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“We have forgotten just how normal flooding in the UK is”

February 25, 2014

By Paul Homewood


With much attention on recent floods, it is worth reposting my report on a study by Professor Stuart Lane of Durham University in 2008.


The study found that the period from the 1960’s to 1990’s had been an unusually dry one, thus leading planners to underestimate the risk of flooding.

This is the News Release from Durham University:


Last summer was the second wettest on record and experts who have studied rainfall and river flow patterns over 250 years say we must prepare for worse to come. Professor Stuart Lane, from Durham University’s new Institute of Hazard and Risk, says that after about 30 to 40 less eventful years, we seem to be entering a ‘flood-rich’ period. More flooding is likely over a number of decades.

Prof. Lane, who publishes his research in the current edition of the academic journal Geography, set out to examine the wet summer of 2007 in the light of climate change. His work shows that some of the links made between the summer 2007 floods and climate change were wrong. Our current predictions of climate change for summer should result in weather patterns that were the exact opposite of what actually happened in 2007. The British summer is a product of the UK’s weather conveyor belt and the progress of the Circumpolar Vortex or ‘jet stream’. This determines whether we have high or low pressure systems over the UK. Usually the jet stream weakens and moves northwards during spring and into summer. This move signals the change from our winter-spring cyclonic weather to more stable weather during the summer. High pressure systems extend from the south allowing warm air to give us our British summer.

In 2007, the jet stream stayed well south of its normal position for June and July, causing low pressure systems to track over the UK, becoming slow moving as they did so. This has happened in summer before, but not to the same degree. Prof. Lane shows that the British summer can often be very wet – about ten per cent of summers are wetter than a normal winter. What we don’t know is whether climate change will make this happen more in the future.

However, in looking at longer rainfall and river flow records, Prof. Lane shows that we have forgotten just how normal flooding in the UK is. He looked at seasonal rainfall and river flow patterns dating back to 1753 which suggest fluctuations between very wet and very dry periods, each lasting for a few years at a time, but also very long periods of a few decades that can be particularly wet or particularly dry. In terms of river flooding, the period since the early 1960s and until the late 1990s appears to be relatively flood free, especially when compared with some periods in the late 19th century and early 20th Century.

As a result of analysing rainfall and river flow patterns, Prof. Lane believes that the UK is entering a flood rich period that we haven’t seen for a number of decades. He said: “We entered a generally flood-poor period in the 1960s, earlier in some parts of the country, later in others. This does not mean there was no flooding, just that there was much less than before the 1960s and what we are seeing now. This has lowered our own awareness of flood risk in the UK. This has made it easier to go on building on floodplains. It has also helped us to believe that we can manage flooding without too much cost, simply because there was not that much flooding to manage.” He added: “We have also not been good at recognising just how flood-prone we can be. More than three-quarters of our flood records start in the flood-poor period that begins in the 1960s. This matters because we set our flood protection in terms of return periods – the average number of years between floods of a given size. We have probably under-estimated the frequency of flooding, which is now happening, as it did before the 1960s, much more often that we are used to. “The problem is that many of our decisions over what development to allow and what defences to build rely upon a good estimate of these return periods.

The government estimates that 2.1 million properties and 5 million people are at risk of flooding. In his review of the summer floods Sir Michael Pitt was wise to say that flooding should be given the same priority as terrorism.” Professor Lane concluded: “We are now having to learn to live with levels of flooding that are beyond most people’s living memory, something that most of us have forgotten how to do.”

Flooding is one of the issues covered by the Institute of Hazard and Risk Research at Durham University where Prof. Lane is a resident expert. The IHRR, which launches this week, is a new and unique interdisciplinary research institute committed to delivering fundamental research on hazards and risks and to harness this knowledge to inform global policy. It aims to improve human responses to both age-old hazards such as volcanoes, earthquakes, landslides and floods as well as the new and uncertain risks of climate change, surveillance, terror and emerging technologies. Prof. Lane’s research is funded by the Willis Research Network, an innovative collaboration between universities worldwide and the insurance industry, and The UK Research Councils’ Rural Economy and Land Use Programme.




As he says “we have forgotten just how normal flooding in the UK is”.

  1. A C Osborn permalink
    February 25, 2014 6:48 pm

    It is one of the biggest moder day problems that the younger generations have no memory of how things used to be, at age 67 I remember Hot summers and Cold Winters, flooding and summers where the sun was hidden for weeks on end by cloud, but it didn’t rain.
    It means they swallow all the Warmist’s lies, propaganda and obfuscation and become completely brainwashed.
    In a similar fashion they have no idea that their Grand Parents or Great Grand Parents were far more Eco minded than most people today, they had to be.
    They don’t realise that in those days there was very little plastic and even less “wrapping”, drinks came in returnable bottles and most things in white or brown paper bags. Their were very few electrical products that the working man could afford and very few could afford cars either.

    • February 25, 2014 8:40 pm

      We used to take pop bottles back to the shop for a penny, I think.

      It was not called recycling. It was called pocket money!

    • Joe Public permalink
      February 25, 2014 9:58 pm

      Those were the days when socks & jumpers were darned. The bedroom had a coal fire, and beds were heated with a ‘stone’ hot water bottle. Few had a TV – but then at 405-lines and black & white, it was hardly exciting watching BBC. (Before ITV doubled the available channels!)

      Kids walked two miles to junior school, and small towns had a swimming baths that was open-air, and bloody freezing during swimming lessons in May.

  2. February 25, 2014 8:28 pm

    Thanks Paul. About the most sensible interpretation I have heard. In times of famine, prepare for feast and vice versa. The new high priests thought we had advanced beyond boom and bust in economics too…until that bit them in the *** too. Too often we discard the lessons of the past and the repeating cycles that we passed down (had a few late uncles drill that into me, although in my warmish days quickly forgotten to my eternal chagrin).

  3. February 26, 2014 9:20 am

    Reblogged this on CraigM350.


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