Trudi Lloyd Williams: Storm Ciara

Environmental artist Trudi Lloyd Williams heads out into Storm Ciara, and ponders how destructive weather could be a common part of our futures.

After a wind-battered weekend, Monday dawned and the rain had at last subsided. My running shoes were beckoning, so I decided to multitask and grabbed both my camera and my dog Betsy. Having checked the tide times, I had a couple of hours before the first high tide - we have double high tides here due to the Isle of Wight. So, giving myself a head start, we drove round to the base of Hurst Spit; the Western entrance to the Solent. The shingle spit provides protection from the approach via Milford on Sea.

Crossing over the crabbing bridge and Danestream to reach the top of the shingle bank, we were immediately buffeted by the wind and assaulted by the hungry sea, which was clawing at and crashing on the pebbles. Land, sea and air had lost their definition: the air was full of salt-laden spray and froth; the pebbles were liquid, flowing from beach to water and then flung into the air; the sea was trying to escape in any way it could. Instantly, everything was covered in a salty coating, making photography a speedy affair - I found some plastics abandoned by the sea on the beach and hastily took a few photos.

Hurst Spit road closed by flooding after Storm Ciara © Trudi Lloyd Williams

Hurst Spit road closed by flooding after Storm Ciara © Trudi Lloyd Williams

Betsy was unimpressed, and her long spaniel ears were being blown out horizontally. I returned her to the safety of the van and then continued my run along the base of the spit, which seemed protected until a wave smashed into the rocks, arching gracefully upwards before running out of steam and plummeting down on top of me! At the car park ahead I could see a digger shovelling stones around, as a river had formed between the sea wall and Sturt Pond. Despite being ‘glued’ down my cap took off downwind and an intrepid photographer, who was poised on the rocks capturing the action, brought it back to me.

Relocating further West to the Needles Eye Cafe, I parked in the lee of some hedges and a good way back in the car park. The plumes of spray were regularly breaking over the newly constructed cement beach huts in front of me. These sturdy blocks of huts were built following the complete destruction of the previous huts in the Valentine’s day storm of 2014 - were these going to be robust enough to survive Storm Ciara? The car park and promenade were eerily empty, with only a pair of Hampshire County Council men in high visibility protective gear patrolling up and down. We were not far off high tide, so my sortie to the front of the huts would be a brief affair; in and out.

The beach huts are built in blocks with gaps in between, which provide handy sheltered spots. Bracing myself and my camera against the solid wall I waited for the action, and before long the deep carpet of pebbles beneath my feet alerted me to the relocation of the beach! The sucking power and noise of the boiling sea quickly unnerved me; it did not take long to get the frames I wanted, and I was not going to hang around any longer.

I was instantly transported back to 2014 and the aftermath of the Valentine’s Day storm on that very spot. Back then I nipped under the tape to see the wrecked beach huts, and it was like entering a war zone. Personal possessions were strewn around, doors hung off their hinges at jaunty angles, walls were missing, and heaps of shingle were banked up inside. Decorative bunting, mirrors, shelves with ornaments, drying racks and the paraphernalia of beach hut life were suspended in a stark homage to happier days. Under an intensely blue sky, children’s clothes, shoes and toys stood out against the white capped waves gently crumpling onto the pebbled shore.

With climate change, the prediction of more frequent extreme weather events seem inevitable - indeed the MET Office is forecasting that a further four storms will follow after Ciara. Our ancestors chose to settle besides rivers, estuaries and the sea because they provided transportation, a constant supply of food, and the added bonus of a watery security barrier. We still love to settle beside the sea today - I know I could not live further than walking distance away, I need my sea ’fix'! But just like our forefathers we are going to have to adapt, create new methods of construction, and become more robust to be able to survive these climate events.

I wonder what our homes will look like in years to come? One family holiday home of my childhood, located beside the River Blackwater in Essex, was a bungalow on stilts. Whether this was to survive the imminent breaking of the dyke at the end of our garden or to give us a clear view of the river estuary never occurred to me, and my parents are no longer alive to ask. A previous house of mine in Lymington was 0.5m below sea level and had already been flooded before I bought it. It had telltale wooden battens fixed to the base of the back door that wooden shuttering could slot into, and the electrical fittings were all positioned at 1m or higher. Effectively the house was ‘tanked.’ Will this eventually become the new normal?

In extreme events like the Valentine's Day storm of 2014, or the more recent Storm Ciara, nature is telling us she’s still in charge. What we need to do is listen and change our habits, to slow down and hopefully prevent global climate change from progressing too far. But are we really listening? Meanwhile, the remnants of Storm Ciara are still rattling my windows - I think we’re in for another stormy night…

Spiny Seahorses and Ripping Yarns

Trudi is collaborating with us on an element of our marine project Secrets of the Solent. Together, we're working with local communities to collect plastic marine litter marine and transform it into an inspirational sculpture.

Learn more about our collaboration