MODERN forecasting technology would have seen the Great Storm of 1987 coming but is unlikely to have got Michael Fish completely off the hook, a study has shown.

The BBC weatherman became famous after telling viewers not to worry just hours before the savage, once-in-a-century storm hit Sussex and the rest of southern England.

It caused damage estimated at £2 billion and claimed 18 lives, plus another four in France.

Revisiting the event, a Met Office supercomputer capable of performing 14,000 trillion calculations per second, showed the powerful weather system – technically a cyclone, not a hurricane – approaching days ahead.

However, scientists admitted the storm would have been difficult to track even with the help of multiple computer simulations and billions of satellite images.

According to the supercomputer models, there would have been indications of the weather system changing course and heading south towards France a day before it struck the UK.

Mr Fish might have been saved from serious embarrassment but would probably not have got everything right.

Met Office meteorologist and TV weather presenter Alex Deakin said he thought the looming storm would have merited an amber – not a red – hazard warning using the colour-coded system introduced in 2007.

Speaking ahead of the 30th anniversary of the storm that blasted in from the Bay of Biscay on the night of Thursday, October 15, he said: “On the Sunday there’s every chance there would have been a yellow warning at that stage.

“Leading up to it (the storm) on the Monday and Tuesday, we probably would have named the storm.

“Then, on the Wednesday ... you’d have been talking about, well actually, it looks like it’s shifting further south.

“Stay tuned to the forecast, keep up to date.

“There’s still a risk of it, it’s just that that risk has reduced, because it now looks as if it is going more towards France.

“That’s the kind of thing that would have happened. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing.”

The National Severe Weather Warning service was set up by the Met Office in 1988.

From 2011 it switched from a threshold-based system – delivering warnings when wind or rain of sufficient intensity was predicted – to one based on impact that takes account of timing and environmental conditions.

A typical smartphone today has at least five times more processing power than the Met Office computer did three decades ago, showing how far technology has come.

l See The Argus tomorrow for an eight page special about the Great Storm and its impact on Sussex.