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A Look Back At The Winter Floods

November 30, 2014

By Paul Homewood



When we look back on the UK’s weather in 2014, the one thing that will stand out is the wet winter, which led to widespread flooding. However, it is important that we get this into perspective, disastrous as the floods might have been at an individual level.


The Dept for Communities and Local Govt, DCLG, issued a report a couple of weeks ago, on the flooding, which stated :


Across the period from December 2013 to March 2014, 8,342 households were inundated and 4,859 businesses were impacted by flooding with a further 7,000 properties that either lost access to essential services or were cut off by flood water.



This, thankfully, is a remarkably small number, though, as I say, this is little consolation to those affected. Some of these properties were on the Somerset Levels, where at least part of the problem lay with lack of dredging. Many others were built on flood plains.



It is instructive comparing these numbers with the Great Floods of 1968, which Philip Eden has described as the most severe inland flood to hit the Home Counties in the last 100 years. In the town of Esher alone, “roughly eight thousand houses, roughly one-third of the urban district’s housing stock, had water damage, and a further four thousand properties were similarly affected in the adjacent towns of Walton and Weybridge, Chertsey and Addlestone, and Woking.”


Much of the credit for the small number affected this year must lie with the flood defences erected since those days.

What really made last winter so unusual was the sheer length of the floods, which began in late December and dragged on into February. The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, who co-wrote the report on the floods with the Met Office found:


1) Estimated outflows (total river flows) from Great Britain remained close to the highest ever recorded during late December and, subsequently, throughout most of January across large parts of England and Wales.

2) The floodplain inundations have caused major disruption to transport, agriculture and restricted sporting and recreational activities, and resulted in severe difficulties for some low-lying hamlets (most notably in the Somerset Levels). However, given the overall volume of runoff, the amount of property flooding at the national scale to date, has been relatively modest; a tribute to the general effectiveness of flood defences.

3) A preliminary analysis suggest that outflows (total river flows) for the River Thames at Kingston aggregated over six weeks were the greatest since the 1947 floods. The 1947 event was the most extensive in England & Wales during the 20th century.

4) Generally, however, the peak flows registered during the recent flooding were not extreme. On the River Thames the highest flow in 2014 (up to end January 2014) has been exceeded during 14 earlier floods (most prior to 1950).


The final statement is significant in finding that most comparable floods were pre 1950. It is well known that the 1960’s marked the beginning of an unusually dry period in the UK, which fooled planners into believing it was safe to build on well known flood plains. I might also add that, though it is in the body of the Met Office report, this statement appears nowhere in the Summary.


Certainly there was disruption, but I suspect, much less than seen in some of the cold, snowy winters commonly seen in Britain.

Though we can hope that we do not see a repeat anytime soon, what we must accept is that events such as these have happened in the past and will happen again.

  1. John F. Hultquist permalink
    November 30, 2014 5:26 pm

    Thanks Paul.
    This time being about a flood, but let’s make this quote general:
    “. . . (weather) events such as these have happened in the past and will happen again.”

    In what seems like a different lifetime, I asked a building planner for the University of Iowa (Iowa City) why the University was building another important building in the flood plain of the Iowa River. The response was something about ‘some folks say it is an issue but from an engineering viewpoint it is just a challenge that can be overcome. Not a big deal.’
    Yeah, right!
    On Sunday, June 15, 2008 the River crested and 20 major buildings were affected, and the one I had asked about was one of the most impacted.

  2. November 30, 2014 7:39 pm

    It is the thoroughness of your posts that make this blog stand out for me. I thank you for the effort you put in and commend this blog to everyone. Congratulations on achieving well over a million hits.

  3. Tony Price permalink
    December 1, 2014 12:36 am

    Makes one wonder which part of “flood plain” developers and house purchasers don’t understand…….

    George Monbiot (“Moonbat”) thinks that “Dredging rivers won’t stop floods. It will make them worse”

    Perhaps letting them silt up completely will improve the situation? Notice the “black and white” argument put forward (supported by Moonbat) that
    “The river channel is not large enough to contain extreme floods, even after dredging. Dredging of river channels does not prevent flooding during extreme river flows”.

    No, but dredging increases drainage and reduces the extent and depth of flooding, or is my simple mind just not capable of understanding these complex issues? Does motorway widening not increase traffic flow, even during peak periods?

    On the other hand, if we all had plastic water butts, we could have stored a lot of that rainwater, thus reducing river flows, reducing flooding, reducing evaporation, reducing the greenhouse effect and saving the planet, all in one! It’s a staggeringly simple and beautiful method of geoengineering!

    Hang on though, most plastic is made in China, whose factories (most irresponsibly) consume vast amounts of fossil-fuel generated watts, thus increasing the amount of poisonous CO2 emitted into the atmosphere…. Drat and double drat!

    (Thinks…) If the water butts were made of WOOD…..

    • Dave Ward permalink
      December 1, 2014 12:01 pm

      On the other hand, if we all had plastic water butts, we could have stored a lot of that rainwater”

      I have four, arranged in two pairs, connected to the shed and greenhouse roofs respectively. A week or so back I used most of the combined contents to pressure wash all the paths, patio & driveway. Then I cleaned out all the accumulated sludge remaining at the bottom of the butts. By fortunate co-incidence, we had 31.4mm of rain over the following 24 hours, and all were more than half filled by that one event alone! I don’t know whether it will have any effect on flooding, or save the planet, but it DID save some 400 litres of expensive (metered) tap water…

      • Tony Price permalink
        December 1, 2014 1:10 pm

        The old ways are the best……

        “Then I cleaned out all the accumulated sludge remaining at the bottom of the butts”

        I hope you disposed of it responsibly? Did you (and other readers) realise that our Environment Agency classifies dredged-up river and drainage sludge as “low-level waste”?

        Rain-water causes earth and silt from river banks and fields to end up in the river. If the silt/sludge is dredged up, it can’t be dumped back on the bank/field from whence it came without first obtaining an expensive (and slow to arrive) licence.

  4. Bloke down the pub permalink
    December 1, 2014 11:16 am

    ‘Though we can hope that we do not see a repeat anytime soon, what we must accept is that events such as these have happened in the past and will happen again.’

    It is an human trait going back to biblical times that people think that everything is worse now than it used to be, and that it’s probably our fault. Most realistic response is that sh*t happens.

    • Tony Price permalink
      December 1, 2014 1:15 pm

      Shirley you realise that sh*t is classified as “high-level waste”? Happily you don’t (as yet) need a licence to put it back whence it came, and I have a provisional mental list of law-makers and others I’d love to see experience that process.

      • Dave Ward permalink
        December 1, 2014 3:01 pm

        “From whence it came”

        Since the “sludge” is all decayed leaves which fell from the sky, I’m not sure where I might be allowed to deposit it?

        The fact the most of those leaves came from trees in our garden, is neither here nor there…

        Actually, you raise an interesting point – if one invests in a proper rainwater harvesting tank and filtration system, what has to be done with the muck which said filter collects? It’s going to be mostly the same as I find in our butts, along with moss / lichens growing on the roof tiles, bird droppings, and the gradual breaking down of the tiles themselves.

  5. BBC Jizzweasel permalink
    December 1, 2014 10:26 pm

    Don’t you Deniers get it? These floods were consistent with climate change.
    The Met Orifice said so.
    The science is settled.

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