Flooding 2014: Is This Now the Norm?

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Somerset Floods – Flickr: Levon Dymond

Heavy rain forecasts mean that communities already flood-hit in the south and Wales will see little respite from the bad weather. After dealing with more than four weeks of flooding these winter floods have been the worst in Britain in over 20 years.

The storms, which started in October last year with St Jude’s Storm, forced many from their homes, and have so far made the 2013-2014  winter the wettest one on record. With over 5,000 homes and businesses flooded and many rivers in southern England reaching high record levels many our questioning why protocols weren’t put into place to avoid such devastation on a mass scale in the first place.

At the end of October last year St Jude made its presence known by causing chaos and taking the lives of five people after the storm hit Britain, which eventually saw 625,000 homes losing power and rail and flight cancellations. At the height of the storm wind speeds were recorded to have reached 99 mph at Needles Old Battery in the Isle of Wight.

Despite a slight lull in the weather, it wasn’t long after the storm of St Jude before a series of storms went on to batter the country, which started on 5th-6th December, 2013. These storms brought with them more disruption as strong winds and rain brought down power lines, triggered landslides and flooded more homes. Hopes of a dry Christmas and New Year for thousands of homeowners were dashed as more torrential rain continued to fill the already swollen riverbanks and fields as water levels in flooded homes continued to rise.

By the 31st December, 2013, the rainfall since St Jude’s Storm had reached 243.43 mm, according to Met Office figures, with no respite in the amount of rainfall over the next few months. December turned out to be the stormiest in the United Kingdom since 1969 with wind speeds measuring 142 mph in Aonach Mor in the Scottish Highlands. December was also the sixth wettest with rainfall in the UK reaching 184.7 mm, high above the monthly average for December of 120.0 mm, while Scotland saw its wettest December on record with an average rainfall of 296.1 mm, beating the previous high set in 1986 of 268.5 mm. Its average is around 163.5 mm.

But is this type of weather pattern something that we have to deal with every winter, and if so at what cost will it be to homeowners and businesses who have to fork out thousands of pounds to get things fixed again due to high insurance rates?

The Somerset Levels and the destroyed Dawlish railway line soon became iconic images of the winter storms and floods with residents soon becoming angry that the Environment Agency had not done enough to prevent the rivers from flooding in the first place. With a ‘major incident’ being declared in late January by Somerset County and Sedgemoor District councils extra support was asked for including that of the armed forces to help those who had been cut off. It wasn’t long before Environment Secretary Owen Paterson was confronted by angry residents over the EA’s lack of river dredging, which many believe could have avoided the worst of the problems if action had taken place to begin with.

Up and down the country homeowners and businesses have seen their fair share of flooding woes, which for many started at the end of October and continued right through Christmas and New Year into the early part of 2014. Whether this is something that residents in affected areas are going to have to deal with is something the needs to be seen. However, if dredging the rivers is the solution to keeping the rivers clear of debris and overgrown weeds to keep water levels low, surely that is a positive step that the EA need to put back into practice.

Despite all the rain, though, we’ll probably find ourselves faced with a hose pipe ban during the summer months.

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