Storm Ciarán

Storm Ciarán arrived in Cornwall last night, rattling windows and howling away like a proverbial banshee as the isobars flexed their way across the far southwest of the UK.

A massive wave breaks against a granite cliff. A house is perched precariously on the edge of the cliff
Storm Ciarán attacking a remote coastal outpost

by Mike Newman

A bad night's sleep, a cold wintry dawn and storm winds driving salt laden sea spray deep inside the delicate workings of my camera. What's not to like?

Huge wave the size of house
Massive waves during Storm Ciarán

Storm Ciarán arrived in Cornwall last night, rattling windows and howling away like a proverbial banshee as the isobars flexed their way across the far south west of the UK. The din kept me awake overnight, but by the morning the sabre rattling storm had run out of its overnight puff, leaving a less noisy, though chillier, 30mph breeze in its wake.

Porthleven in Cornwall, UK. Can you see the woman with her dog?

This chilly wake, however, breezed gently over a Cornwall wide trail of destruction, with roof tiles and gutters ripped off in St Ives, wheelie bins strewn hither & thither in Truro and multiple trees blown down across the Duchy. And indeed across the whole south west, up as far as London and especially in the Channel Islands.

Consequently the straight road to Porthleven on the south coast became more of a slalom course around all the fallen trees. The wild overnight wind had hit 90mph and whipped up waves to a recorded ten metres (33ft) in the darkness. As a surfer I love waves so when I pulled up at the pier, I was pleased to find that the sea was still full of massive, rugged (and entirely unsurfable) beauties which were pummelling the tiny port in the grey dawn light.

A heavy storm wave breaks on a Cornish shore
Massive storm waves hit the coast
A brown and white mottled sand filled wave crashes into a beach
Huge caverns were created in the moving water

This thick-lipped, heavy beast of a wave (above) lurched across the bay, making its presence known with a deep and heavy rumble as it broke. Find the seagull in the top right of the picture for some sense of scale. There were some surfers hanging around looking at the maelstrom, and pointing a lot, but no takers for the giant surf which was at least three or four times overhead.

Wild waves hit a sea wall defence and spray upwards
Storm chasers watch the tempest from above

It was still early but keen storm chasers already lined the the better viewpoints, timing runs between safe points as waves broke over the sea wall and rattled the thick wooden baulks that protect the fishing boats in the harbour. At the foot of the pier an ominous sign reads 'Extreme Danger'. And below that 'Danger of Death in Breaking Seas'. A cautionary sign put up after two police officers drowned when their car was swept off the pier in a storm.

Huge white water wave hits the shore
Huge shore break white water from Storm Ciarán

Similar weather is on the way for this part of the world too, as storm season kicks off with a big blast from Storm Ciarán. 'Stay high & dry by the sea and leave your hatches battened at home' were the wise words being broadcast by the local radio stations in the highly unpredictable sea conditions. My advice is to check out the webcams for a good idea of what conditions are like before you go. They're also great to just watch a storm happening, from the comfort of your home if you can't make it to the beach.

A man takes a picture of a massive breaking wave
Grey dawn light and driving rain. Perfect for photography

As I photographed the roaring tempest, I slowly realised that most of the early morning storm watchers had a camera, and it suddenly seemed like every single photographer in Cornwall had also decided to visit the same harbour at the crack of sparrows. And a lot of them were friends.

Which meant that while giant, extra heavy duty waves exploded over the sea defences in a dangerous (yet beautiful) fashion, the talk was not about the apocalyptic scenes happening before our very eyes, or even about our chances of survival as we dodged the flying spray and beach detritus, but all about shutter speeds, lenses and the latest mirrorless cameras.

Which, as has been said before, was nice.

Author info: Mike Newman is a working commercial photographer based in Cornwall in the far south west of the UK. As a lifelong surfer he has a passion for waves and the marine environment. So far he has published three coffee table photo books on waves and Cornwall, with book four currently simmering on the back burner.

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