Well, how was Storm Ciara for you?
The scores on the doors here at Banstead was of two wrecked fence panels, two loosened fence posts and water incursion along a side-alcove. It could have been worse - have you seen the footage of a side of an hotel collapsing into a river in Yorkshire? Or the many homes and businesses that have been flooded for the second, third, even fourth time in the past few years? Who's idea was it to build on flood plains?
Anyway, when weather events such as these come along, us birders think not of dislodged roof tiles and smashed fence panels but of storm driven rarities, mass seabird spectaculars and exhausted auks sheltering on inland duck ponds. And, of course, such avian hopes hardly ever materialise. Those that did seawatch yesterday report of nothing happening and us inland birders got excited if we saw a bird - any bird - out and about braving the winds. The time of year doesn't help either, had it been September or October then we could have all expected at least a Black-and-white Warbler in our back gardens. So, in lieu of nothing happening in the here and now, let me take you back to the 'storm-of-storms' when they weren't given a name and we didn't obsess about them...
15th October 1987. I was at home watching the late evening news on the television. I was aware of it being quite breezy outside. When the weather forecast came on, fronted by the institution that was Michael Fish, he explained that the rumour of a hurricane, set to arrive that very night, was wide of the mark. The weather chart that he stood in front of did, however, show some tightly packed isobars - it looked quite menacing to me. I went to bed about midnight, aware that the wind had got up and was getting stronger. My sleep was constantly broken by the howling maelstrom outside and by noises coming from our loft space. In the end I got up and opened the loft hatch to see bits of debris being blown about as some of the loft lining had been torn. Back to bed, there was work in the morning.
When I looked out of the window at first light it was as if there had been a bombing raid overnight. Almost every garden had fencing strewn across it, walls had collapsed, roof tiles were scattered up and down driveways. Our tree-lined road was now exhibiting a few gaps where mature cherry trees had fallen across pavements, roads and, in a few unfortunate cases, onto cars. There was no way of driving safely into work, and the trains weren't running, so I walked the five miles. It was surreal, with main roads that would normally be traffic choked being virtually empty. As I walked through Belmont, a row of five fully mature oak trees were lying across the road, one after the other, fallen giants still clothed in leaf.
I didn't give the birding much thought. I spent the day in the office and then walked home. It was only then that news started to filter out. I took a call from Gary Messenbird who excitedly told me about the day that he'd spent at Beddington SF. I listened in silence, partly out of incredulity and partly kicking myself for not having the foresight to bunk off work. He had recorded an unprecedented 15 Little Gulls and, more sensationally, an adult Sabine's Gull. Somebody had also seen a Bonxie flying over nearby Croydon. I had dutifully walked into work and spent the day looking at a number of empty desks, where my colleagues had failed to get in. Bollocks...
16th October 1987 has gone down in meteorological history for many reasons. The damage it wrought across the south-east of England, particularly the number of trees felled, was almost biblical. The number of Sabine's Gulls dumped across London was, and still is, unprecedented. I was there. I just didn't see any of it.