Belfast Telegraph

A day in the life of the storm chasers

As one of the worst gales of the year blasted Northern Ireland, intrepid Belfast Telegraph reporter Harriet Crawford and photographer Kevin Scott travelled to the North Coast to witness the nasty side of nature... and hear the tales of those caught in its crossfire

05.30

A gritting lorry is driving down Portstewart’s promenade and the icicle Christmas lights hanging between the lamp posts are rustling ominously in the whistling wind.

06.30

Dog walker Gary (44) is out with his dog despite the weather. “Nothing has put me off walking Barney this morning,” he says. “He loves the water and it isn’t as bad as I thought it’d be.”

06.47

Breakers at Portstewart harbour bear the brunt of the early morning waves

06.53

The playground at Porstewart Strand is now completely submerged by sea water. It has overrun the drains and flooded into the street, running along the kerbside. Seagulls arrive for easy pickings.

07.10

Few people brave the bitter, early morning, but shop owner Barbara Dempsey is out walking and says: "The weather's just a little bomb, not a big one."

07.30

The waves are lapping at the car park of Portstewart Strand's restaurant. Walter (78) emerges from the darkness . "I am a storm chaser," he explains. "You're out here with nature in all its fury - the elements surround you. If you were out on the beach this morning, you could hardly walk. "

8.22

A car on Portstewart Harbour is swamped as high waves crash over sea defences and its alarm goes off. The sea foam is flying everywhere. 09.00

The head chef of Morelli's cafe admits ice cream won't be top choice today, but hopes customers will seek refuge in the restaurant's warmth for other treats.

10.15

Crescent Cafe is flooded and a wall has come down. Its owner Keith Davidson (46) says: "I would say that the building is pretty much trashed inside. I feel devastated, gutted."

10.26

Firefighters pass down 50 sandbags to save the Dempsey's exposed cliff-side house from further flooding. Jimmy (70) is relaxed: "At the height of the storm you feel powerless - there's nothing you can do but make a cup of coffee. You have a price to pay for living in a beautiful location. What's the odd flood from Mr Neptune?"

11.15

Sleet comes down on the way to Ballintoy Harbour. Nicole McGinn (26) points to a pool she comes to swim in - it is now seething with white foam and swirling water.

12.30

Surfer Al Mennie is spotted out in Ballycastle. He says afterwards: “It’s very rare that I’d surf here because of the wind but today it’s really the only safe place that I can get a good wave. It’s wild.”

13.20

A rainbow arcs over a blue sky in Ballycastle. It appears from behind the harbour wall and the boats bob gently in the swell. 

14.00

Ferries are cancelled to Rathlin Island from Ballycastle. Islander Tom McDonnell says: “I have bought extra bread and milk, some canned food, and topped up the home heating oil. We always have to plan ahead.”

15.00

42-year-old Stephanie Hodge brought her children Fionnan (7) and twins Alicia and Lara (3) to see the flooded playground on their way back from school. “We come here three times a week so seeing all the rubble in the playground is a shock. It doesn’t resemble a kids play park now — at least not an inviting one.”

15.50

The National Trust has been struggling to get people to heed its warnings to avoid Portstewart Strand. Three cars were lifted up by the tidal surges — one with a driver inside it. The last tidal surge brought a rubber duck in with it.

16.10

Debris has been carried over the sea barrier by powerful waves. It lies in the road and scatters the pavement. Shop owner Brian Farthing (62) says: “There have been more photographers than customers around! This weather has definitely affected our business.”

16.15

The Jam Jar Bakery & Coffee House has benefited from a brisk trade. Supervisor Nathalie Pateva (30) says: “We have actually been busier today — the storm has brought more people in. But people have been bringing gusts of wind with them as they come through the door and things have been blowing off our shelves!”

Case study: Toby Edwards

It doesn’t look like this storm is causing as much damage as the localised storm did in January. In the end, it is all part of a natural process. It seems drastic purely because of the amount of change in a short period. It’s interesting to see the environment at work!

Toby Edwards, site manager, National Trust Portstewart

Case study: Christopher McCaughan

I’ve been involved in the sea all my life — you know the weather. You get a feeling in your bones after a while, and can sense a storm. You can get a very unearthly feeling that bad weather is coming in, when it goes quiet and dark. If you’re boating and you’re used to the sea, you can see a storm approaching. Even an old dog like Biscuit, who goes out fishing with me, would realise the danger.

Christopher McCaughan, retired charter boat operator and auxiliary coastguard

Case study: Crawford Rankin

Those sea conditions are as aggressive and rough as you’ll see around the north coast; it’s vile. I imagine what it would be like to be out in a vessel on the water and you would just get knocked about, like you’re in a washing machine. It’s spectacular and very dangerous, but awesome to look at.

Crawford Rankin, commercial skipper, Portrush Sea Tour

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