Scientists Warn Of Warmer Winters, More Flooding In UK
Hydrologist Hannah Cloke, has a straightforward description of the inundation that has just struck Britain. “Our decorations may have come down but the flood warning map is currently lit up like a Christmas tree.”
And the immediate cause of this mayhem is clear. A sequence of storms this autumn and winter, Babet, Ciarán, Debi, Elin, Fergus and Gerrit, have turned Britain into “a sopping wet sponge”, as the Reading University researcher put it.
Then came Storm Henk last week. Its intense rainfall had nowhere to go except to pour into our rivers, which burst their banks spectacularly across the country.
More than 1,000 homes in England were flooded and some villages totally cut off, with Nottinghamshire, Shropshire, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire worst affected.
This interpretation is supported by figures from the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, which last week revealed that the period between July and December in 2023 was the wettest on record for the UK. As to the reason, there is a simple explanation.
“Climate change is warming the atmosphere,” said Linda Speight of Oxford University.
“A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture so that when it rains, the rainfall is heavier and more likely to lead to flooding. In particular, we know that climate change is leading to warmer and wetter winters in the UK. We will unfortunately experience more winters like this one in the future.”
Apart from triggering increases in our atmosphere’s moisture content, other human-induced effects are contributing to increases in flooding, said Christian Dunn of Bangor University.
“Nature provided us with an answer to flooding – wetlands. Marshes, bogs and fens act like giant sponges, soaking up vast amounts of rainwater during wetter months and releasing it during drier periods.”
However, Britain has dug up its peatland, drained its marshes and built on its flood plains. As a result, the nation has lost much of its natural protection from the effects of flooding.
“We need to manage and conserve our country’s existing wetlands and we need to create more of them,” added Dunn.
As to the future, meteorologists say there is more – much more – to come. “Continued human-induced climate warming in future is likely to result in further increases in peak river flows, which will cause more severe flooding and impacts on people, property and public services,” said Steve Turner of the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
This point was backed by Kevin Collins of the Open University. “When it comes to planning our infrastructure, we need to do less of what we’ve always done,” he said.
“We now need to be thinking about the systemic risks to our communities and economy and act to build resilience to these kinds of floods by accepting and adapting with the new normal of climate change.”
Trevor Hoey, professor of river science at Brunel University London, added: “There are parallels here with the national response to Covid-19. It is to be hoped the government is listening carefully to what the inquiry is revealing about risk preparedness.”