UK warns people to stay home as it braces for 90 mph winds

Danica Kirka
Associated Press

London — Millions of people in the U.K. were urged to cancel travel plans and stay indoors Friday as the second major storm this week prompted warnings of high winds and flying debris across northern Europe.

Britain’s weather service said Storm Eunice, known as Storm Zeynep in Germany, was likely to cause significant disruption and dangerous conditions, with gusts that may exceed 90 miles per hour in highly exposed coastal areas.

Authorities in the U.K. took the unusual step of issuing ”red’’ warnings — indicating a danger to life — for parts of southwest England between 7 a.m. and noon and for southeast England and London from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. A lower level amber warning for gusts up to 80 mph covers the whole of England from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.

A local butcher opens in Tow Law, County Durham, Britain, as Storm Eunice makes landfall Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. Millions of Britons are being urged to cancel travel plans and stay indoors Friday amid fears of high winds and flying debris.

Eunice is the second named storm to hit Europe in two days, with the first storm killing at least five people in Germany and Poland. Peter Inness, a meteorologist at the University of Reading in England, attributed the storms to an unusually strong jet stream over the eastern Atlantic Ocean, with winds close to 200 mph at high altitudes.

“A strong jet stream like this can act like a production line for storms, generating a new storm every day or two,” Inness said. “There have been many occasions in the recent past when two or more damaging storms have passed across the U.K. and other parts of Europe in the space of a few days.

Even before the forecast high winds arrived, Eunice was already wreaking havoc with travel across southern England and Wales with many train services interrupted and numerous flights cancelled. A number of tourist attractions in England, including the London Eye, Legoland and Warwick Castle, closed ahead of the storm.

“I urge all Londoners to stay at home, do not take risks, and do not travel unless it is absolutely essential,″ Mayor Sadiq Khan said.

The U.K. government is set to hold a meeting of its COBRA emergency committee to discuss the storm. The Army is on “high readiness stand-by” to respond if needed, Home Office Minister Damian Hinds told Sky News.

The Environment Agency has issued 10 severe flood warnings, another indicator of life-threatening weather conditions.

“After the impacts from Storm Dudley for many on Wednesday, Storm Eunice will bring damaging gusts in what could be one of the most impactful storms to affect southern and central parts of the U.K. for a few years,” said Paul Gundersen, the Met Office’s chief meteorologist. “The red warning areas indicate a significant danger to life as extremely strong winds provide the potential for damage to structures and flying debris.”

The storm is expected to hit northern Germany on Friday afternoon and sweep eastward overnight. A flood warning was issued for Germany’s North Sea coast on Friday.

Meteorologists warned Friday’s storm could cause more damage than the earlier weather system, which triggered accidents that killed at least three people, toppled trees and damaged roofs and railroad tracks.

The Dutch soccer association postponed all professional and amateur matches scheduled for Friday because of the storm.

Storm Eunice has produced heightened concern because it has the potential to produce a “sting jet,” a small area of intense winds that may exceed 100 mph.

One example of such a phenomenon occurred during what’s known as the Great Storm of 1987, which killed 18 people and knocked down 15 million trees across the U.K., according to the Met Office.

“Eunice looks like it may be able to produce a ‘sting jet’, a narrow, focused region of extremely strong winds embedded within the larger area of strong winds and lasting just a few hours,” Inness said.

Train operators across Britain urged passengers to avoid traveling on Friday.

British Airways warned of delays at London’s Heathrow Airport because the weather has reduced the rate at which aircraft are permitted to land.

“High winds and poor weather may cause last-minute delays, but we will do everything in our power to minimize any disruption that results,” the airline said.

The government highway agency said high-sided vehicles and other “vulnerable” vehicles such as caravans and motorbikes could be blown over so should avoid bridges and viaducts.

Anyone traveling should “plan your trip and take extra care, allowing more time for your journey,” said Jeremy Phillips, head of road safety for Highways England.

“In the event of persistent high winds, we may need to close bridges to traffic for a period, so please be alert for warnings of closures and follow signed diversion routes,” he added.

Richard Allan, a professor of climate science at the University of Reading, said that while once in a decade storms like Eunice are certain to batter the British Isles in the future, there is no compelling evidence that they will become more frequent or potent in terms of wind speeds.

“Yet with more intense rainfall and higher sea levels as human activity continues to heat the planet, flooding from coastal storm surges and prolonged deluges will be worse when these rare, explosive storms hit us in a warmer world,” he said.