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The British weather is a constant topic of conversation.
Often unpredictable, it's now having a bigger effect on our lives.
Dangerous floods threaten our homes, forest fires devastate our countryside
and savage storms ravage our coastlines.
Today, we find out what happens when Britain gets hit by freak weather.
We see the stories of people's lives who have been turned upside-down by the totally unexpected.
And we show you how to protect yourself, your home and your family from disaster.
Welcome to Living Dangerously.
We've all seen the terrible headlines of hurricanes,
flooding and storm damage.
But what's it really like when extreme weather wrecks your life?
Well, today, we hear two incredible true stories.
Coming up on Living Dangerously, a freak and intense hailstorm hits an east Devon town
with startling consequences.
I mean, this went on for hours, literally.
And storms, by their nature, they come and go, but this one didn't.
It came and stayed. It obviously liked Ottery.
And it's a mighty battle against high winds,
as lifeboat rescuers go to save a windsurfer from being dragged out to sea.
It was quite difficult for us to approach him because of the breaking sea.
If we put the boat side on to a breaking sea, there's a good chance it could capsize.
With home video, actual footage and reconstruction,
we show what happened during these real-life weather events.
Sheltered by rolling hills and set deep
in the picturesque Otter Valley is the medieval town of Ottery St Mary.
It's reputed to be the most historic town in east Devon,
but it's not just these attractive qualities that make Ottery so popular with its residents.
Ottery is a special town.
It's a good town. It's a friendly town.
You're never a foreigner in Ottery.
You're always a part of the people and it just is a super town.
69-year-old, Barry Fearn, moved to Ottery seven years ago with his late wife, Audrey.
They bought a three-bedroom, semi-detached town house
on a brand-new estate that lies close to the River Otter.
This is a new development here and, in that respect, you've got to build a community.
It's not a community until you get together.
And both my wife and I, we just got involved with the local community.
And if you're going to come and live somewhere, you've got to be part of it.
And, hopefully, it rubs off on some other people.
Every year, Ottery's community spends weeks building a huge bonfire
for its world-famous, November the 5th, Guy Fawkes celebrations.
These include what's believed to be a 17th-century, pagan tradition
that sees locals carrying flaming tar barrels through the town's medieval streets
to ward off evil spirits.
But late in October 2008, just days before they were due to light their huge bonfire,
the town's folk were accosted by a thunderous hailstorm of biblical proportions.
Barry was one of the people worst affected,
so I've come round to find out exactly what happened when Britain's extreme weather struck.
-How are you? I'm Nadia. Can I come in?
-Thank you very much.
Barry, I'm going to take you back to the 30th October last year.
-There was a massive storm here in the early hours of the morning.
What did you think when it first started?
It was very oppressive weather
and in the early hours of the morning it broke. And it just went on and on and on.
The hail came down and I thought, "This is one hell of a thunderstorm!"
Which it was... the lightning, thunder.
And having a conservatory with a polycarbonate roof, it was absolutely deafening.
-I lived through the Blitz and it was certainly louder than the Blitz.
-Seriously. It was absolutely horrendous.
And this was because of the unusual amount of hailstones?
Correct, correct. They were relatively small.
They were sort of pea-sized, but they cleaned all the green off the roof beautifully
and it was the only advantage we had out of the storm.
The hailstorms began just after midnight.
They were caused by an area of low pressure that had moved across south-west England.
Along with the hail came torrential downpours, with an incredible 177mm of rain
falling over the east Devon town in just a couple of hours.
It went on for about two or three hours. It just went round and round.
In Ottery, when you come here you come downhill from every part, you come downhill.
So we're in a valley and you've the hills all round. It just went round and round the hills.
And when you have a thunderstorm, most people count.
You know, you count when the flash comes how long it is to the bang.
And it never got more than three all the time.
So it was just going round in circles all along the hills.
The localised storm stayed put during the early hours, with hail falling down all the while
and two feet of it settling down in the valley.
That seems an incredibly long time. I'm thinking of all the times that I've ever been around hailstones.
They only last a few minutes usually.
That's correct, yes. I mean, this went on your hours, literally.
And storms, by their nature, they come and go,
but this one didn't. It came and stayed. It obviously liked Ottery.
The storm that hit Ottery St Mary that night was of such magnitude that weather forecasters would
only expect it to happen once every 200 years.
In the morning, Ottery awoke to find itself in a deep bed of hailstones.
It even caught the Environment Agency by surprise.
This was a very unusual event.
You can imagine the scenes the following morning.
It was like a snow storm. There's four, five foot drifts of hail,
which, if you saw them on television, you'd think was snow,
but, in fact, was these tiny little balls of ice, which had fallen down,
and were quite solid in places. Buried cars, blocked-up gullies,
even blocked-off roads, so people couldn't get in.
And it was all very localised over a very small area.
It was almost a scene of devastation.
The tiny hailstones fused together to create drifts reaching as high
as six feet and, across town, cars and people were getting trapped in the icy concrete.
The hailstones were piled really high and they looked like all the little bits out of a tapioca pudding.
They were little round things that were just made into piles and piles.
And it was pretty horrendous.
It was also marginally beautiful, because snow is pretty, isn't it?
But not when it's in your house.
Coming up later on Living Dangerously, the freak hail and thunderstorm over Ottery
causes flash floods to take over the town,
and Barry faces an almighty battle.
I was sitting on the stairs outside there hoping the water would stop coming up any further.
I was doing my King Canute and I was equally as good as King Canute,
cos I didn't stop the water.
On the southern edge of the Snowdonia National Park
lies the quaint, Welsh harbour village of Aberdovey.
It attracts thousands of holidaymakers each year,
who come to enjoy its four miles of award-winning sandy beaches and mild micro-climate.
But it's not just milder weather and golden sands that bring visitors.
The old fishing port is set on the estuary of the River Dovey, the perfect spot for water sports.
One enthusiast is Kirk Fresle, who travels 90 miles from Herefordshire
every couple of months to indulge in his passion for windsurfing.
A guy I used to play squash with, he was moving, so he gave me some old windsurfing equipment.
And I got on it and I thought, "This is good stuff."
I enjoyed it and I've taken it on from there.
That was about seven years ago, so...
The trouble is, living in Bromyard, I'm quite a long way from the sea,
so I don't go as much as I'd really like to and hence the skills aren't as honed as they should be.
Aberdovey is a popular summer destination,
but because of its prevailing south-west winds,
kite and windsurfers come here all year round.
The mouth of the Dovey estuary protects its waters from the worst excesses of the weather
out in the Irish Sea, making it the ideal playing ground for these water sports.
But it's not always guaranteed.
If the weather turns and the strong winds combine with an outgoing high tide,
the waters of the estuary that covers 11 square km can get churned up and become a maelstrom.
But this was far from the mind of Kirk when he saw
ideal weather conditions for windsurfing coming up.
Like all windsurfers, you tend to study the BBC weather forecast.
And I saw that Wednesday the wind was going to pick up.
OK, it was going to be rainy, so it would be a little bit gusty, but I checked the tides.
It would be high water at Aberdovey, so that gives you generally flat water
in the estuary and you've got the whole estuary to play in.
And, of course, you've got the RNLI station there as well, which I didn't think I'd need!
So on May 27th, 2008, Kirk left his hometown of Bromyard
in Herefordshire first thing and drove three hours to Aberdovey.
He arrived just before 11:00, only to be bitterly disappointed.
When I got there it was bucketing down with rain.
I thought, "Do I really want to go out in this?
And, "Erm, it's raining so hard, what else am I going to do?
"The mountain bike's in the back, but that's not very good when it's raining so hard."
So I sat there a while, had a cup of tea and then the weather improved.
So I thought, "Now's the time to go."
The rain was slowly stopping and the wind was starting to pick up when Kirk got on his windsurf at 11:30am.
He was enjoying the fast-moving currents of six knots and winds of 7mph in the estuary
when he caught the attention of Dave Williams, who heads up the local RNLI station.
I was on a day off that day and I came to the station
to check emails and this sort of thing.
I noticed there was a windsurfer out there
and thought, "Ah well, fair enough.
"He's obviously enjoying himself. Good stuff." I left here.
I was planning on playing golf but the weather was so bad, I thought, "There's no point
"in going out and getting wet and losing lots of golf balls." So I decided to come back.
Had a look for the windsurfer, just out of interest, as you do, and couldn't spot him anywhere.
Thought, "Ah, I'll keep an eye open for a few minutes and just see what happens."
But things turned ugly for Kirk.
He'd been in the estuary for 45 minutes when conditions suddenly changed.
He was now grappling to keep control of his windsurf.
By this time the tide had turned and was now starting to go out,
so I was struggling a little bit to stay in the estuary.
The waves were starting to get bigger and bigger.
And at that point, right in the middle of estuary, he came off the board.
The wind had increased to 20mph and was battling against
the high spring tide to create two-metre high waves.
Kirk made several attempts to lift his windsurf sail,
but it had become incredibly heavy after being weighed down with water.
He was also struggling against the fast-moving tide and high winds, zapping him of all his energy
and leaving him no alternative but to drift on his board.
He tried on about five or six occasions and failed every time
because of the wind and the wave action,
couldn't get back on the board. I thought, "Well, he won't get back on the board now
"and the next place he's heading for is Ireland."
So I thought we'd better do something about it.
So I straightaway went upstairs into the lifeboat station, set off our pagers to call the crew here
and the crew were here in three, four minutes, getting changed.
The Aberdovey Lifeboat Station is one of 235 RNLI rescue stations across the UK and Ireland.
It's been saving lives for nearly 140 years, getting called out, on average, once a fortnight.
Firefighter Robin Goodlad was one of the local volunteers scrambled to save Kirk.
The first thing we knew, obviously, the pagers went off.
We're all volunteers in the village and we've got our own little pagers.
We just drop whatever we're doing, work or anything like that,
and come down to the station and respond.
Ten minutes after Kirk first got into trouble, the crew launched their boat.
It was 12:35pm and, by now, Kirk had been pulled even closer to the estuary mouth by the outgoing tide.
Conditions there were at force six, which meant four-metre swells and winds of up to 30mph.
We managed to get to breaking surf, which was causing him problems.
He wasn't able to restart then, so we needed to get down there pretty quickly and get him.
Kirk had almost reached the Aberdovey bar, where the estuary meets the sea
and silt deposits have raised a section of the seabed.
It really does start to jack the waves up.
The wind's in the opposite direction holding those waves up,
so whilst I might have been in two-metre waves earlier
and I was struggling a little bit, suddenly now I'm in a four-metre breaking swell.
I'm thinking, "This is not a very good place to be at all!"
It's like going through a washing machine at that stage.
The rough conditions in the estuary were going to make it
challenging for the lifeboat rescuers to get to Kirk, too.
You've got the estuary here, which holds quite a lot of water,
but the opening to the estuary's quite small,
so every time the tide ebbs out, there's a lot of water that has to get through a really small gap.
So it speeds up to about six or seven knots.
When you've got the wind going in the other direction about 30 knots,
you get quite nasty standing waves, which is not a very nice place.
Totally unaware that help was on its way, Kirk was beginning to feel the effects of his struggle.
He was immersed in water of just 14 degrees centigrade,
well below body temperature, and was in danger of suffering from hypothermia.
He was also physically exhausted, which put him at risk from drowning.
What's more, he was still heading straight for the Irish Sea.
The sail was just getting ripped right out of my hands.
So at that stage I'm thinking, "Just sit on the board, figure out what my options are.
"Best thing to do here."
Coming up later on Living Dangerously,
the force six high winds put the RNLI rescuers' own lives at risk
as they go to save Kirk, who's getting ever closer to the open sea.
It was quite difficult for us to approach him because of the breaking sea.
If we put the boat side on to a breaking sea, it could capsize.
In the early hours of October 30th, 2008,
the east Devon town of Ottery St Mary
was assaulted by a freak thunder storm.
For three hours, the storm raged over the medieval town
and an incredible 177mm of rain fell,
one of the highest levels ever recorded in Britain.
But as the thunderstorm calmed, the floods began.
Huge drifts of hailstones, reaching as high as six feet in places,
compacted to block storm drains and culverts, so surface rain water had nowhere to go.
Flood defences held around the River Otter that runs through the town,
but streams and brooks broke their banks after becoming swollen with the intense rainfall.
One of the people caught up in this savage flash flood was pensioner Barry Fearn.
I went to bed actually and then I was woken up
by my next-door neighbour Rita, who said, "Barry, we're flooding."
And I came down to see the water and everything
coming down our road outside and then into the garage
and then over the garage into the hall, through the front door, out the back door into the garden.
I was sitting on the stairs outside there hoping the water would stop coming up any further.
I was doing my King Canute and I was equally as good as King Canute, cos I didn't stop the water.
The flood was crushing for Barry.
He was helpless, as his kitchen and the rest of the ground floor was taken over by two feet of water.
Were you at any point panicked or frightened?
No, you can't... Not panicked.
I mean, you just thought, "What the flipping hell's happening here?" You know.
There's not much you can do. It's an act of God.
It's nature showing itself and you just have to go with it.
An Ottery resident got up during the night
to capture what was happening outside his front door.
There was torrential rain with ice, sleet and lots of thunder and lightning.
My front garden is just a pool of water.
The freak weather that hit Ottery St Mary was completely unprecedented.
I can imagine a very intense, very localised storm
came up the Otter Valley, hovered over the town of Ottery St Mary.
We had seven inches, 177mm, in three hours,
which, according to the Met Office,
is one of the highest recorded totals they've ever had in the country.
So there is all this rain falling in a very small place,
all coming down to the bottom of the valley,
and across east Devon maybe 250 houses flooded,
particularly badly in places like Ottery and Whimple,
where, without much warning, suddenly floodwaters were up
at the same time as you had this hailstorm going on around
and a big thunderstorm at the same time.
What we've got here is a radar image of the actual storm.
You can see it covered a large part of Devon,
from the north coast to the south coast,
but the very intense colours of the pink and the white and the red
are centred over east Devon and Ottery St Mary.
These are the very intense parts of the storm, where most of the rain fell.
As I said, 177mm in three hours.
And it took everyone by surprise, not least Barry.
His house is set close to the River Otter on a flood plain.
Developers put in flood defences when his estate was built nine years ago,
but no-one could have predicted such an extraordinary weather event.
Barry tried in vain to save what he could from the freezing water
by moving it upstairs, but in the end he had to concede defeat.
It came up just below my knee and my feet and my legs were bright red
with a line round them where the water had stopped. Literally, they were bright red.
They were like a lobster, except it was the freezing not the hot.
So from when the water first started to come through the door,
how long would you say, roughly, it was before it was up to your knees?
-Erm, I suppose about three-quarters of an hour.
Yes, it happened relatively quickly.
-Quite shocking then?
-Yeah, yeah. It was. It wasn't good.
It was one of the parts of my life I'd happily forget.
Yes, I bet. And what kind of damage did it do?
Well, the whole of the bottom area was wrecked, basically.
And I think that...
-What, in that you lost everything?
Everything here you see is new, from the waist up, the walls.
The flash floods ravaged Ottery St Mary.
The emergency services got 150 calls and 30 people had to be evacuated from their homes.
100 properties were flooded in total, with water levels reaching four feet in places.
But it wasn't just homes that were overrun by the flood.
Businesses were affected, too.
While Barry was battling against rising water in his home,
up the road one of Ottery's oldest land marks,
the Tumbling Weir Hotel, was succumbing to the exceptional storm,
with its famous weir being transformed into a cascading whirlpool.
Meanwhile in the hotel, guests were horrified when they saw water gushing in.
One of them came down and knocked on the door
and it was only from that moment on
we actually realised how much damage was happening in the hotel.
The hailstones had compacted on top of the thatched roof of
the 17th-century property and blocked the gutters, causing havoc.
The whole roof was covered in ice and you couldn't put anything...
Well, there was no way of gripping the sloped roof to get up into the valley.
Also there was lightning all around and it's not a good idea
to be climbing up an aluminium ladder when there's lightning.
And the lightning was very localised.
Also the hailstorm just seemed to sit over Ottery St Mary and not actually
move up the valley and I think that was probably a lot of the problems.
It just sat over us.
For three and a half hours, Paul and his wife, Lynn,
desperately tried to contain the water pouring into their hotel, but they were fighting a losing battle.
So the first bit of rain water we saw was from this beam all the way down
the passageway and it was coming down this internal wall.
Three guest rooms were flooded and made uninhabitable.
This is bedroom seven. It was actually pouring through here, so it was absolutely
saturated, so we actually couldn't save any of this at all and it all had to be skipped and thrown out.
And we had to rip down the whole ceiling and re-insulate it and do all the electrics.
But the most extensive damage was downstairs.
From that pillar to the pillar
where I came through the doors, the water was pouring down.
From seeing that, I then rushed into the kitchen, got every single roasting pan we had
and tried to put them between the pillars to catch as much water as I could.
we didn't catch enough of it and all the dance floor
had to be replaced as well as the bar and the carpet and everything.
Thankfully, there were no casualties and guests were moved to rooms unaffected by the flood.
But the hotel had to shut for a month while repairs
and refurbishments were done, costing insurers £90,000.
The extent of the floods that had taken over Ottery St Mary was astounding.
Water inundated roads and houses, and the huge bonfire the townsfolk
had prepared for their famous Guy Fawkes celebrations was now surrounded by a soupy mess.
Seeing this historic town in such a state was heartbreaking for Ottery's mayor, Glyn Dobson.
Glyn, what was your experience of the flood back in October 2008?
It was an absolute disaster. I mean, hail was all over the road.
People were in shock. In places it was three or four feet.
People's houses were flooded.
What was it like? Was everybody out helping each other?
Yeah, they were. As I said, people were in shock. They were out.
They were trying to remove stuff from the houses, so they could move about.
Water was in their houses.
Some of them couldn't even get in the door because it was blocked by hailstones.
And we actually washed one of the cars off that they wanted to move off the drive
and I opened up the car door so the person could get in there, and water just flooded out of the car.
You're talking, I think, well over 200 cars that were destroyed.
-Had you ever seen anything like it?
Sounds almost biblical, these hailstones, doesn't it?
I hope I never have to see it again.
-My heart went out to the people down there.
Presumably, there's nothing people can do to prepare
for something like that because it was just such a freak storm.
You will never prepare for something like that.
We can do all we want to do for floodwater and that, but this hailstorm was completely different.
The hail and thunderstorm that hit Ottery St Mary cost insurers more than £1 million in damages.
But when the elements contrive to create freak weather like this,
there's virtually nothing that can be done to mitigate its effects.
One of the things this flood brought home to me was that
you can never completely remove the risk of flooding.
We have got schemes in place, which is where we build defences like walls
to stop the river getting out of the bank and flooding people's homes.
And that largely worked in lots of places.
But in Ottery St Mary, the River Otter was kept within the flood defence scheme,
it didn't flood over the banks and flood anyone,
but a lot of people were flooded from other streams.
Severe flash flooding running straight off the land, straight into people's homes.
So the risk of flooding remains, even if a flood defence scheme
has been built and you've got a barrier around.
You've still got to be ready and aware and be prepared.
And it was Barry's estate that came off especially badly.
Some people who lived around were actually quite scathing, saying, "It serves them right down there.
"They knew they were buying a property on a flood plain. Now it's flooded."
But the fact remains that there is a defence mechanism that's been put in
prior to building and that was why they had permission to build.
They raised the land here and that held.
The water flooded the field, but it did hold and it wasn't that.
So, Barry, this here is what the Environmental Agency built, yeah?
-Tell me how it looked here the day of the flood.
Well, the day of the floods, the posts over there, the water had come up above that level.
And that was the highest it's ever come since I've been here in seven years.
But this held.
This was built with 100-year protection, allegedly.
I can't actually see the river. Where is the river, Barry?
Well, actually, the river... It's low at the moment.
But you see the line of trees across there?
-The river runs down there through and then out the other side of Ottery under St Saviour's Bridge.
-But actually it wasn't the river that caused the problem, was it?
-What was it?
It was the brook, our beautiful, little brook.
-Can we go and see that?
OK, so here is the brook that did the damage, really.
Basically, it filled up. As you can see, it's not a very big waterway...
It's a dribble really, isn't it?
It filled up and overflowed,
cos it wasn't meant to take the amount of
hail that came down.
And how high did the water come up?
Well, it came up so it came completely over here and it was...
Well, in the houses, it was about 13 inches deep.
Coming up on Living Dangerously, we tell you how to protect yourself and your belongings from flash flooding.
One thing that always upsets me the most if I go round somebody's home that's flooded is,
you see irreplaceable things that have been lost...
photographs, wedding videos.
Know where they are and get them somewhere safe.
On May 27th, 2008, the normally calm waters of the Dovey estuary
in North Wales had got churned up by strong winds battling against an outgoing, high, spring tide.
Windsurfer Kirk Fresle was caught out
by the sudden change in conditions.
He'd fallen off his windsurf and was holding on for dear life,
as he was being dragged by the tide towards the mouth of the estuary and the open Irish Sea.
The RNLI had scrambled a lifeboat, but an exhausted Kirk had no idea that help was on its way.
He'd been immersed in icy cold waters
and was at a real risk from succumbing to hypothermia or drowning.
Every second counted.
What was going through my mind at that time is, "Don't panic!
"You'll look back on this and have a laugh!
"But you've got to make a decision now,
"cos you don't know whether it's going to get worse out there.
"The wind speed might pick up even higher.
"Waves might get even higher."
The best option was to just ditch the sail and paddle back on the board.
But this was going to be near impossible.
With the high spring tide travelling out of the estuary
at a rate of six to seven knots, which is too fast for anyone to swim against,
Kirk was facing a losing battle.
The weather, in terms of wind and so on, was fairly consistent, but the thing that had changed
was the fact that the big, spring tide and, of course,
the water was now pushing out against the wind.
And, of course, anything that was a big wave before
is going to be even bigger and also breaking as well.
And so the surf conditions were getting worse and worse, because of the tide, not because of the wind.
By now, Kirk was at the mouth of the estuary, where huge waves were reaching some four metres.
This meant that not only was Kirk in serious danger, but so was the lifeboat.
It was quite difficult for us
to approach him because of the breaking sea.
If we put the boat side on to a breaking sea,
there's a good chance it could capsize.
So once we'd spotted him, we had to wave to him, to let him know we were turning down sea.
And then turning round, taking the wave head on.
That's actually the safest way to approach a breaking wave.
I'm just about to release, ditch the sail. I hear an engine note.
So when I got on the top of the next wave, I had a quick scan around the horizon.
And I could see a boat!
There is a God!
When I came up the next wave, they were coming past me and they said,
"OK, we won't be able to get your rigging.
"When we come alongside you, make it quick, make it snappy, get on board!"
And they put their hand out.
I grabbed it and they dumped me, pretty unceremoniously,
into the bottom of the boat, for which I was very grateful.
Despite Kirk's windsurf being worth over £1,000, he had no qualms about
abandoning it to the waves and saving his own skin.
When we got there, he was quite cold, but he was OK.
I think he was very relieved to see us
and, obviously, we managed to get him in quite quickly and he was very relieved.
I was glad to be in the boat.
They were very reassuring. "You're safe now. There's nothing to worry about.
"We're just going to take you back to the station."
So, again, they expertly turned the boat around
in those conditions.
We only went maybe for 600 yards
and suddenly you're out of that position in the estuary mouth,
where the waves are being created, jacked up by the bar,
and you're back into flat water.
You think, "Look at this, I'm just so close to being in ideal conditions!"
And yet just 600 yards out to sea it's much, much rougher.
But had it not been for the heavy rain stopping Dave Williams from his game of golf,
he wouldn't have even been at the lifeboat station
to spot Kirk in such trouble and things could have turned out so differently.
It's really difficult to see people cos of the troughs of the waves.
If you've got a couple of metres of surf and you're below that, it's very difficult to be spotted.
So in conditions where there's nobody on the beach, you'd be very lucky if somebody did spot you.
And it's just fortunate on this day that there was somebody there who
spotted him in that position and was able to call it in.
He'd made absolutely the right call and got the boys in and got the boat out.
He knew before I did I was going to be in a tricky situation.
Kirk had a very close call.
He was checked over by his rescuers and given the all-clear.
But he'd lost his expensive windsurf equipment,
so he decided to hang around Aberdovey and wait for
the tide to change to see whether it brought back his precious rig.
I'd got my mountain bike in the back of the car. So, with a cup of tea...
I had got a little bit cold.
Just a little bit of shock.
I thought, "The mountain biking will warm me up, actually."
"Maybe even calm me down a little bit."
So Kirk headed off to a local mountain bike track to de-stress after his traumatic ordeal.
And then he got a piece of news he was hoping for, but it was even better than he expected.
As it turned out, there was a kite-surfing school at Aberdovey and it was the instructor there
that noticed the board being washed up on the beach three or four hours later with no sailor attached to it.
Perfectly intact, no damage at all.
It wasn't actually too far away from where I'd abandoned it.
Water sports like windsurfing do carry an element of risk,
especially when you're in the sea dealing with high winds and strong tides and currents.
But there are some basic things you can do to minimise the danger.
Local knowledge is so important.
If you don't know yourself, ask local people.
Go to the harbour master. Ask local coastguards.
Find out what's happening. Get some advice before you commit yourself.
Letting people know where you're going.
Possibly having somebody on the beach keeping observation on you.
I mean, it was just pure luck maybe that I saw the chap on that day.
There are high visibility flags you can actually have in your life jacket, or your buoyancy aid.
You can whip it out, wave it, type of thing.
The most usual thing that people would carry would be a smoke flare
possibly, and you can get quite small ones.
And so if you are in real trouble and you want to attract attention,
if you fire off a smoke flare, then, obviously, all the orange smoke gives a very good visual -
"I'm over here. I'm in trouble."
It's been over a year since Kirk almost lost his life in the Dovey
estuary and he's not dared venture back since.
He's slowly building up his nerve to windsurf on the estuary waters again.
It does knock your confidence a bit, so I'll need to recover that a little bit. I'll go down the lake
and practise those skills a little bit more.
And when I go back to Aberdovey, I'll make sure there's
an incoming tide and not an outgoing tide when I do it again!
The tide is a very powerful force and when it combines with
Britain's extreme weather, it can become even more lethal.
It just proves, you should never underestimate the powers of nature.
On 30th October, 2008, a freak hail and thunderstorm caused chaos when it hit Ottery St Mary in east Devon.
There was torrential rain. There's ice, sleet.
The front garden is just a pool of water.
The hailstones blocked drains and culverts, leaving the record amount of rainfall with nowhere to drain.
This resulted in catastrophic flash floods that engulfed the medieval town's roads and houses.
Pensioner Barry Fearn was one of the victims of the floods.
The ground floor of his three-storey house was inundated by water, leaving it uninhabitable.
So how did you set about getting the house back to order?
Well, fortunately, I didn't have to, cos the builders did that.
But I'm still not straight and I won't be straight for months.
And I've still got a lot of decisions to make about what I'm going to keep and what's going to go round to RIO.
That's Recycling In Ottery, which is a very good organisation here.
So that's basically it.
I'm up and running, but I've still got a lot to do.
Barry called in builders, who gutted and replaced his kitchen.
He also needed new carpets and furniture for the ground floor,
which was completely redecorated, all at a cost of £30,000,
that was covered by his insurance.
Whilst Barry hasn't suffered financially, many living on a flood plain are often hit
with having to pay higher insurance premiums because of the flood risk,
though, thankfully, payments are reduced if defences are in place.
It's incredible to think how much devastation the freak hailstorm wreaked on Ottery St Mary.
And as it takes specific weather conditions for hail to form, the town was particularly unlucky,
as forecaster and weather expert Ewen McCallum explains.
It was almost what we'd call a freak event.
We had incredible dynamics going on that would
lead to thunderstorms and we were forecasting thunderstorms that night.
Hailstones are effectively a frozen raindrop.
That's a bit simplistic, but it's, effectively, raindrops that get sucked up by the thunderstorm.
And they get recycled. They go round and round, so they get coated in ice.
They get coated in snow as well.
And, effectively, it's just layers of ice that build up.
But what actually happened was, the local topography, the local convergence
and the conditions were just right to give that absolutely really severe event.
And not just an extremely severe event, but right over the town of Ottery St Mary.
It was absolutely incredible.
The flash floods in Ottery St Mary were out of the ordinary, but there are precautions you can take
if you live in a flood-risk area, in case you get caught out.
Be prepared. One thing that always upsets me the most if I go round somebody's home that's flooded is,
you see irreplaceable things that have been lost -
photographs, wedding videos.
Know where they are and get them somewhere safe.
Of course, if you're on medicine or need medical treatment, make sure you've got your medicines with you.
And also, know where you're going to go if there's a flood. How are you going to get out?
And if you've got one, try to have a battery operated radio, so you can just tune into the radio.
Find out what's happening around you.
Because if a flood does happen, it could be at night, and you could lose the electricity.
So it's the old Boy Scout message -
simple measures, just be prepared.
And then if the worst does happen,
at least you know what you're going to do.
Not to be outdone by Britain's extreme weather,
Barry, who organises tea dances and charity events, rallied the people
of Ottery St Mary and arranged a lively knees-up
to triumph over the adversity that befell their town.
I decided to have a good party
when people got back into their houses.
And it just occurred to me that it would be nice to have it at a local hostelry,
which was the Tumbling Weir, which was flooded as well.
They had problems with flooding.
And I thought it would be good to do that.
And then it occurred to me to call it the Hailstone Hop.
# An ill wind blew over Ottery that day... #
'I had 108 people coming, which represents about two-thirds of the development here.'
# Welcome to the Hailstone Hop. #
So has anything good come out of the experience that you all went through?
Boy, that's a difficult one.
I think possibly, in hindsight, the good thing about it was that
we are a community and we have really got back together again.
A lot of people think it might happen again.
I think what we had was something quite extraordinary, most probably
-not to be repeated in another 200 years.
-So you're feeling pretty safe?
Oh, I feel totally safe, absolutely.
It's only a matter of time until Britain's freak weather strikes again
and, as you've seen, it can be terrifying, but you can survive it.
Join us next time for more amazing stories on Living Dangerously.
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