Sat 10 Dec 2011
December, the darkest month of the year, is also noted for its storms, and we have just had a big one. Neighbours meeting in the street were heard to say “Aye, it’s breezy oot today”, as the wind speeds in Edinburgh hit 70mph (113 Km/h). The winds on the top of Cairngorm reached 165mph (266 Km/h), just 8mph off the highest recorded wind speed there, although there was no standing about discussing the weather at the time.
Meanwhile on Twitter, as the storm broke, the London media started to gather information about something they where calling Storm UK, although this was soon replaced with Scot Storm, so as not to be confused with the “southern drizzle crisis”. The media wanted to portray the whole thing as a major crisis with tales of doom, gloom and crushed cars, which is the standard fare when such winter gales make landfall down south. Noting the wind speed recorded at the Cairngorm Automatic Weather Station, someone declared that Scotland was being battered by a Category Five Hurricane.
At this point it was decided that, if this was a hurricane, it should have a name, so some wag came up with Hurricane Bawbag (exactly who this wag was is a subject of much journalistic interest). Within an hour #HurricaneBawbag was trending worldwide on Twitter (as Americans sought to find out why they hadn’t been warned about this dangerous hurricane, and which state they needed to evacuate first). Meanwhile in Scotland most people had heeded the advice to stay indoors and not to travel at the height of the storm. As a result, there were no fatalities and no reported serious injuries. Overall the Scots’ attitude to the storm was to treat it as a tremendous joke, hence giving the storm the name Bawbag, which is used to mean a stupid, glaikit, foolish or generally annoying person (or thing). This is a point that has been somewhat missed by some media outlets based further south who are trying to make out that it was a great disaster. Whereas in Scotland it spawned a Wikipedia page and a range of merchandise.
So what actually happened?
At the height of the storm, one wind turbine failed spectacularly, at the Ardrossan Wind Farm. This has been portrayed by some sections of the London media as proof that all wind generation is doomed to fail, and that this should stop all further wind farm development. This is obviously ridiculous, as there are currently over 500 large scale wind turbines on 123 operational wind farms in Scotland, and only one failed during this storm. Nor was this failure responsible for the loss of power to 75,000 homes at the height of the storm, that was due to power lines being damaged. These London based “journalists” (several of the newspapers they work for have recently admitted to making up stories) are totally unaware that this particular wind farm is very popular with the local people living nearby. Nor are they keen on the idea that Scotland has the potential to be a world leader in renewable energy, as this just doesn’t fit with their London centric view of the world.
Transport wise there was some disruption, most of the major road bridges had to be closed for a time. The rail system was restricted to a 50 MPH (80 Km/h) speed limit, but the rail bridges remained open. This is probably due to that fact that Scotland’s major rail bridges are heavily over engineered following the Tay Bridge Disaster of 1879. However, there were some delays due to trampolines on the line, which is more original than leaves on the line. Indeed, trampolines proved to be more disruptive than had been previously expected. Also there were a few roads blocked by fallen trees, and the Eriskay causeway was also temporarily closed. Other reported damage included a house in Gifford hit by a falling tree, the gable end of a tenement in Bellshill fell off (probably due to poor maintenance), and the roof of a cinema in Glasgow suffered some damage.
We are told the storm caused an estimated £100m worth of damage, but walking around Edinburgh in the days after Hurricane Bawbag (or cyclone Friedhelm, if you
are a humourless German insist), one of the things that was notable was how little damage had been done, considering that this was the most severe storm to hit Scotland for 10 years. The only signs of storm damage I have seen so far has been a length of zinc flashing laying in a front garden and some severed TV aerial cables flapping about.
It is also worth noting that at the same time as this storm was battering Scotland, the United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place in Durban. If the climate models are right, storms like Hurricane Bawbag are set to become more frequent and more powerful, unless we take serious steps to cut the levels of fossil carbon we are releasing into the atmosphere.