This was a storm that I will never forgot and the islands will never forgot It was said to be the most powerful storm to have hit the islands in a generation. It was a storm that brought tragedy to the islands with the loss of a family of five in the Uists which is still being felt to this day.
A little background from my point of view to start. I came to this island in 2004. This storm changed my interest in the weather massively. I have always being into the weather since I was tiny we are talking 3 or 4 years old in first year of school and we had a weather calendar and that is where my fascination started and it always bubbled under with various weather events during my childhood. But in 2005 this storm and the continued growth of the internet help to cultivate my increasingly growing fascination and interest with the weather. This resulted me in finding weather forums which eventually led onto me storm chasing and then on to creating Western Isles weather.
Now this storm happened 13 years ago and a lot has changed in the weather world since that date. Computer models that help to forecast the weather has vastly improved. The weather warning system from the Met Office had also changed a lot. In 2018 we now name winter storms and the warnings are now tailored towards impact based warnings.
On the 10th of January at 9pm the computer model the GFS (Global Forecasting System) was predicting winds of 85 mph with gusts reaching 105 mph for the Western Isles. This was due to the forecast bomb of the central pressure of the storm which was expected to go through explosive cyclogenesis. This is a rapid deepening of the area of low pressure.
The morning of the 11th of January arrived and I was in College at the time and I recall the morning being blue skies and sunshine. This is sometimes known as the calm before the storm.I remember classes where cut short and we sent home in the late morning to prepare for the incoming storm. The island went into lockdown. Nothing unusual for the Western Isles in winter. The winter of 2004/5 was an extremely stormy winter but I was little prepared for what was about to come.
At 9 am the situation become worse with reports coming in from Western Ireland who were the first area to feel the wrath of the storm. The low now had a central pressure of 8 mb lower than originally forecast and it was expected to move closer to both Ireland and Scotland then originally anticipated. A ship report to the West of Ireland reported 75 mph sustained wind and gusts of 90 mph. Another report of 94 mph being recorded at Belmullet was also higher than forecast.
I have mentioned it before and it’s very much worth stating again I will never forgot this storm for as long as I live. One of the buoys out to the West of Scotland reported a 16 mb drop in pressure down to 940 mb. This was now the lowest the pressure the storm dropped to and as it passed over the Western Scotland pressure hoovered between 940mb and 946mb.
The very strongest of the winds occurred during the evening and then overnight into the 12th. Some of the strongest winds was reported on North Rona with mean wind speeds of 100 mph with gusts of 115 mph with a top recorded gusts of 134 mph however this is some uncertainty over this. A weather station on the isle of Barra before losing power is reported to have winds of 120 mph. On the Western side of Lewis 115 mph was reported in Carloway. Winds of 101 mph at Stornoway with gusts reaching 110 mph. Plus 110 mph at South Uist as well as Sustained winds of 90 to 100 mph were recorded at a weather station in Ness with gusts exceeding 100 mph.
I recall the main road between Point and Stornoway on Lewis being shut for over 24 hours leaving people stranded on both sides due to the sheer amount of water brought in by the storm surge and debris thrown over the sea wall. Over 60,000 homes lost power in Scotland. Significant damage was caused across the Western Isles. Massive home and business damage. The sign from the front of the co-op was blown in Stornoway Primary car park. Reports of sheep seen flying past the last businto Stornoway. (It remains unclear if there is any truth to this or something that has become legend over time). In my house I remember the house rocking and the windows shaking for hours on end. I recall people losing windows and people having to hold on to doors and windows to stop housing collapsing. Not much of the islands slept that night.
The coastguard across the Western Isles where kept very busy assisting the emergency services. The power company worked tirelessly to get the power restored. Some 60,000 homes across Scotland loss power. The Atlantic that winter was unrelenting, this storm came hot on the heels of a spell of windy weather on the 8th of January which had brought winds of just under 100 mph to the Western isles and there was further stormy weather to come before the winter was out.
For months and sometimes longer afterwards you could see damage around the Western Isles. Repairs had to be undertaken on homes which was hampered by further bad weather. Lots of slates where lost. Bad flooding was caused by the storm surge. Sea defences need to be re built or new ones had to be implemented. Roofs were blown off schools and boats were wrecked at anchor. The damage in the Castle grounds was significant with a number of trees blown down which made the castle grounds dangerous for a while after.
This storm brought significant impacts to the Western Isles and the extremely tragic loss of life. Storms like this are rare even by the Western Isles standards. The next storm that I would see even came close was the storm of the 8th into the 9th January 2015 remarkably occurring almost ten years on. This storm was not as bad as the January 2005 storm and was shorter lived but did bring the strongest wind speed recorded at the Met Office station in Stornoway of 113 mph. This being the strongest recorded wind speed at this station since it began recording back in 1970.
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