Storm Event

On the 30th anniversary of the 1953 floods, a North Sea storm surge triggers the first deployment of the Thames Barrier to protect London

Severity ? 4


The storm developed off the east coast of the US on 28th January 1983 and moved northeastwards towards the UK. Late on 31st January and early on 1st February the storm crossed northern Scotland. It then travelled into the North Sea and moved over Denmark. As the storm crossed Scotland and the North Sea the central pressures dropped to below 960 mbar. Maximum gusts of 85 knots [44 m/s], 81 knots [42 m/s], 80 knots [41 m/s] at Sumburgh, Lynemouth and Sunderland, respectively (Eden, 2008).

The storm generated a skew surge of over 1.5 m in the Irish Sea and over 1 m at several sites in the southern North Sea and eastern part of the English Channel. Water levels exceeded the 1 in 5 year return level at 7 sites in these regions. The highest return period water level was at Heysham and was 100 years. The tide gauge at Heysham failed near the peak of the event, so the water level might well have been higher. Unfortunately, the tide gauge at Liverpool also failed during the peak of the event (Brown et al., 2010). The next largest return period of 75 years was at Immingham. The highest skew surge was at Millport and was 1.74 m at Heysham (approximately a 1 in 100 year skew surge event).

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


Aside from mentions of damage to defences and water depths at unspecified locations (see below), we are unaware of further specific information regarding the flood pathways for this event

Receptor and Consequence

This event was associated with flooding of coastal roads and properties in several Scottish towns including Portgordon, Buckie, Kingston, and Findhorn (Hickey, 1997). The wind conditions from Portgordon to Cullen were described as the worst in 30 years. In Lossiemouth, the harbour wall was damaged over a stretch of 50 ft. [15 m], a car park flooded to a depth of nearly 2 ft. [0.6 m], and the old railway site was also inundated together with non-residential properties. “Many” residential properties were also flooded in Buckie and Portessie. In Findhorn, erosion of up to 11 m was observed in places, and the dunes here were “devastated”. Similarly, at Buckie Loch a 12 m high dune was described as being “reduced to a small pile of sand”. According to Eden (2008), a limited amount of coastal flooding was experienced in areas from Northumberland to Norfolk. Other affected areas include Lowestoft, Great Yarmouth, and Redcar on the east coast, and Morecambe on the west coast (Zong and Tooley, 2003).  Over 100 residential properties were flooded in Great Yarmouth to a depth of 3 ft. [0.9 m] and three holiday cottages were lost to the sea at Hensby (The Times, 1983a). Hundreds of acres of agricultural land around Rye and Bexhill suffered serious flooding with some loss of livestock (The Times, 1983b). At Walcott, holiday caravans and chalets were smashed. This event also led to notable impacts along the south coast (Haigh et al., 2015).

This impacts of this event continued during 2nd January along the English south coast, with over 150 properties in Littlehampton and Shoreham inundated, along with properties in Newhaven (Sussex Emergency, 2008). In the Solent (Hampshire and Isle of Wight), many non-residential properties in Cowes were affected, with incurred damages up to six figures and some businesses subsequently left uninsurable and unsaleable (Ruocco et al., 2011). Residential properties were also flooded in Cowes and Bembridge, with some requiring pumping to remove floodwater. Other affected areas included Southampton.

Summary Table

Loss of life *
Residential property Over 100 residential properties were flooded in Great Yarmouth, and some cottages were lost to the sea at Hensby. Over 150 properties were inundated in parts of the south coasts.
Evacuation & rescue *
Cost *
Ports *
Transport *
Energy *
Public services *
Water & wastewater *
Livestock There was “some” loss of livestock
Agricultural land “Hundreds” of acres of agricultural land around Rye and Bexhill was inundated
Coastal erosion Significant erosion of dunes
Natural environment *
Cultural heritage *
Coastal defences *

*No known sources of information available


  1. Eden, P. (2008). Great British Weather Disasters. London: Continuum UK.
  2. Brown, J. M., Souza, A. J. and Wolf, J., (2010). ‘An investigation of recent decadal-scale storm events in the eastern Irish Sea’. Journal of Geophysical Research, 115
  3. Hickey, K.R. (1997). Documentary records of coastal storms in Scotland, 1500-1991 A.D. Coventry University. Available at:
  4. Eden, P. (2008). Great British Weather Disasters. London: Continuum UK.
  5. 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).
  6. The Times, (1983a). ‘How London survived night of storms’. Times Newspapers Limited [London, England]. The Times Digital Archive
  7. The Times, (1983b). ‘Floods and gales lash South’. Times Newspapers Limited [London, England]. The Times Digital Archive
  8. Haigh, I. D., Wadey, M. P., Gallop, S. L., Loehr, H., Nicholls, R. J., Horsburgh, K., Brown, J. M., and Bradshaw, E., (2015). ‘A user-friendly database of coastal flooding in the United Kingdom from 1915–2014’. Scientific Data, 2, p.150021. Available at:
  9. Sussex Emergency, (2008). South Coast Flooding. Available at: (Accessed: 18 December 2015).
  10. 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).