Storm Event

East Coast floods – in some areas water levels higher than 1953 but impacts lessened by the relatively fast disappearance of the storm, stronger sea walls and the wind being largely parallel to the coast

Severity ? 5


The storm developed from a low pressure system situated off southwest Greenland, and started to move eastwards from southeast Greenland on 9th January 1978, and passed south of Iceland and southeast towards Scotland on 10th January 1978. At approximately 18:00 10th January 1978, whilst located northwest of Scotland, the storm veered in a southwest direction and passed over the Wash in Lincolnshire at 06:00 11th January 1978. By midnight, it reached Hamburg, then moved eastwards and had largely dissipated by noon on 12 January. The minimum pressure reached was 976 mbar, and north to north-easterly winds reached 45 knots [23 m/s] with gusts of up to 70 knots [30 m/s] (Steers et al., 1979). Eden (2008) reports gusts of 77 knots [40 m/s] and 72 knots [37 m/s] in central London and Manston (Kent), respectively.

The storm generated a 0.98 m skew surge at Immingham and a 1.18 m skew surge at Lowestoft (these are the only two North Sea sites from our database that were recording data at the time). A sea level return period of 1 in 27 years was recorded at Immingham and 1 in 7 years at Lowestoft. Other reports indicate that on parts of the UK coast (Lincolnshire and Humber regions), the high water was higher than in 1953, for example a high water height of 5.92 m (above Ordnance Datum Newlyn) was recorded in Kings Lynn compared with 5.65 m in 1953 (Steers et al., 1979). Conditions in the Wash (Lincolnshire) were worse than in 1953; since the wind and surge were locally magnified by this feature (Steers et al., 1979).

We are unaware of any sources describing the wave conditions during this event.


There was widespread damage to defences along the east coast during this event, and the main flood pathways was overtopping and breaching.

Receptor and Consequence

Most coastal damage was on the east coast of England, mainly in Lincolnshire and East Anglia during 11th January. In King’s Lynn, around 400 residential properties were flooded, and 22 children were evacuated from a hospital (The Times, 1978a). In Cleethorpes, about 1,000 houses were seriously flooded over a 5 km2 area (Grimsby, 2010). About 1,000 people were evacuated in Wisbech when the Nene overflowed its banks, with flood water reaching 5 ft. [1.5 m] deep (The Times, 1978a). A 70-year-old woman here was found dead in her home (The Times, 1978a; Lamb, 1991). The railway between Grimsby and Cleethorpes was closed for 8 days when 100’s tons of ballast were washed onto the coast (Steers et al., 1979). Workshops at Grimsby’s Royal Dock were damaged (Grimsby, 2010) and 28 houses and 8 business premises were flooded in Sandilands and Mablethorpe; as well as chalets and caravan sites at Trustthorpe and Ingoldmells. There was considerable coastal erosion in many locations (Steers et al., 1979). This event also impacted several Scottish towns (Hickey, 1997). In Buckie, many residential properties were inundated, and overtopping of defences along a stretch of 50 m carried debris to 5 m inland. There are reports of flooding for several other areas, including locations along the Grampian coastline where defences failed. Serious coastal erosion was reported in Findhorn and Burghead Bay, in places up to 12 m. Along the south coast, there was flooding in Sandgate, and in the Solent (The Times, 1978b; Zong and Tooley, 2003; Ruocco et al. 2011). The conditions at Bembridge were the worst in living memory. London came within 0.5 m of flooding, and the flood gates installed at London Docks in 1972 were closed for the first time (Met Office, 2014).

Northumberland County Council (2015) reported that in January 1978 (unspecified date) that there was flooding in coastal areas of Northumberland – this is most probably the event of 11th January (since there were no other large storm surges recorded in the tide gauge data that month). Local roads and properties were inundated, and parts of the Quayside in Blyth was flooded by a depth of upto 1 ft. [0.3 m]. Other locations listed as impacted were Alnmouth, Amble Harbour, Berwick-upon-Tweed, and Blyth.

Summary Table

Loss of life A 70-year old woman drowned in her own home
Residential property Various reports indicate flooding affected a total of around 1,400 properties
Evacuation & rescue Thousands of people from Humberside to the English Channel were evacuated
Cost *
Ports *
Transport Grimsby-Cleethorpes railway “seriously” displaced and services disrupted for eight days
Energy *
Public services *
Water & wastewater *
Livestock *
Agricultural land *
Coastal erosion Dunes at Scolt Head Island were eroded by up to 20 m north; dunes were cut back up to 7 m in Norfolk; the shingle bank of Salthouse was lowered by ~1 m; the Dunwich cliffs (Suffolk) were also eroded
Natural environment *
Cultural heritage Several piers were badly damaged: at Skegness the pier was split in two and put beyond repair; at Hunstanton the pier was “mostly” swept away; and in Margate the 150-year pier was “demolished”
Coastal defences Multiple defence breaches along the east coast


  1. Steers, J.A. et al. (1979). ‘The storm surge of 11 January 1978 on the east coast of England’. The Geographical Journal, 145(2), pp.192–205.
  2. Eden, P. (2008). Great British Weather Disasters. London: Continuum UK.
  3. The Times, (1978a). ‘Storms wreak havoc: More than twenty’. Times Newspapers Limited [London, England]. The Times Digital Archive
  4. Grimsby Telegraph, (2010). ‘Furious storms punch through resort’s defences’. Available at: (Accessed: 19 March 2015)
  5. Lamb, H.H. (1991). Historic Storms of the North Sea, British Isles and Northwest Europe 1st ed., Cambridge University Press. Available at: (Accessed: 13 March 2015).
  6. Hickey, K.R. (1997). Documentary records of coastal storms in Scotland, 1500-1991 A.D. Coventry University. Available at:
  7. The Times, (1978b). ‘Londoners near river given flood alert’. Times Newspapers Limited [London, England]. The Times Digital Archive
  8. Zong, Y. and Tooley, M. J. A. (2003). ‘Historical Record of Coastal Floods in Britain: Frequencies and Associated Storm Tracks’. Natural Hazards,29, 13–36. Available at: (Accessed: 5 March 2015).
  9. Ruocco, A. Nicholls, R. J., Haigh, I. D., and Wadey, M. (2011). ‘Reconstructing Coastal Flood Occurrence Combining Sea Level and Media Sources: A case study of the Solent UK since 1935’. Natural Hazards, 59(3): 1773-1796. Available at: (Accessed: 27 March 2015).
  10. Met Office, (2014). Floods and flooding. Available at: (Accessed: 23 May 2015).
  11. Northumberland County Council, (2015). Flood Investigation Report – Investigation of the tidal surge of 5th/6th December 2013, Morpeth.