And now…the weather

So…and bare with me here because this first part is nothing to do with the weather! But it helps explain how a long shift began…

First thing Thursday morning saw me heading over to a newly built Equine Clinic near Great Ayton. I was there to photograph a visit around this impressive facility by Princess Anne who was expected later that morning. But a little later as various dignitaries and guests were all waiting we were informed that due to an issue with her helicopter the visit would have to be cancelled! So after a look around the clinic and seeing some great potential for pictures and arranging to go back to do a photo-story I headed off to change from my suit – jobs with Royals generally require a suit to be worn – into more weather appropriate clothing!

Today was the start of increasing media interest in the ‘Storm Surge’ that was expected along the east coast soon – jobs with weather generally require wellies to be worn!

Below are a selection of my pictures from what turned out to be a long stretch of sleepless activity as I tried to cover events in the ‘shire.


Now whilst cold and a little blustery there was nothing special going on along the east coast at first. But it was an opportunity to try and get some shots of people preparing their homes or businesses ahead of the expected surge. So after speaking to my good friend and very talented Whitby based photographer Ceri Oakes who was also covering events I had a quick run down to Sandsend.

From this I was able to get a few pictures of a couple of the Whitby lifeboat crew members as they helped to board up the windows of a pub whose landlord had broken his leg. So they volunteered to go along and help protect it – although members of the crew also drink there but I’m sure that had nothing to do with it. Almost sure? Along with this there were a few ok pictures of waves crashing against the sea wall and a few people loading up their car boots from a council supplied pile of sandbags but other than that it was quiet.

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As it was getting dark and I was losing the light and there weren’t many pictures to be had I headed back to Saltburn for a quick bit of admin and a bite to eat before heading back to Whitby a couple of hours later ahead of the first high tide at 0415 the next morning which was expected to be the first sign of the surge hitting the east coast.

As I drove back through Saltburn I noticed a couple of council trucks entering the lower promenade car park. Thinking they might be doing some prep work ahead of the surge I followed them in and I was able to get a couple of pictures of them as they off-loaded pallets of sand bags near to beach front businesses.

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After a brief pit stop at home in Saltburn I headed down to Whitby. I maybe went a little too early than was really needed but I knew I wouldn’t settle just sitting there at home knowing this was going on soon and I knew that they might close the coast road on the Whitby approach and I didn’t want to have to drive all the way around.

Knowing that with the high tide still a few hours away I wasn’t going to get any ‘dramatic’ pictures as far as waves went but it was an opportunity to walk around the dark streets of Whitby to see what preparations had been made by residents and the council. So I was able to see shop front doorways sand bagged, a large pump deployed ready to be used if needed and other details around the town.

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As I met up with Ceri again and we wandered the streets of Whitby like two wellington-boot-clad hobo’s we called into the Lifeboat station – where she works as the volunteer press officer – to get a bit of an update from the crew and to grab a brew. Now as you’d expect from lifeboat crew members who volunteer to do the great work they do they’re part mad and part balls of steel! And so they were taking all this talk of tidal surges in their stride and it was then, talking to them, that it was clear that the water might not breach the harbour and seawalls on that high tide.

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As the high tide time came and went and with the wind not as strong as anticipated the streets were almost deserted apart from the occasional members of Mountain Rescue, Coastguard Rescue, Environment Agency, RNLI, police and fire services who were all there at various points ready to offer help if needed should the water overtop the harbour. Fortunately this time they weren’t needed and with the town now safe from this high tide after a couple of pictures on the bridge as Ian Hugill from Scarborough & Ryedale Mountain Rescue gave a final check of the water levels I headed back to my car to edit, caption and file my pictures.

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With daylight approaching I was going to head back home. The next high tide wasn’t for another 12-hours or so and that one was of concern as the wind was due to be stronger. The Shipping Forecast, that amazingly poetic and hugely useful weather and sea-state information service from BBC Radio 4 was giving gale forecasts showing ‘severe gale 9 to violent storm 11’ – ‘violent storm’ is one down from the maximum used, Hurricane Force! – so potential to be a bit blustery then.

As I was leaving it began to snow quite heavy. So not wanting to miss the opportunity I shot a few pictures in the Whitby and Loftus areas as I headed back to Saltburn. After a quick bite to eat I once again headed out to try and make something of any overnight snowfall locally. Whilst we didn’t see the snow fall that other parts of the country had I was able to shoot some pictures of snowmen and cute donkeys and some wintery views in the Commondale and Great Ayton areas.

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With the day getting on and the next high tide in Whitby around 4pm or so I took a couple of hours to quickly head to South Gare near Redcar to see if the waves were crashing against the seawall and lighthouse as they sometimes do on a big swell. Not surprisingly they were quite impressive and I sat myself in the nearby dunes, wedged my camera against my knees and spent some time glued to the viewfinder as the unpredictable waves did their thing.

While I don’t think it’s the most impressive lighthouse in this area for these dramatic wave type shots – for that go to Seaham – you can still get some alright stuff from it. But it pays to sit somewhere out of the wind and be patient. Photographing big waves here is tricky. It’s not like surfing where you can read the waves better and see a set coming. In wild, violent seas the water is all over the place and you can guarantee that as soon as you rest your eye from the viewfinder the days’ monster wave will arrive and you miss it while all you hear from all the photographers’ around you are the machine-gunning motor drives doing the business!

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But it made for some ok pictures and added to the general coverage of the crazy weather we were having. Now admittedly at this point I was knackered. I’d been on the go without sleep for nearly 30 hours or so and was looking forward to a shower, some dinner and probably a bit of wine! But being the conscientious and professional (haha really!?) photographer I am I checked in once again with the top Whitby-based photographer Ceri to see what if anything was going on and to get a quick update a couple of hours before high tide and make the call about going from there.

I can’t really remember all the conversation I had with her about what was going on. All I heard was, “water coming over a bit” and “bandstand” and “could be on”!

Now as any photographer shooting news will tell you missing an ‘event’ that takes place nearby is very frustrating if you weren’t aware of it. If the intention is to be there and you miss it then it’s bloody annoying so, and with complete regard to all motoring laws and speed limits, I drove to Whitby! Arriving as they say ‘in the nick of time’ I parked on West cliff and headed into town.

With high tide fast approaching, wind roaring it was a very surreal scene. Looking down onto the town from West Cliff offers a spectacular view anyway. Add to this hundreds of people standing there watching, freezing cold wind howling off the sea, amazing light shining down at sunset and huge waves rolling in it was quite an amazing sight. I think there was even a rainbow thrown in there at some point?!

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Other than a couple of quick pictures I knew I needed to head down the hill. You have to be where the water is after all! So I went down to Pier Road which was getting the brunt of the sea’s anger. The builder’s rubble sacks that were filled with sand on the slip way were scattered everywhere and there was debris brought in by the water all over the street. Members of the Coastguard were keeping people back from the deluge of foam-covered water each time it breached and flowed along the road for hundreds of yards. The ice cream kiosk near the slip way had already been ‘relocated’ by one particularly large wave and it was obvious that this was the place to be for pictures.

Now amid the chaos of everything that was going on there was a moment when, just like in the movies, it all seemed to go quiet! People seemed to stop, the waves eased and everyone’s attention turned to the old lady in her motorised scooter who was heading straight up the street towards the cordon tape put in place by the Coastguard.

After the coastguard chap explained politely to her that it was probably not the wisest journey to continue up the street towards the churning water on her scooter she paused, had one final look towards this annoyance that was now splashing over the slipway and flowing towards her – and I would swear here that she tutted to it – before carrying out a pretty slick 3-point turn and motoring off into the foam filled streets as she was forced to take a longer route to wherever she was heading. Nicely done!

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With the light fading fast we headed further into town to see what else was going on in the New Quay Road area and to work some pictures there. This is an area that is always prone to flooding and arriving there the water was already coming over the top of the harbour wall. Fishing boats were floating at street level and it made a surreal sight. Even though their moorings had been slackened by their owners to allow for the rise in water level one of the moorings was torn off as the boat rose but fortunately a second rope held it and it didn’t break loose. Shops and restaurant staff stood behind flood shutters in doorways and looked on as water flowed around the street but it was soon clear that this wasn’t as bad a flood surge as it could have been and thankfully with minimal damage it wouldn’t take too long for the water to eventually drain away.

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So with the main threat from the high tide now passed and with the surge heading away from our part of the coastline we headed back to Pier Road for a final look there for any other pictures before I headed back up to my car to edit, caption and file the pictures in to the picture desk as quickly as possible. With nature once again demonstrating its amazing abilities and with some great work by emergency service personnel, with communities all along the east coast coming together to protect their homes, properties and businesses it all offered up some decent photographs and more importantly the damage and disruption wasn’t as bad as it might have been.

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With nearly 35 hours on the go without sleep, with a routine of charging up various electronic ‘stuff’ as I drove around between locations and grabbing quick food as and when and with the challenge of the working conditions it was a challenging time but ultimately quite rewarding as a photographer. So with thanks to Ceri for the updates and info, to the Whitby lifeboat crew members for the brew on a cold night here’s a few ways the pictures were used in the media over the following days…

For those interested in such things all the pictures in this set were shot on my Fuji gear. The wide shots were on the Fuji X Pro 2 with a 16mm f1.4 lens and the longer tight stuff on a Fuji XT1 with a 50-140mm f2.8.

See more of my work on my website and blogs… HERE

Images copyright Ian Forsyth / Getty Images

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