It’s Boxing Day – I’ve had a lovely relaxing day doing my own thing. It is quite a contrast to what I have been following on my digital media streams regarding the floods in Lancashire, Yorkshire and North Wales. To be honest I feel pretty awful – I’m having fun, whilst others are having a torrid time and are suffering emotionally and financially. I am several hundred miles away from the unfolding events and am powerless to help.
On Christmas Eve I was speculating over a beer with my friends that Cumbria was going to be flooded for the 4th time this month – but Cumbria (at least it has been as I am writing this late boxing Day eve) has been lucky – the forecast deluge has hit further south and affected Yorkshire, Lancashire and North Wales instead.
It is very unusual to see red, amber and yellow rain warnings all on the same map
This has been a very unusual storm event – records have been broken in an exceptional fashion.
This is the Environment Agency gauging data for the River Aire in Bingley – the previous highest recorded river levels have been exceeded by 100% – this is unprecedented
And here is a tweet from Guy Shrubsole – the climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth – every river in Lancashire has broken its previous highest level!
In 2015 the Met Office started naming storms in a similar way that the United States names hurricanes – this storm however was nameless – Storm Eva went through the UK on Christmas Eve and Storm Frank has yet to arrive – somehow odd?
The scale of this storm can be seen in this Environment Agency graphic – the North and North Wales is covered in amber and red river warnings – see here for the current situation.
One of the worst places hit by flooding today was Hebden Bridge – I pick out this town simply because I have been there recently when I was visiting Gibson Mill and Hardcastle Crags with work colleagues. We all stayed in the town and it was a lovely place. Hebden Bridge was seriously flooded in 2012 and now it has happened again. These Twitter posts from Boxing Day set the context.
I can’t imagine this – I’ve never suffered from flooding
I’ve walking down these streets and been in these shops
These floods in Yorkshire, Lancashire and North Wales (and previously in Cumbria) are the result of unprecedented weather events but is there more we could be doing as a society other than calling for better flood defences and increased budgets?
I have written and tweeted extensively recently about land use and flooding (see here and here for example for issues around maize and here about Storm Desmond and land use). The issue of adjacent land use is also not unfamiliar to the residents of Hebden Bridge. Close by is an intensively managed grouse moor which some residents blame for their 2012 flooding problems – see here, here and here. They claim that the burning of the heather moorland makes the land less able to absorb heavy rain which then runs down the hillsides into the River Calder and then into Hebden Bridge.
The importance of the way that upstream catchments are managed is becoming more understood even in political circles.
This is potentially very good news unless the policy morphs in a new plan to cover the Uplands with conifers or ends up destroying some of our finest historical landscapes with trees – see the end of this blog for example.
Aside for the actualities and the politics, what about the science? Why is this weather happening? Two phenomena seem to be at play – climate change and the El Nino in the Pacific.
The modelling around climate change suggest winters here will be milder, wetter and we will see more extreme weather.
The Met Office in October said this about the El Nino effect and the UK – see here
”Most of the global drivers discussed above tend to increase the chances of westerly weather patterns during our November to January outlook period. Our numerical prediction model, being sensitive to these drivers, also predicts a higher-than-normal chance of westerly conditions. This results in an outlook for an increased chance of milder- and wetter-than-usual conditions, and a decreased chance of colder and drier conditions, for the UK. Our outlook also indicates an increase in the risk of windy or even stormy weather.”
Interesting the Met Office predictions goes on to say “Finally, there are hints that the outlook might be rather different in the late winter (Jan-Mar), with an increased risk of cold weather developing.” The last El Nino event in Britain coincided with the huge post Christmas snow falls in 2010. If I was a betting man which I am not ……
Milder, Wetter stormier and then much colder and drier in 2016