about 10,000 homes were still without power after three weeks. The international death toll was at least 17.

The storm caused a lot of financial damage in Sweden, where the forest industry suffered greatly from damaged trees. 7,500,000 cubic metres (9,800,000 yd³) of trees blew down in southern Sweden. In the space of 6 hrs, 250 000 000 trees were blown down, and after months of hard work, lorries and drivers from across Europe eventually transported the logs to several sites across the south of Sweden. One huge site was situated on a disused airfield, stretched for 2 km, 14 metres in height, and 10 piles in width. This was only 2 % of the total logs stored, enough to create a 3m x 3m pile all the way to Australia.

Gero January 11, 2005 On the evening of the 11th and early morning of the 12th, a ferocious gale swept across Northern Ireland and northwest Scotland. Wind speeds of 134 mph (equivalent to a strong Category 3 hurricane) were recorded on North Rona and wind speeds in excess of Template:Convert measured on South Uist with Template:Convert on Barra in the Hebrides before the automatic station stopped reporting at 17.00. Stormy seas combined with high spring tides and caused flooding in low-lying coastal areas. One fatality occurred in Ireland and six in Scotland, including a family of five who were swept into the sea after fleeing their house on South Uist. At the height of the storm, 85,000 households in Scotland were without power. On the 13th, all Caledonian MacBrayne ferry services and train services in Scotland were suspended, and many roads were closed due to fallen trees. The Forth Road Bridge was closed for the first time since the 1998 Boxing Day Storm, and the Tay (Dundee) and Friarton (Perth) bridges were also closed to all traffic.
Renate October 3, 2006 A powerful storm battered the south west coast of France with gusts of 150 km/h in the coastal areas. The storm uprooted many trees, and many homes remained without power for many hours. Two people were badly injured in a helicopter crash. One person died in a house fire, which originated from a candle that he was using for illumination.
Britta November 2, 2006 In the afternoon of the second and in the night a storm made its way through the North Sea with gusts reaching 174 km/h in Denmark and southern Sweden. The countries affected were Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany and Scotland. The storm killed 15 people and detached an oil rig, which then was rescued and pulled back to safety.
Franz January 10 and January 11, 2007 A strong depression north of Scotland brought high winds to most of the United Kingdom. A strong jet stream was also present at the time. This system was one of several strong storms to hit the United Kingdom during the winter of 2006–2007, possibly linked to the El Niño event taking place at the time. With a central pressure of 950mbar, sustained winds exceeded Template:Convert and a gust of Template:Convert was recorded in Benbecula late on January 10. Additional hurricane-force gusts were recorded in Scotland. Gale-force winds were recorded in the south of the United Kingdom and in the Midlands, and gusts of over Template:Convert affected the entire country. Northern areas received gusts of between 60 and Template:Convert. The depression was named Franz by the Free university of Berlin.

Six fatalities have been confirmed, along with several injuries. Five people were killed when a trawler sank off the coast near Wexford, in The Republic of Ireland and another person was killed near Taunton, Somerset when a tree crushed his car. Another trawler went missing. Two survivors were recovered. One woman went missing after falling overboard on a ferry near Falmouth. A supermarket in Wales had its roof damaged, and residents across the United Kingdom reported other minor damage. 80,000 homes lost power in Wales. Flooding occurred in several areas, with several rivers overflowing. The Environment Agency issued 59 flood warnings.

Per (Hanno) January 14, 2007 The powerful storm Per hit south-western Sweden with wind gusts up to about Template:Convert. Six people were reported dead in different storm-related accidents, thousands of trees were blown down, and thousands of households lost electricity. This storm also caused damage and flooding in Lithuania.
Kyrill January 18, 2007 In the wake of Kyrill, already regarded as one of the most violent and destructive storms in more than a century, storm-warnings were given for many countries in western, central and northern Europe with severe storm-warnings for some areas. Schools in particularly threatened areas had been closed by mid-day, to allow children to get home safely before the storm reached its full intensity in the late afternoon. At least 53 people were killed in northern and central Europe, causing travel chaos across the region. Britain and Germany were the worst hit, with eleven people killed as rain and gusts of up to 99 mph (159 km/h) with sustained windspeeds of up to Template:Convert swept the UK. Thirteen people were killed in Germany, with the weather station on top of the Brocken in the Saxony-Anhaltian Harz mountain range recording wind speeds of up to 121 mph (195 km/h). Direct damage in Germany was estimated to amount to € 4.7 billion.[10] Five people were killed in the Netherlands and three in France. The gusts reached 151 km/h at the Cap Gris Nez and 130 km/h in many places in the north of France. In both Germany and the Netherlands the national railways were closed. At Frankfurt International Airport over 200 flights were cancelled.
Uriah June 25 – 26, 2007 A rather unseasonal weather system brought gale force winds to the UK, but was more memorable for causing severe flooding, with many areas receiving more than a months' rainfall in a single day. The storm exacerbated existing flooding problems (caused by violent thunderstorms a week earlier) and areas such as Sheffield were worst affected. Over 102 flood warnings were issued, and by June 29 five people were dead, many areas flooded and there was severe damage to the Ulley reservoir,where cracks appeared in the dam wall, causing fears that it might collapse. 700 people were evacuated from the area. Over 3000 properties were flooded across the country and more than 3,500 people were evacuated from their homes. See June 2007 United Kingdom floods
Tilo November 7 – 8, 2007 A strong European windstorm struck Northern Scotland. All schools in Orkney were closed and hundreds of homes lost power. Gusts as high as Template:Convert were reported, along with early snow for the Scottish highlands. The Northlink ferry company cancelled sailings between Lerwick and Aberdeen. There were also reports of trees and roofs being blown down, such as in Grampian. The combination of Northwesterly winds exceeding Template:Convert, low pressure and high spring tides led authorities to expect severe flooding in the east of England, to close the Thames Barrier. Many said that these conditions mirrored the North Sea Flood of 1953. In the Netherlands, the Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier and the gigantic Maeslantkering (sealing off the Rotterdam harbor) were closed. For the first time since 1976, the entire coastline was put on alert and under round-the-clock surveillance. The tidal surge traveling down the North Sea turned out to be too weak to cause any significant problems to the strong Dutch coastal defenses.
Paula January 25, 2008 A strong European windstorm, Paula hit Poland, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. At least one person died in Poland. The gusts reached 165 km/h in the Eastern Alps, 155 km/h in Poland, 150 km/h in Norway and 140 km/h in Germany.
Zizi February 22 and February 23, 2008 A strong European windstorm, Zizi hit Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. There were no fatalities or injuries. The gusts reached 135 km/h in Germany and more than 100 km/h in other countries.
Emma March 1, 2008 A strong European windstorm, Emma hit Germany, Austria, Czech Republic and Poland. At least 12 people died (4 in Austria, 2 in Poland, 4 in Germany and 2 in Czech Republic). The gusts reached 190 km/h in Eastern Alps, 170 km/h in Poland and 140 km/h in Germany and Czech Republic. The results were catastrophic.
Klaus January 2009 A European windstorm that hit southern France and northern Spain, said to be the most damaging in the area since that of December 1999. The storm caused widespread damage across the countries, especially in northern Spain. Twelve fatalities have been reported as of January 24, as well as extensive disruptions of public transport. Many homes lost power, including over a million in southwestern France. The gusts reached 206 km/h.
Quinten February 2009 Severe windstorm across France, the Benelux and Germany in early February. Highest winds were recorded at the Feldberg-Mountain (Black Forest), Germany. Here the gusts reached 166 km/h.
Xynthia February 27–28, 2010 A severe windstorm which was generated close to Madeira and from there moved across to the Canary Islands, then Portugal and much of western and northern Spain, before moving on to hit western and south-western France. The highest gust speeds recorded as of midnight were at approx. 2130h at Alto de Orduña (228 km/h/ 142 mph). 50 people have been reported to have died.[1]
Ex-Hurricane Katia September 11-13, 2011 After forming near Cape-Verde, Katia began to change between a tropical storm and a Category 1 hurricane many times. However it finally strengthened rapidly into a Category 4 hurricane. It then however quickly weakened back to Category 3 status, and then to Category 1. However, it maintained Category 1 status into transitioning into an extratropical cyclone, and struck the British Isles with near hurricane-force winds, killing 1 person after the minivan he was sitting in was struck by a tree.[2] It produced a maximum gust of 132 km/h, and caused widespread power outages throughout Europe, as far east as Russia, where gusts up to 75 km/h damaged trees and left many people in the dark.[3]

See also

Wind scales
  • Beaufort scale (10-12 and up)
  • Fujita scale
  • Saffir-Simpson scale
Severe weather
Localized windstorms
  • Foehn


  1. 1.0 1.1 Ji
  2. Ji
  3. Ji
  4. Ji
  5. 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
  6. 1981 Storm in photos - December 13th 1981 published 2006-12-13, accessed 2011-03-25
  7. Inondations généralisées sur le Sud-Ouest Météo-France, accessed 2011-03-25
  8. Ji
  9. Ji
  10. Ji

External links