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South Yorkshire Floods Revisited

February 24, 2020

By Paul Homewood


With all the data in for last year, I thought I would revisit the South Yorkshire floods in November.

The trigger for the floods was exceptionally heavy rainfall on 7th November. Excluding upland sites, the heaviest rainfall that day was in Sheffield, which recorded 63.8mm. However that total was much less than the Sheffield daily record rainfall of 119.2mm in 1973 .

Largely as a consequence, November rainfall for Sheffield was much higher than average at 200mm. However monthly totals of this level are by no means unprecedented in Sheffield:



In fact, the root cause of the flooding was that the ground was already saturated following above average rainfall in September and October. Autumn rainfall was more than 170% of average across a region consisting of S Yorks, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire. By contrast most of the rest of the country had rainfall close to average.



The area affected lies within the Central Region, as defined in the Met Office’s UK Regional Precipitation series. Autumn rainfall was 66% above average for the region, but as the chart below shows was certainly not unprecedented. Indeed the wettest autumn was in 1875.


It is clear from the data that the floods were merely the result of a combination of natural meteorological factors, which affected only that part of the country.

The rainfall which resulted was not unprecedented, and neither is there any indication whatsoever that such events are becoming more common.

  1. LeedsChris permalink
    February 24, 2020 2:33 pm

    What’s also noticeable from your graphs is the number of very wet autumns in the 1870s and early 1880s. As an incidental ‘find’ from my family history studies, that focus on Leicestershire, I have found a real peak in the number of newspaper reports of floods in newspapers of that era. I also found editorials referring to ‘climate change’ and the fact that the floods had increased. There was also a lot of coverage of legislative action in Parliament at that time as Acts of Parliament were passed to allow particular local authorities to undertake specific flood defence projects and a more general empowering Act to manage and deal with flooding in their areas.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      February 24, 2020 3:13 pm

      Were the references to ‘climate change’ which you found in the historic newspapers for a ‘cooling’ or ‘warming’ change?

      • LeedsChris permalink
        February 24, 2020 8:48 pm

        >>Harry Passfield>> There are different types of references. Here’s a few … An article in the Leicester Chronicle for 11th January 1868 states (quote) “with regard to Great Britain, the change in climate is undeniable, though this is ascribed to various sources”. “Our summers are less hot and our winters less cold” Referring to Scotland the report states that “In Scotland it is estimated that the winters are at least a month shorter than formerly, and that the snow comes much later, and remains much less time than it did formerly”

        Equally there are often references in the newspapers of the mid Victorian era to the fact that winters (and especially Christmases) were not like the (quote) “old-fashioned winters”

        But then in the Leicester Chronicle of 16th October 1880 we see a different change being reported (quote) “It seems to me as if the climate of this country has changed of late years. We have short summer, and long and severe winters, with tempestuous and severe weather in April and May”

        And on 18th September 1880 – an editorial recorded that “Floods and droughts have now been the fashion for a number of years, and the recent change furnishes, to many persons, a most disagreeable illustration of this fact” [referring in part to the repeated bad floods that had hit the area in recent years]

      • Harry Passfield permalink
        February 25, 2020 9:21 am

        Thanks, LeedsChris.

  2. Robert Christopher permalink
    February 24, 2020 2:55 pm

    A thank you to whoever chose the colour scale on the map. For someone who has difficulty in distinguishing different shades of reds, greens and browns, to have such a simple scale was very welcome, making the data very clear.

  3. David W permalink
    February 24, 2020 3:04 pm

    Your graph shows exactly double the number of events, as defined, in the last 70 years compared to the previous 70 years. Also, the source data for Sheffield indicates a clear upwards trend (linear trend appox 63 to 70 mm monthly).

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      February 24, 2020 6:45 pm

      Or a completely consistent 5-6 events every 20 year period since 1960.

      Climate change ‘as defined’ is only supposed to be impactful after 1950.

      However you slice it into 10/20 year periods since 1950/60 – there is clearly no increase, no meaningful climate change signal.

    • Phoenix44 permalink
      February 25, 2020 8:13 am

      It’s just random. The graph shows exactly what random looks like.

      • MrGrimNasty permalink
        February 25, 2020 8:58 am

        Yep, look at my ink-splodge – is it a butterfly or Jack the Ripper’s handiwork?

  4. David W permalink
    February 24, 2020 3:11 pm

    And to add some balance, the same analysis for Oxford rainfall shows about a 1mm fall in trend over an even longer period (1853 to today)

  5. Emrys Jones permalink
    February 24, 2020 4:41 pm

    I note that Somerset has had a lot more rain this Autumn than late 2013 to 2014 when there was extensive flooding. They should put up a statue to Owen Patterson in gratitude.

    • Colin MacDonald permalink
      February 25, 2020 8:38 am

      But in the Guardian yesterday we are told that Tory austerity measures have degraded our flood defences, and by implication worsened or even caused the recent flooding . Which is interesting because the practical folk at Graun Towers normally argue against flood mitigation measures, preferring the indirect approach of mitigating the climate, by selling our SUVs and instead taking the bus. I’m a bit skeptical, it takes more a decade for “austerity” to have any noticeable effect on flood defences, in any case we’re still spending some money on them. But it wouldn’t be the first time that the Graun attributed one weather event to a global cause, in this case Tory cuts.

  6. 2hmp permalink
    February 24, 2020 4:47 pm

    i was sitting next to a gentleman at a local envoronment meeting last week who was holding an arictle by Prince Chales.on the climate change emergency. I asked him what he thought about the issue and he said “it’s all nonsense,”Hhe went on ” CO2 is the greatest friend of the planet”. I said that is an unpopular point of view today. He said he had been involved in the environment for over thirty years as a member of Friends of the Earth. !!!!!

  7. February 24, 2020 6:11 pm

    O/T R4 YouAndYors : Claim Cornwall villagers are operating a Virtual Power Plant
    collecting their solar in garage batteries and selling it to the grid at high price times

    Householder said he is “one of a hundred” houses in the scheme
    and that the scheme hasn’t started yet
    Centrica spokeswoman was on

    ..Well what is the difference between this & the normal thing solar panel householders do ?
    Ah I guess that today they only get a fixed price not a peak demand high price

    Isn’t it obvious ? sell your solar panels to some other mug
    Then charge your big white battery from normal mains priced power
    Then sell it back to Centrica for triple price during Peak Price time

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      February 25, 2020 1:05 am

      There are a number of these schemes around. In essence, they are a con on the purchasers of batteries who have little idea how much cycle life will get eaten up by the scheme, and how little they are rewarded for that. There’s a lot of useful discussion from people who know something about it all in this look at a slightly larger scale battery installed at a hotel near EDI:

      Some of the comments about EV batteries not doing too well in warm climates are also of interest.

  8. February 24, 2020 6:13 pm

    O/T R4 8:30pm Analysis : It’s Not Easy Being Green

    If the future of politics includes tackling climate change, why isn’t the future brighter for the Greens?
    Professor Rosie Campbell goes in search of the Green vote

    • February 24, 2020 6:14 pm

      I also noticed that Caroline Lucas is on R4 Any Questions panel 3 or 4 times a year.

      • Harry Passfield permalink
        February 24, 2020 6:43 pm

        The thing is that many of those poor people flooded out are now becoming natural constituents for the likes of Lucas and her Green mafia.

        PH: Anthony Watts did a great piece of work on UHI: I wonder if the next big piece of work will be on how much flooding is caused by the ‘Urban Flood Island’ – where flooding is caused because of the over-development of natural land drainage and under-development of river courses without compensating them with modern drainage..

  9. MrGrimNasty permalink
    February 24, 2020 6:35 pm

    How this flood unfolded shows exactly why Beavers and wooding upland areas will make ***-all difference. Once the ‘leaky-dams’ are backed up and the ground water column full from the surface to the water table, it will flood regardless. Trees might make the soil surface more permeable when it is dry, but they can do nothing when it is already saturated, and water comes over the top of a dam at the same rate as no dam – and you have the added risk of a collapse and a flood-surge and debris blocking water channels further down at bridges and weirs etc.

    • Adrian, East Anglia permalink
      February 25, 2020 1:03 am

      Exactly what I’ve been thinking. Leaky dams etc – green ‘logic’ at its counterproductive best!!!

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      February 25, 2020 1:12 am

      At the end of the day you have a control optimisation problem: given an input of rainwater, you have to manage its dispersal through a river catchment to the sea, ensuring that holding areas (flood plains, holding ponds) are sufficient, and the rate of evacuation is fast enough to avoid flooding of sensitive land at any point along the route. Concreting over land reduces the holding capacity of the ground. Saturation of the land does likewise. Building in areas that have been traditionally used as flood plains has to be very stupid.

  10. February 24, 2020 9:22 pm

    Hi Paul,

    Well done for all your great research work. I have just come across this piece which shows how worried they are that people are waking up to the scam. So, look out and take care.

    Regards, Mike Turner

    Sent from my iPad


    • February 24, 2020 9:56 pm

      That’s scary (I’ve just read it), so Catriona McKinnon is the witch in Witchfinder General.
      Her profile-
      “I am a political theorist working on climate justice and climate ethics …and the theory and practice of toleration.” (except she doesn’t tolerate anyone with views opposed to hers !!!)

      Nice to know McCarthyism is alive & well in Exeter.

      • February 24, 2020 10:08 pm

        The last line of her diatribe states-
        “The damage that climate deniers do is heinous, and they have no excuses. The time has come to prosecute them for postericide.”

        & at the bottom of page we find….

        UNESCO applies a zero tolerance policy against all forms of harassment

        (obviously doesn’t apply to ‘climate deniers’ )

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      February 25, 2020 1:20 am

      She is certainly a poster child for causing mass death among humanity in the name of climate.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      February 25, 2020 9:29 am

      VAG, I started to read her pitch (in the link) and gave up half-way through her ridiculous metaphor of the fire in a theatre (with no fire exits!) where the poor people in the rubbish seats wanted to get out but couldn’t find the way while the fire deniers – usually the rich people in the luxury seats (she averred!) were denying there was a fire in the first place.

      And this is someone with a good degree with what looks like a good CV!!

      She should look at how the poor in the third world are kept in fuel-poverty by her own Green friends so that they have to cook over open fires, polluting the air, adding to emissions (if that is a problem) and dying young. The only true (rich) deniers in this piece are the ones who are denying people access to cheap, reliable, abundant and easily available energy.

  11. martinbrumby permalink
    February 24, 2020 11:26 pm


    Would that be doing something painful to her posterior?

    Might make an old man happy…

  12. Phoenix44 permalink
    February 25, 2020 8:15 am

    Surely what the map shows is that a quantity of rain fell further south and west than “normal”?

    Western Scotland was drier because that rain fell in Yorkshire.

    That happened presumably because of the position of the jet stream, lows etc.

    • February 25, 2020 10:48 am

      It shows the deviation from a 30 year average, not the actual amount of rain.

  13. Gerry, England permalink
    February 25, 2020 1:45 pm

    I would agree with the map for my part of Surrey as our football ground went out of use at the end of October and hasn’t been used since. The water level is being regularly topped up by rainfall and never getting a chance to drain. You can see the same in the fields where there has been water sitting since October.

  14. February 25, 2020 2:41 pm

    Thankyou EA cos I think in most areas your workers have done a good job
    .. and areas have not flooded, despite the London managers greendreaming.

    However in Fishlake, and Wainfleet, and Short Ferry (Barlings Eau) they did drop the ball.
    If work had been done like in the old days ie banks had been inspected, and streams dredged then the drainage systems would have coped with the floods.

  15. February 25, 2020 2:57 pm

    Another idea, besides the EA is everyone else getting caught out by failing to realise than drains on their own land are past it. Cos underground drains don’t last forever.
    I wonder if there are streets all over the country where drains have been neglected.

    Here in town the land is lower than the Humber Estuary at high tide.
    That doesn’t matter cos drainage has sluices so water exits at low tide and doesn’t come back in at high tide.
    However in past few weeks I have been in 2 people’s gardens that have been repeatedly flooded.

    Case #1 There is a row of terrace houses, with a line of drainage channels running a foot from the back door
    .. among other things some neighbours have poured concrete into their own channels and they are blocked.
    Now most other houses after heavy rain get standing water in their back garden.

    Case #2 Another terrace, drainage across the back gardens worked fine for 50+ years
    Then a new line of houses was built at the end of the gardens on school field land.
    After they been done residents noticed that after heavy rain their garden flooded. Now it gets about 5 inches deep.

    Of course residents called the council, but nothing got fixed.

    IMHO Residents in such cases should call in a drainage consultant .. and get a plan.

  16. Nancy & John Hultquist permalink
    February 26, 2020 4:53 pm

    I was looking at the river and development at Shrewsbury. The river is of the “meander” type; see note below.

    There is a business called Shrewsbury Marine Services, UK that Google Earth will find. You can use the Street View function to land on the platform leading to a launch ramp, thereby getting a view across the River and the concrete retaining wall on the far side. The view is to the south and toward the town center — located on the higher ground inside a meander.

    The term meander comes from a river in Turkey. Go to – – –üyük_Menderes_River

    Scroll down to the 2nd image, a colored drawing. Click and expand that.
    The flood plain is to the upper right.
    Note the locations of the coast over time, beginning where land (green) and water (blue) now meet. Under the drawing, the name ‘Miletus’ is a link.

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