England recorded its strongest ever wind on Friday as one of the fiercest storms to hit the UK in years swept across the south of the country, causing widespread transport disruption and leaving more than 100,000 homes without power.
The Met Office issued rare red weather warnings, indicating danger to life, for London and the South East of England and for the South West of England and southern Wales, as Storm Eunice came in from the Atlantic in the early morning.
Gusts of 122mph were recorded on the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England, which the Met Office said were provisionally the highest on record in England.
“The red warning areas indicate a significant danger to life as extremely strong winds provide the potential for damage to structures and flying debris,” said Paul Gundersen, the Met Office’s chief meteorologist.
A large chunk of the canopy roof of London’s O2 Arena, a major concert and sports venue formerly known as the Millennium Dome, was ripped off in the winds, according to videos posted to social media.
More than 100,000 homes in southern and western England were without power by early afternoon, Western Power said.
Air travel was badly affected, as the high winds closed London City Airport on Friday morning, and caused disruption at others, including London Heathrow, London Gatwick and Bristol. At least 436 flights had been cancelled by early afternoon, according to flight data provider Cirium.
British Airways said it was experiencing “significant disruption” but operating as many flights as possible and switching to larger aircraft where it could.
Flight tracking service Flightradar24 showed several aircraft had diverted to other European airports, including a BA flight from Chicago to London which landed in Geneva after struggling to land in London.
At 1pm more than 215,000 people were watching Big Jet TV, a live stream with commentary of planes coming into land at Heathrow.
Rail services were also badly affected. All trains in Wales and on South Western Railway were suspended on Friday, while other operators — including Avanti West Coast, London North Eastern Railway and Southern — cancelled significant parts of their timetables alongside warnings to passengers not to travel unless absolutely necessary.
“Rail travel across Britain is extremely challenging,” said rail infrastructure manager Network Rail as it reported fallen trees blocking lines into London’s Waterloo station.
Stagecoach suspended its bus services from 10am in Kent and East Sussex besides those serving hospitals, while First Bus has cancelled services in and around Bristol.
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, urged Londoners to “stay at home until the storm has passed”. Some London Underground lines were disrupted or suspended because of debris on the tracks.
P&O Ferries suspended crossings of the English Channel between Dover and Calais on Friday morning, while several road bridges were closed, including both the M4 Prince of Wales Bridge and M48 Severn Bridge which link England and Wales. National Highways said it believed it was the first time both bridges had been forced to close simultaneously.
In an interview with Sky News on Friday morning, home office minister Damian Hinds urged the public to “take precautions” and “make sure they stay safe”. He said the government’s emergency Cobra committee would meet on Friday afternoon to co-ordinate the response to the storm, with the army on standby if needed.
“Weather is unpredictable and it is really important that we all continue . . . to take . . . precautions and try to keep everyone safe,” he said.
Additional reporting by Harry Dempsey