Weatherwatch: 1703 storm was first media weather event of modern age

The Great Storm chronicled by Daniel Defoe is now believed to have been a category 2 hurricane

When we hear of the Great Storm, most of us in the UK remember the events of October 1987. But almost three centuries earlier, in November 1703, a storm blew that outranked even that memorable event in our weather history.

Often known as Daniel Defoe’s Great Storm – the author of Robinson Crusoe was its main chronicler – it occurred towards the end of one of the windiest Novembers on record. No one was prepared for the events that began on the night of 24 November and reached a peak of devastation two days later, in what meteorologists now believe was a category 2 hurricane.

In London thousands of chimney stacks collapsed, one of them nearly killing Defoe; while the West Country was hit by widespread floods. At sea, things were even worse: more than 1,000 sailors died on the Goodwin Sands off the Kent coast and many more drowned elsewhere.

The storm became the first media weather event of the modern age: newspapers gave details of casualties, and the Church of England claimed it was caused by the wrath of God. Defoe meticulously chronicled the extent of the damage in his 1704 book The Storm, writing: “No pen could describe it, nor tongue express it, nor thought conceive it unless by one in the extremity of it.”


Stephen Moss

The GuardianTramp

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