Home History of Burnham-on-Sea and Highbridge In Photos: Burnham-On-Sea 1981 storm left trail of damage and flooding

In Photos: Burnham-On-Sea 1981 storm left trail of damage and flooding

Floods and damage were left after the 1981 storm hit Burnham-On-Sea and the coastline

The dramatic winter storm of 1981 hit Burnham-On-Sea and left a trail of damage along the town’s seafront and a repair bill along the Somerset coastline amounting to £6 million.

December 13th, 1981 will stick in the minds of many Burnham-On-Sea residents forever – it was a frightening, defining moment for the town that led to the construction of stronger sea defences and local authorities taking a fresh look at the town’s flood preparedness.

The high tides combined with a massive storm surge and, while fortunately no lives were lost, millions of pounds of damage was left across the area and scores of homes and businesses in the centre of Burnham were flooded.

The photos here show how the town’s Esplanade bore the brunt of the storm. They illustrate how a huge operation to shore up the sea defences took place on December 14th, when another high tide was due. Your memories of the 1981 storm.

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Burnham’s sea wall collapsed in several places, leaving gaping holes in the pavements and at the edge of The Esplanade road.

Chunks of the sea wall littered Burnham’s seafront on the morning after the December 13th storm.

Burnham’s seafront was badly damaged, with concrete from the sea wall and other debris littering The Esplanade.

One car, parked outside a seafront property, was hurled into the front of the building, damaging a wall and windows.

Flooding hit homes in low-lying areas of Burnham-On-Sea, Brean, Weston, Uphill and Sand Bay. The water travelled inland as far as Pawlett.

Council workers joined forces with local residents to fill up sand banks and shore up the gaps in Burnham’s sea wall.

The emergency repair operation in Burnham on December 14th was one of the most extensive ever carried out by West Country local authorities.

A long line of lorries was used to quickly bring in stone from local quarries, along with sand, in order to try and shore up the seafront and prevent further damage.

While many people in Burnham suffered financial damage, they were drawn together by a strong community spirit by helping others at a time of need – here seen preparing sand bags.

Hundreds of sand bags were filled by volunteers along Burnham seafront in a sucessful attempt to prevent further flooding.

Every type of vehicle was used to help bring in sand to try and prevent more flooding in homes across the town.

Wessex Water Authority estimated the total damage to the Somerset coastline had been £6 million – all of it caused by a sea surge like nothing seen before.

Huge rocks were delivered direct from quarries to shore up the damaged seafront in Burnham.

Caravans along the coast near Burnham were severely damaged by the wind and water.

Several of the worst affected homes were surrounded by flood water.

The old shelter on the North Esplanade was surrounded by holes and sand bags

Maple Drive in Burnham was under several inches of sea water after the storm

Residents in Sycamore Close worked together in the flooded roads

Sea water again spilled over the damaged sea defences on the following high tide

This dome shelter on Burnham seafront was surrounded by debris

The storm damage was also visible here besides Burnham seafront cafe

Cars and other debris were pushed along the streets by water and debris

How the weather contributed to Burnham's 1981 flooding

December 1981 began and ended mild, with a severe wintry spell between the 8th and 27th which contributed to the conditions in Burnham-On-Sea. As the month started, a warm front moving around a large high south of Ireland brought temperatures of 15C to Aberdeen on December 3rd. As the high slipped away, cold fronts brought progressively colder air south. Bitterly cold air with hail and snow reached Shetland on the 4th and a depression moved southeast across the country on the 7th, bringing with it icy cold air.

Rain turned to heavy snow with a sharp temperature plunge on the 8th. There were some exceptional temperatures in the northerly airflow. On the 11th, the minimum around Glasgow was -13C. As a low front crossed northern France on the 11th, there was widespread heavy snowfall in the south with 26cm recorded at Heathrow. Clearing skies, fresh snow and still Arctic air all added up to very low temperatures – the minimum was -22.6C in Shropshire on the night of the 11-12th.

Another depression introduced a blizzard with wind speeds of 95 mph in the south west on December 13th. This created a huge storm surge along the Bristol Channel, leading to widespread flooding in Burnham and elsewhere. It also combined with the weather suddenly turning milder, creating a rapid thaw and sending melt water down the Bristol Channel towards Burnham…

Do you have photos of the 1981 storm in Burnham? Send them to us here


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