UK Has Second-Wettest Year On Record
January 4, 2013

UK Has Second-Wettest Year On Record, Causing Nation-Wide Flooding

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

According to data released by England´s meteorological agency the Met Office, 2012 was the second wettest year on record for the U.K., with total rainfall at 52.4 inches — just 2.5 inches short of the all-time record set in 2000.

Most areas were affected by extreme weather, the BBC reports, and thousands of homes were flooded while farmers struggled to grow crops in the saturated soil.

The disturbing part of this record is that analysis of past data reveals that the frequency of extreme rainfall in the U.K. may be on the rise. The BBC´s environment analyst Roger Harrabin says statistics indicate that days of particularly heavy rainfall have become more common since 1960.

Data for the study was based on statistics from the U.K.'s official climate record at the National Climate Information Centre. Though this is the second wettest year on record for the country as a whole, the distribution of that rainfall within the country has not been entirely equal. For England, this was the wettest year on record, the third wettest for Wales, 17th for Scotland and 40th wettest for Northern Ireland. And December alone was the eighth wettest month on record for the entire U.K.

The records date back to 1910 and show that four of the top five wettest years have occurred since 2000. Britain's average rainfall has steadily increased over the last two decades, with the 30-year average rising from 43.3 inches (1961—1990) to 45.4 inches (1981—2010).

"The trend towards more extreme rainfall events is one we are seeing around the world, in countries such as India and China, and now potentially here in the U.K.," said Met Office chief scientist Julia Slingo.

"Much more research is needed to understand more about the causes and potential implications,” she told the Daily Mail. "What this data is telling us is that the nature of our rainfall is changing and what we are seeing is more intense rain, more regularly.”

"It's essential we look at how this may impact our rainfall patterns going forward over the next decade and beyond, so we can advise on the frequency of extreme weather in the future and the potential for more surface and river flooding. This will help inform decision-making about the need for future resilience both here in the U.K. and globally."

Slingo also pointed out that while the actual increase in total rainfall is relatively modest, those downpours seem to be occurring in more “intense bursts,” which elevates the risk of flooding.

“What this means is that when it raining there is more potential for more flash floods and surface water floods, like the ones we have seen this year. This means we have to look at the strength of our flood defenses and also our drainage systems, including the use of more permeable surfaces.”

Extreme rainfall is classified as the sort of heavy downpour that only occurs every 100 days or so on average. The latest figures, however, show that such storms are now occurring about once every 70 days.

Thousands of homes and businesses were affected by flooding in many areas of the U.K. in 2012. Most recently, a number of railway lines in South-West England had to be closed down over the entire holiday season due to flooding.

The British Environment Agency reports that it sent warnings to more than 200,000 households and businesses, and that almost 8,000 properties were badly affected throughout England and Wales. They also reported that more than 200,000 at-risk properties were protected by flood defenses.

National Farmers Union (NFU) president Peter Kendall explained that the rural economy was the hardest hit by the bad weather, with British farms being hit for an estimated $2 billion in weather-related losses in 2012. And the problem is ongoing Kendall explained.

"As we enter 2013, many farmers are in areas under water or facing a double-whammy of huge feed bills for their livestock."

Weather-related claims from farmers are expected to exceed $175 million, according to NFU Mutual. However, the NFU says that if the cost of reduced yields and failed harvests were included, then the final bill would be much higher.

Country Land and Business Association president Harry Cotterell said, "Farmers have lost valuable crops to the freak weather, which has had a knock-on impact for consumers as prices rise and produce becomes scarce and of poor quality."

The irony of the year ending in such a soggy manner is that at the beginning of 2012 politicians, farmers and water industry officials held a "water summit" to look at concerns of under supply because areas in southern and South-East England were struggling with low groundwater levels. This concern prompted many water companies to impose hosepipe bans.

The vast difference from beginning to end of 2012 led Institution of Civil Engineers Water Panel chairman Michael Norton to say that now was an ideal time to look at how the UK manages its water resources, in times of drought as well as during flooding events.

"The management of drought and flooding are interdependent and require a coherent strategy," he explained.

"Without a strategy, we will continue to swing from flooding to drought, and climate change will only exacerbate the situation. There are many measures that can help us manage water more effectively from multipurpose reservoirs, storage ponds for agriculture, sustainable urban drainage systems, and household rainwater harvesting. But this requires a strategy bringing in all of the key players involved in water resource management and usage."

"Developing new storage facilities across the country to harvest more rainfall must form part of this strategy — rainfall is becoming more varied in terms of time and place and we can no longer rely on large reservoirs in only a few locations."

Norton has implored the government to establish a "U.K. Water Security Task Force" to create a leadership ready and able to deliver long-term water security.

According to the Met Office, the culprit for the extreme weather change is rising temperatures, as every 0.7 degrees the global temperature rises, clouds are able to hold four percent more moisture.

And this aspect of climate change is clearly already affecting the U.K. says Friends of the Earth head of policy Mike Childs.

“Four of the five wettest years in the U.K. have occurred since 2000, and experts including the Met Office expect extreme weather events such as intense rainfall to become more common as global warming takes hold.”

“There is still time to tackle climate change,” Childs concluded. “We must end our dependency on dirty fossil fuels and reap the benefits of energy efficiency and developing clean power from the wind, waves and sun.”