I well remember Saturday 16 September 1961, when hurricane Debbie hit the north coast of Ireland. I was 14 at the time. The previous day there were warnings on the radio of a major storm approaching, and as a precaution my father and Bertie Law filled bags with sand, placing them of the roof of our house, and roping them together. The next afternoon the storm struck.
A peak gust of 183 km/h was recorded at nearby Malin Head. Seven boats were sunk in local harbours, several caravans were blown over the coastal cliffs, and I saw two of my father’s hen houses rolling down the hill from the top field, complete with their occupants. No storm in living memory came close in ferocity.
And then the torrential rain started to fall; and it fell for hours on end. The road from Portrush to Coleraine was cut in several places with knee-deep flooding and the main drain under the railway embankment to the sea in Portrush was blocked with debris, causing deep flooding in the adjacent low-lying area.
It was a never-to-be-forgotten experience for those of us who witnessed it.
The storm that hit Cape Town on Wednesday 07 June 2017 was also well anticipated. The previous day I had an appointment with my immigration consultant, and she told me that the office would close the next day, in advance of the storm. And what a storm it was, as witnessed in the accompanying two videos, recorded nearby at Three Anchors Bay.
The next day I walked along the promenade and there was grey sand, broken kelp and small rocks and shells everywhere. The concrete coping on much of the newly built promenade wall was either loosened or was completely torn off and tossed into the park, as witness to the power of the waves that had struck it.
But the Great Storm that hit Cape Town on May 16 1865 was in another category. For eighteen hours the storm raged and 17 ocean-going vessels, 30 cutters and uncounted small boats were either wrecked or stranded, with the loss of 60 lives.
The last to go was the Royal Mail Ship, Athens, which was swept onto the rocks near the lighthouse. Although those on shore could hear the cries of the men, there was nothing that they could do to help them. The crew of 29 perished.
Today all that of the Athens that survives is the engine block. From the shore it is not clear what one is looking at, but with a better camera all is revealed.
Despite the US government being in denial and withdrawing from the Paris climate change agreement, most scientists agree that our planet is going through a period of rapid warming, and that storms, such as those I mentioned above, will become much more common in future years.
I find that a sobering thought…