The latest U.K. Climate Projections 2009 (UKCP09)1 indicate that rising sea levels and increasingly severe and frequent rainstorms mean the risk of flooding will increase for people, communities, and key infrastructure such as roads, railways, power substations, and water treatment plants.
This article focusses on some of the more extreme weather events, particularly flood events since these have posed perhaps the most significant challenges for U.K. infrastructure in recent years, and the initial steps being taken to adapt to these challenges.
The U.K. is not alone in this experience of extreme weather, a U.K. Government Office for Science report, “Measuring the Human and Economic Impact of Disasters”, gives a global perspective on natural disaster trends over the last century and notes that between 1961-1970, one in 138 people worldwide were affected by natural hazards compared to one in 28 in the decade 2001-2010, and the economic costs associated with these natural disasters increased more than eightfold.
Stormy Weather in the U.K.
The U.K. has certainly experienced some unusual weather events in the last decade or so as detailed by the U.K. Met Office and as highlighted by year in Figure 1.
Some of the more significant flood events are briefly summarised below and the locations are indicated on the map in Figure 2:
- Autumn 2000 - the wettest since records began in 1776, with 489 millimetres (mm) of rain. Flooding in York, Shrewsbury, Lewes, Uckfield, and Maidstone affected more than 10,000 households and caused damage in excess of 1 billion GBP.
- Summer 2007 - the wettest summer on record. Yorkshire suffered many road and rail closures, power cuts, and evacuations, with Sheffield severely hit. Other areas heavily affected include Hull, Gloucestershire, and Worcestershire. Around 48,000 households and 7,300 businesses were flooded and the damage caused was in excess of 3 billion GBP. Damage to critical infrastructure was estimated at over 650 million GBP.
- November 2009 - the heaviest rainfall ever in the U.K., 316.4mm in 24 hours. Flooding was concentrated in Cumbria including Cockermouth, Keswick, Workington, Kendal, and Ulverston. Four people were killed as a direct result of the flooding.
- December 2013 - the stormiest since 1969. On 5 December, Scotland’s rail network shutdown and 100,000 homes were without electricity. On the 6th of December, the east coast of England experienced the highest tidal surge in 60 years.
- January 2014 - England’s wettest January since records began in 1776. Southern England had 175mm of rain from 1-28 January. Flooding was severe in the Somerset Levels, the Thames Valley, Worcestershire, and Herefordshire. Over 5,800 properties flooded and the damage caused was in excess of 0.5 billion GBP.