Storm Babet was one of the biggest swells to hit the east coast of Scotland for the last 20 years. It was though unusual, not just for its size but for the number of consecutive days in a row the east coast swell had 4-7m surf locally and the amount or rain further north was exceptional.

Swell chart for the east coast of the UK last week - purple is 10m+

“Storm Babet was an extraordinary piece of weather caused by the interaction of a number of linked conditions across the world,” Dr Hannah Cloke, professor of hydrology at the University of Reading, said. 

“The jet stream, which plays such an important role in the weather in Europe, has been squeezed into a weird position, partly as a result of a powerful typhoon that hit Japan last week.” 

The combination of weather factors meant a powerful low pressure system increased in size on the jet stream and arrived lower than normal – spinning with a centre just off the south of the UK – this gave very large surf to the whole of the east coast of the UK and also huge surf in France, Spain and Portugal. The system was stuck in place for 4 days and the result for our area was four days of 6m+ swell and it topped out with a one hour reading touching 10m on the Forth wave buoys.

Start of swell at Belhaven almost looks tempting – unfortunately these where the inside waves
Local winds at peak

Huge Surf hits East Lothian and the Forth

The height of the storm saw huge waves in Dunbar breaking out in 15m deep water outside the harbour

The inside rocks on the second picture give 4m jumps normally on our coasteers and they where being covered every wave on this day and this was significantly smaller than the day before.

Rare Waves Light Up

But the large surf did provide some bonuses for local surfers with very rare waves lighting up in protected locations only normally reserved for mid winter storms

Coastline Damage

Unfortunately there was a lot of damage and the coastline has been hammered. Harbour walls in North Berwick collapsed in sections and the seabird centre had loads of sand dumped up on it. In Dunbar the Rock armoury systems in Dunbar have moved and a local coastal road has collapsed. If you just walk the East Lothian coastline you can see evidence of whole sections of walkways and dune systems have just disappeared. Sand has moved off beaches and exposing new reef and rocky areas now have new beaches. 


Wildlife was also at the sharp end of the devastation with huge numbers of sealife washed up in the storm. Everything from Star fish carpets on the beach in Cramond, to 100’s of lobsters, fish and even octopus at Belhaven. 

Beach Clean and Rubbish

And inevitably with all the rain and big swell we have seen unfortunately a lot of fishing  gear and plastic on the beaches and there is a need for a clean just now. We would welcome help this weekend for a clear up – and we are meeting on Sunday 5th Nov 1400 with a beach clean organised at the surf centre with both Wilder Outdoor education and the Belhaven Surf club too. If interested in joining us please get in touch with Wilder Outdoor education.

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Sam Christopherson

Senior Instructor and Director at Coast to Coast

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