Environmental Laboratory

Will the UK Floods Return in 2017?

Aug 04 2017 Comments 0

There is a high risk that the excessive rainfall which plagued the UK in the winter of 2013/14, and then again in 2015/16, could return in the coming winters. According to a new study conducted by the UK Met Office, there’s a 7% chance that rainfall records could be broken in the south east of England.

Even more concerning, there’s also a one-in-three chance that records could be broken in at least one region across England and Wales every year for the next decade, and that they could be surpassed by as much as 30%.

The UNSEEN approach

The Met Office reached its findings through a sophisticated analysis of complex environmental matrices. Specifically, the team collated data from the years 1981 to 2015 and ran it through their resident supercomputer hundreds of times. From these simulations, they were able to note that several regions of the UK showed a higher incidence of similar rainfall as experienced in years of flooding.

The approach has been nicknamed UNSEEN research, since it estimates the likelihood of events that have not yet come to pass. It was used before when the Met Office was asked to compile a National Flood Resilience Review (NFRR) in order to test the effectiveness of UK flood defences. However, critics have claimed that the NFRR did not go far enough, since it neglected to take surface flooding into account when calculating its research.

“It should be an urgent priority for the Environment Secretary to re-open the National Flood Resilience Review with the aim of improving the UK's preparedness against surface water flooding caused by heavy rainfall, the risks of which are clearly spelled out in this paper,” stressed Bob Ward, a researcher at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change.

Climate change the culprit?

The research showed that there was a 34% chance of records being broken in the coming years in at least one region of the UK, leading to fears that we could experience similar flooding as in recent winters. What’s more, it’s thought that those records could be broken by as much as 30%.

“That is an enormous number, to have a monthly value that's 30% larger, it's a bit like what we had in 2014, and as much again,” said Professor Adam Scaife from the Met Office. “We are not attributing this directly to climate change, what we are saying is that if you take in everything that's in the climate system today then that is the risk. Climate change is already happening and we've already got some and that is folded in here.”

Regardless of whether climate change is to blame, it’s to be hoped that we have learned from the recent extreme flooding of years gone by and have improved our defences to such a standard that will withstand the rainfall, records or not.

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