Hurricane Low Q – The Worst Winter Storm in Glasgow's History
For all the mocking of Britain’s storm naming system, Hurricane Bawbag, Desmond or Abigail etc, unless you were born prior to 1968, you will have heard little about Hurricane Low Q. Quite simply, Hurricane Low Q was and probably still is the worst storm to have hit Glasgow in modern history.
In 1968 Glasgow faced the worst storm in their living memory. The damage was catastrophic, nobody was prepared, even the emergency services were caught off guard. Glasgow unaware and vulnerable, bore the full wrath of Hurricane Low Q. The landscape of the city was irrevocably changed forever.
On January 12th, 1968, the West of Scotland faced its deadliest night since the bombs of W.W.2. A storm, previously forecast to sweep harmlessly past the top of Scotland, without warning changed direction and headed straight for the heart of the Central Belt. Glasgow was brutalised.
It was a literal storm of the century, the strongest winds ever recorded in Glasgow. Pushing 110 mph, the equivalent of hurricane force winds, an entire city’s electricity failed and 70,000 homes were damaged. In total, half of Glasgow’s council houses were devastated. Many citizens whom lived through the Blitz, said that the level of destruction witnessed as they opened their door the following morning, was comparative to the very worst of the Blitz bombing during WW2.
Mother Nature’s ferocious appetite, however, had yet to be satiated, and the storm continued to ravage for the next six days across Europe. Such was the ungodly strength of the winds, cars were crushed as tenements were ripped apart, masonry thrown like bricks of Lego. In some parts of Scotland the winds reached 140 mph. Hurricane Low Q, as it came to be infamously known, became the worst natural disaster suffered in Central Scotland since records began.
In total 50 people lost their life during or as a result of the storm, 700 people were declared homeless, 8000 hectares of forest were torn from the earth. The destruction was so severe, it made headlines across America and Canada, from New York to Montreal.
Glasgow suffered the brunt of the storm, and at the time hadn’t the infrastructure, or the comprehension, to suspect hurricane strength winds were rampaging toward the city, like a wolf with the taste of blood on its breath.
Dumbarton Road in the West End suffered a particularly hard tragedy, as a family of four sheltering in their house, were killed after a chimney flute collapsed inwards, on top of them. Multiplying the suffering, one of the victims Anne Best, had only travelled to Scotland to attend her mothers funeral. She spent the last few moments of her life, mourning the death of her mother while simultaneously fearing for her own life.
Ex Prime Minister Edward Heath summed up the scale of the disaster when he said “it’s hard to visualise what happens when three tonnes of solid masonry falls through a roof, it goes through the roof, the next floor, and the next, creating a bomb crater in the basement, leaving only death behind it.”
A five year old died in her home, a pregnant nurse, three people died after a dredger capsized, a young woman after her chimney collapsed inward while she slept, another suffocated to death, the list goes on.
Many others were injured, some died as a result of the storm, but in comparison to modern day, there were no televised charity drives, no telethons, nobody was there to pick up Glasgow’s pieces, and with most people being unable to afford home insurance, according to journalist Kenneth Roy, “Glasgow simply got on with their lives, with or without a roof over their head.” “Many people”, he continued, “pleaded but were unsuccessful in even being giving tarpaulin to cover the hole in their roof.”
The damage to the city was estimated to be upwards of £25 million pounds, the British Government at the time offered £500,000 and shockingly telephone lines in some areas were down for an incredible nine months. Ironically Hurricane Low Q ushered in a new era for housing in Glasgow, after 100 years of quiet neglect, it was the result of a national tragedy, and additional media attention, that revealed the true horror, of slum city Glasgow to the world, resulting in swathes of the city being torn down and rebuilt.