Hurricane UK

Chasing the storm

As coastal UK communities braced themselves for forecasts of extreme waves and potential flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Lorenzo, our scientists reacted quickly to reach the beach and deploy state-of-the-art technology, with an aim to assess the storm’s impact on the coastline.

This combination of hurricane waves and gale-force winds is very uncommon on British shores.

Professor Gerd Masselink

Lorenzo was first tracked as a tropical storm off the west coast of Africa on 19 September 2019, plotting a course through the North Atlantic, building steadily to become a Category 5 storm.

By the time it reached the UK in October, it had reduced in force considerably, but we still had the necessary conditions to conduct our study.

Hurricane from above
The Saffir-Simpson scale is used by meteorologists to classify hurricanes by wind speed intensity
UK storm and waves
Lorenzo was initially categorised as the most destructive Category 5, with wind speeds surpassing 156mph
English Channel map Atlantic
Lorenzo has hit the record books as the most easterly Category 5 storm ever recorded in the North Atlantic Ocean

Future-shaping study

Our team of researchers swiftly embedded an array of cross-shore pressure sensors and current meters to measure waves, water levels and flow speeds on the beach at Crantock, near Newquay in Cornwall.

It’s very interesting to assess how this type of storm – which could potentially be more frequent in future – will impact on our coasts.

CPRG researchers setting up wave-measuring equipment
Setting up measurement equipment ahead of the study
Setting up measurement equipment ahead of the following day’s study
CPRG researchers checking wave-measuring equipment
Early-morning equipment checks
CPRG equipment checks
CPRG high tide
High tide on day of the study
CPRG high tide

Forecasting coastal erosion

By using a drone survey to monitor the impact of waves as the forecasted storm approached, we were in a position to compile a full beach and dune profile after it came into contact with the Cornish coast.

What we are particularly keen to investigate are the so-called ‘infragravity waves’ – also known as ‘surf beat’ – which have much longer periods than wind waves and are amplified in storm conditions.

These are the waves that cause the greatest damage to dunes – Crantock is a great place to assess them as it is one of the most actively eroding dune systems in the South West.

The results will complement our existing work, which has aimed to build a clear picture of storm impacts on coastlines across Western Europe.

Eroding dunes 
Rapidly eroding dunes at Crantock Beach
Eroding dunes

This isn’t the first time we’ve deployed our technology directly into the eye of a storm...

During the winter of 2013/14, we monitored the south coast of England and concluded that the repeated storms were the most energetic in almost seven decades.

Through subsequent projects, located across Devon and Cornwall, we have shown that beaches affected by those storms had not recovered as expected and that winter wave heights and extreme storms are on the rise in Western Europe.

Read about the Coastal Impacts Project

Extreme waves impacting on Chesil Beach in Dorset, UK, on February 05, 2014. Image credit: Richard Broome
Extreme waves impacting on Chesil Beach in Dorset, UK, on 5 February 2014 (image credit: Richard Broome)