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Environment Blame Floods On “Climate Emergency”

March 6, 2020

By Paul Homewood


John Curtin, Executive Director at the Environment Agency, gleefully posted this on Twitter last week.

It was intended to persuade us that there is a “climate emergency”. Instead, it serves as a damning verdict on the Environment Agency’s incompetence, as we shall now see.



The claim that last month’s were made worse by climate change has been made many times, and hinted at in this latest EA press release:

According to new Met Office statistics, February 2020 has been the wettest February on record for England. It has also been the fifth wettest of any calendar month since 1862. Provisional figures show that 15 rivers in the Midlands, Yorkshire and Lancashire recorded their highest ever levels during or triggered by Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis.


In fact, as I pointed out the other day, last month’s rainfall was a long way from being unprecedented, even though it was a record for February. In England, it was not the fifth wettest of any calendar month, as the EA wrongly claim, but the 24th wettest. The wettest month on record was all the way back in 1903.

Similarly in Wales, where heavy rainfall has led to flooding on the Severn and Wye, it was only 14th wettest, with the record month long ago in 1929.

Whilst the England figure could disguise ups and downs across the country, the Wales graph is particularly relevant, as rain over the Brecons caused bad flooding in the S Wales valleys, and long the River Wye. At the same time rain in the north of Wales fed down into the Severn Valley. In other words, pretty much the whole of Wales took the brunt of Storm Dennis that day.




This leads us to the question of why the floods were so bad that they set so many records.

The first thing to note is that December and January were pretty much average for rainfall in the regions most badly affected by the floods, notably South Wales, the Severn Valley and NW England. So the severity of the flooding was not due to cumulative rainfall over the winter as a whole.


And as we have seen, the rainfall in February does not appear to have been that unusual.


Even in the NW of England & N Wales, where rainfall was the worst of all in terms of average, Feb 2020 was well down the list of wettest months:


But what about extreme daily rainfall? Has this led to record flooding?

To answer this question, we will need to look at the two main storms individually:


Storm Ciara

It was Ciara, of course, which led to the flooding in the Calder Valley. Although various claims were touted about of the “one month’s rainfall in a day” variety, these were based on high altitude sites in the Pennines, against which we have no comparative data.

We do, however, have regionally averaged daily rainfall from the Met Office’s HADUKP database.

The Calder floods would have been largely the result of rainfall in the North West, which would include most of the moorland which feeds that river.

Region definitions for EWP


According to HADUKP, rainfall in the North West averaged 32.6mm on the day that Ciara hit. (Rainfall the day before and after was insignificant):

ScreenHunter_5742 Mar. 12 12.31

Since 1931 alone, there have been thirteen days which have exceeded this figure. Given what we know about heavy rainfall months prior to 1931, there will certainly be many other such days previously.

I do, by the way, accept that localised rainfall may have been heavier in the Calder Valley area, but that would be weather, not climate change.

Storm Dennis



Again with the proviso that Wales received the brunt of Storm Dennis, the daily rainfall for SW England & S Wales shows nothing extraordinary at all that day.

Average rainfall that day was 33.84mm, but there have been 13 wetter days since 1931. As I showed in a post at the time, 48-hour rainfall totals S Wales during Storm Dennis peaked at 157mm, but it is easy to find examples of higher rainfalls in that same area.

Wild claims have been made by the EA and Met Office that the floods last month are linked to climate change, yet neither has provided any detailed data to back up this assertion. All we get are soundbites about “wettest February on record”, “a month’s rain in 24 hours”, and so on.

If they have the data to back up their assertions, then let them publish.

But unless they can , we can only assume that the record floods are in fact due to poor river maintenance, and not record rainfall.

Finally, a bit of perspective.

At the last count, I understand about 3300 homes have been flooded. To have your home flooded is a terrible experience, but in overall terms, 3300 is not an abnormally high number. In the summer of 2007, for instance, 55000 homes were flooded.

Secondly, as the Met Office explain, the wet weather was due to the jet stream:


There is no evidence to link this phenomenon with climate change. And given the fact that there have been many wetter months a long time ago in both England and Wales, it is evident that this sort of weather has occurred before.

Which of course brings us back to the question of why so many river gauge records have been broken.

It clearly suits the Environment Agency to blame “climate change”, rather than admit to their own shortcomings and incompetence.

  1. Dave Ward permalink
    March 6, 2020 10:11 pm

    “Which of course brings us back to the question of why so many river gauge records have been broken”

    I think you’ve already answered that:

    “We can only assume that the record floods are in fact due to poor river maintenance, and not record rainfall”

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      March 7, 2020 9:55 am

      Here’s a question about river gauges to which I have yet to find an answer: what is the bottom of the gauge calibrated to? And, therefore, where is the top?
      In other words, if the gauge is set to measure from the original river-bed, if the river-bed is rising with the build-up of silt then the water levels are bound to be higher.

      • David Virgo permalink
        March 7, 2020 10:47 am

        It doesn’t matter where the gauge is calibrated as long as it isn’t moved – record levels will always become apparent if the gauge is fixed but the river-bed is allowed to increase by failure to dredge.

      • Harry Passfield permalink
        March 7, 2020 12:23 pm

        Thank you, David. I get what you mean by being calibrated, but my query was, to what? What is used as the reference (‘base level’) for the gauge?’

      • Martyn Spence permalink
        March 7, 2020 12:55 pm

        River level gauges are based on the site height above sea level. In general, in the case of locks on the non-tidal Thames, a ‘head water’ level is set and the upstream gauge shows 0 when the head water level is reached. Thus river level changes at the upstream lock gates are simply recorded (usually 3 times day) as plus x or minus x feet and inches. Rain levels are separately recorded using a simple calibrated rain gauge which of course starts at zero on the scale.

      • Bloke down the pub permalink
        March 7, 2020 2:13 pm

        Presumably, if the river flow is being measured, rather than the height on a gauge, a narrowing of the cross-sectional area due to silt build-up will increase the speed of the water, making new records more likely.

  2. Mad Mike permalink
    March 6, 2020 10:17 pm

    This fits the facts in our area. First the EA blamed EU directives then it was climate change. Our river has risen dramatically but not as high as in 2001 which was pretty bad but after the flooding of 2001 an alleviation channel was constructive to divert some of the river in to fields and eventually back in to the river a way downstream but away from 2 other villages. This was to prevent future flooding but the problem this time is that the EA has refused, until the last couple of days, to open the channel. Our parish council has been asking the EA to open the channel as the river started rising but they refused saying the new fast flow could be used to clear silt from the river. The silt build up is due to the EA’s refusal to keep the vegetation from encroaching in to the river, trapping the silt, as their priority is to protect and enhance wild life and biodiversity. Now the channel is partially open river levels have stabilised for now but we are in a situation now where we are at the mercy of the weather. We have no extra capacity in the water system and we are holing for a dry spell. It has taken a lot of political pressure to get the channel open but had the EA kept the river free of clogging vegetation over the years and opened the alleviation channel much earlier we could be fairly confident that more rain could be dealt with. We are now depending on luck.

  3. Bruce of Newcastle permalink
    March 6, 2020 10:44 pm

    It’s the solar minimum making the jet stream come down to UK latitude. Same as last time 10-12 years ago.

    But that would not be something Mr Curtin would want to mention.

    • Derek Reynolds permalink
      March 7, 2020 8:20 am

      Quite so. All mankind can do is to enact alleviation of the worst effects, but are stymied by bureaucracy.

    • March 7, 2020 8:52 am

      They can waffle all they like about climate change, but there’s still no obvervational evidence it’s due to humans. Computer models can say anything they want them to.

      • dennisambler permalink
        March 7, 2020 11:59 am

        “Climate change” is not a cause of anything, it is a description of weather cycles over sufficient time that they are deemed to have become permanent, until of course the cycles reverse again as they have done throughout history. When it comes to the weather everything has happened before, but much worse. News is always “instant” and previous events are lost in time:
        The year 1315 saw drastic weather, most notably lengthy periods of rain, which caused flooding and left agricultural fields waterlogged. Rosen adds that the flooding and storm activity were devastating for coastal areas as the rising seas reclaimed shoreline communities.

        For example, “more than two thousand acres of onetime marshland that had been converted to cropland in eight villages in Sussex were submerged.

        Dunwich, which was one of the five wealthiest ports in England in the late thirteenth century, was so devastated by one flood after another that 269 houses (including crofts and barns), 10 other buildings, and 2 shops disappeared – fully a quarter of the entire port town. By the 1330s, most of the five parishes of the town, and up to 600 houses, had been ‘reclaimed’ by the newly unstable sea.”

        Climate refugees:” ..some peasant communities in Europe were simply abandoned, especially in Ireland and the Lubeck region of northern Germany, as the people decided these places were no longer able to recover. Coastal areas in The Netherlands also saw large-scale population declines as the flooding forced people to find new homes.”

        Clearly this was all before the Industrial Revolution, whichever date they choose for it these days, so it must have been ox farts that caused it. Of course if we cut out all hydrocarbons from our lives we can return to those idyllic times described above.

    • bobn permalink
      March 7, 2020 1:47 pm

      Correct about the Jetstream. The jetstream over the atlantic is formed on the pressure differential boundary between the Cold arctic High and the warm azores high. With more heat the azores high expands and pushes the boundary north. With less heat the azores high shrinks and the jet moves south. (note the arctic cold is simply the absence of heat – its the warm area that governs by pushing and shrinking.) The EA man has admitted the Jet has moved south, ergo there is less heat in the atlantic. Thus the EA confirms we are seeing Global Cooling with high rainfall as a result.

  4. March 6, 2020 10:50 pm

    The mendacity routinely deployed by the EA’s management is absolutely epic.

    The organisation is very largely not fit for purpose.

    One might think they’d point to successes like the lack of flooding in Somerset – but true to form they’re not going to return to the scene of a major humiliation – where the SW area manager disappeared nearly overnight with the imprint of Owen Paterson’s shoe on the backside of his trousers.

    The EA is a simply ghastly bureaucracy – very, very few redeeming features at all….. in fact … I can’t think of one – but then I’m biased, having wrestled with them for 10 years.

    • Chaswarnertoo permalink
      March 7, 2020 8:43 am

      Institutionally dishonest and corrupt.

  5. martinbrumby permalink
    March 6, 2020 11:23 pm

    I’m afraid you all have it wrong.

    The rainfall and flooding is just as likely due to the activities of those naughty witches as anything else.

    There is loads of evidence that naughty witches have in the past always been to blame for these things.

    A few more molecules of CO2 in the atmosphere?

    Get a grip! Don’t be so bloody childish!

  6. MrGrimNasty permalink
    March 6, 2020 11:38 pm

    You can click on gauge locations here and then bring up daily flow charts.

    A lot of them only have records from 1990s, oldest I saw starts in 1970s.

    Obviously with such short record periods you would expect records to fall regularly, but you also need to know what else might be affecting flows – a new town or road built and surface drainage channeled in etc., instrument/method changes etc.

    • March 7, 2020 12:13 am

      That doesn’t stop the EA from sticking “once in 100 year” in their documentation as if it’s an actual measurement …

      They’ll even dream up a new type of rain if they think it’ll suit their purpose.

      I’m still rather fond of my “EA pants on fire” GIF from a few years back.

    • David virgo permalink
      March 7, 2020 10:57 am

      If the average age of 400 gauges was 40 years and 25% have shown a record in the last 10 years, that is exactly what should be expected. A simplistic view perhaps, but illustrates the old maxim: lies, damn lies and statistics.

  7. Duker permalink
    March 6, 2020 11:48 pm

    In my country , the entities which look after river catchments and keep records of rainfall and river flow at multiple locations say that the high rainfall periods seems to not be entirely random with some decades are much wetter than others. Thats the pattern, one off high rainfall can occur anytime but a wet decade could be followed by another decade of less extremes. That what climate is of course , the longer term measurement of weather. Its as variable as the monthly figures

  8. March 7, 2020 12:01 am

    “It was intended to persuade us that there is a “climate emergency”. Instead, it serves as a damning verdict on the Environment Agency’s incompetence, as we shall now see”

    Did they even bother to do an event attribution study? Or is the emergency nature of the climate emergency provide all the emergency we need to create an emergency attribution?

  9. GeoffB permalink
    March 7, 2020 7:37 am

    Excellent analysis again Paul, why dont you apply for a job at the Met Office or Environment Agency….It irks me that people, who obviously cannot read a graph or understand basic statistics, particularly the need to consider correlation and significance factors, like John Curtin, make these wild claims seemingly to disguise their incompetence and worse still get away with it!!

  10. March 7, 2020 8:08 am

    The EA is synonymous with incompetence – at the top levels of management it is a swamp of incompetence. It is a rare occurrence when a person at one of these NGOs gets the sack for incompetence – normally they get moved sideways or promoted. They will always try and find something else to blame for their incompetence – like an EU directive or “climate change”. There is no doubt that EU directives cause a lot of problems, but our civil “servants” have always been the only ones in the EU to apply the directives with absolute rigidity.

    • Gerry, England permalink
      March 7, 2020 11:45 am

      Not entirely correct, our civil servants have been the only ones to ‘gold plate’ EU Directives when transferring them to UK legislation. That was where I came in with anti-EU sentiment thanks to the late Booker’s Telegraph column with research from Dr North. At that time it was the meat hygiene Directive that stood at just 4 pages before being exploded into UK legislation that saw small local abattoirs wiped out due to compliance costs.

      Dr North has looked at the flooding and shown that the Directives don’t prevent silt clearance but clearly the EA are not doing it anyway. And as is true of much legislation, remove the EU and you find international legislation or agreements that sit above them leaving you in much the same place. The EU layer just provides for more confusion and time wasted.

      And with the bumbling buffoon Boris and his new green zeal, it contradicts his desire to cut red tape when it has been shown that EU environmental – ie global warming – legislation is the biggest cost to the UK economy.

      • March 7, 2020 3:35 pm

        The big difference surely is that nobody pays much attention to international agreements?

  11. lapford permalink
    March 7, 2020 9:37 am

    Not record rainfall here in mid-devon. 1990 was wetter. Who knows how wet it was 300, 400, 500 etc years ago. That’s what climate is all about. No discernable change in mean temperature or rainfall here in last 30 years, Where’s all this climate emergency then? My personal feeling is that urban heat islands have grown in size in last 30 or more years thus leading to increased temperature records affecting stations located in those areas.

  12. Harry Passfield permalink
    March 7, 2020 10:08 am

    It’s nothing to do with the (incremental) change in climate, it’s more to do with the built environment, which has increased beyond belief over 100 years. If this year’s rainfall had fallen on the undeveloped countryside of 100 years ago would the results have been the same?

    My house and 60 or 70 more on the small development where I live was built 50 years ago on a sloping field site sloping down to a small river – which runs through my garden. 50 years or more ago the rains we’ve had would have been absorbed into the field and slowly released to the river; today, the rains run swiftly down road gullies into drains running underground to the river. As do drains from all the houses and all other further developments within half-a-mile or so of the river. In 50 years, it is only in the last 20 that the river and surrounding village has flooded so badly. I wonder why.

    BTW: Further to a question I posed at the head of this post, the river gauges (measuring boards on the bridges etc) are in the same place as they were all those years ago and indicate the same heights even though the river-bed has risen three or four feet since I moved here all those years ago.

    • Mad Mike permalink
      March 7, 2020 10:42 am

      The EA say they are monitoring the river flow here and they having given us a reading of less that 1m3 per second whereas the reading at the peak in 2014 was 4.5m3 per second yet the levels and the speed of the river are very similar now to what we experienced in 2014. Clearly having a volume of water over 4 times what we experienced in 2014 would have made an enormous difference to our already high river. I can’t imagine how extensive the flooding would be but, as the river is in our gardens now, it would be considerable. When we pointed out the absurdity of the difference in readings they stood by the readings. Computer says no.

      • Harry Passfield permalink
        March 7, 2020 12:46 pm

        MM: Thanks. I was interested to read about volumes and flows as you’ve experienced. This is because I was trying to get to grips with the flow in ‘my’ river (a glorified stream, tbh).
        If, say, the 3′ depth was dredged and doubled it would just double the volume of water that could flow and the levels would remain the same. But I reckon, it would flow a lot slower (still waters run deep, and all that). Then, when the rains come, they would add as much as they ever did to the river volume but it would now be able to run faster for the same depth yet carry more volume as a result. N’est-ce pas?

    • ianprsy permalink
      March 7, 2020 10:59 am

      There are new planning rules about run off from new developments – SUDS. Maintenance will still be an issue, though.

  13. Peter permalink
    March 7, 2020 11:22 am

    “Our parish council has been asking the EA to open the channel as the river started rising but they refused saying the new fast flow could be used to clear silt from the river.”

    This is similar to the EA’s original 90s claim that Winter flood ‘scouring’ would keep rivers silt-free. May work on mountain streams but not the slow-flowing muddy rivers of eastern England. Regular dredging and river-bank maintenance are required.

    • Gerry, England permalink
      March 7, 2020 11:49 am

      There is a confusion in terms here which is important when it comes to legislation. Clearing silt is NOT dredging. Clearing silt at any time and fairly easily. Dredging requires EA approval and is about making changes to river courses. This is something Dr North pointed out when people claim silt clearance is blocked by EU Directives.

  14. Tony Budd permalink
    March 7, 2020 11:39 am

    I agree entirely with Harry’s comments: a major contributory factor is the rapid increase in the immediate run-off of heavy rainfall into the rivers, particularly since the 1950s. This is due to the now almost universal drainage of roads and buildings and their fully-paved surroundings directly via “storm drains” into the river system. Previously many buildings and most roads outside major towns were drained into soak-aways or ditches from where the water only gradually ran into streams and rivers or just evaporated. Added to that, the replacement of horse-drawn ploughing by tractors, particularly in the last 70 years, means that furrows no longer follow the contours, which was easier for the horse and ploughman. Particularly on steeper slopes they now mostly run straight up-and-down the slope, which is easier for the tractor-driver. While a contour-ploughed field can hold up to 100mm of rainfall within the furrows, downslope ploughing channels all the water immediately into drainage ditches and straight into the local river system, together with large amounts of silt which then block the river in its lower reaches.

    The best way to mitigate this is to provide washlands which are designed to flood and hold back the storm water before it reaches the river, and then only release it gradually through restricted drainage channels over the following days.

    • March 7, 2020 1:20 pm

      Round where I live the ground is heavy clay. A lot of what are now fields were marked as moors on old maps. Farmers have put in a lot of drains which reduce water storage in the soil and result in increased river flow at times of high rainfall.

  15. SirClive permalink
    March 7, 2020 12:57 pm

    Literally how long can the ‘climate emergency’ continue for? Nothing is going to change. Do we go to the next level – ‘Climate Apocalypse’? Then what? At some point there must be a reckoning for this insanity.

  16. mjr permalink
    March 7, 2020 1:06 pm

    over the last few weeks it has always made me laugh when the flood related news reports include an EA rep, always wearing the high vis yellow jacket with chequer markings trying to pretend they are the fifth emergency service .
    And the logic of all of this.
    > The EA are responsible for ensuring that water runs off without causing flooding.
    > it rains a little more than usual
    > the rivers flood
    > The EA cannot admit they have not done the job for which they are responsible
    > Hence a scapegoat.. Climate Change ….

  17. Harry Passfield permalink
    March 7, 2020 2:32 pm

    I was amazed at the similarities between this and stories I read about floods in Queensland over the last couple of years. I was Googling for Wivenhoe and typed in dams+floods+queensland. I found many stories that could have been written for the Severn and these reservoirs where water was not controlled and there, in Queensland, because Ross Dam was not managed Townsville was flooded. The EA must have trained their Aussie counterparts!

  18. Peter permalink
    March 8, 2020 9:02 am

    “Dredging requires EA approval and is about making changes to river courses. ”

    Except that even dredging is quite easy thanks to D1 exemptions –

    This loophole has been conveniently forgotten by the EA and successors.

  19. Daniel permalink
    March 10, 2020 8:50 pm

    interesting that this was a similar rain event to the 1929 rainfall event. Likewise in 1929 Australia’s east coast had terrible fires similar to the 2019/2020 fires.

    As someone put it so well ‘there is nothing new under the sun’…..

    UK has stupid greenies that won’t allow dredging of river channels and Australia has stupid greenies that won’t allow hazzard reduction safe burns in eucalypt forests.

    The greenies have one agenda and that is to force us all to live like animals and be at the mercy of the elements.

    • Daniel permalink
      March 10, 2020 9:40 pm

      Unfortunately, so called climate scientists as so paranoid with their global climate change agenda (social anarchist fear campaign) that they fail to see the real situation.

      The earth has a global weather system that is interconnected – it is amazing how many times significant weather events have linkages between northern and southern hemispheres. Almost like a global bi-polar disorder 🙂

      I’m sure this has to be linked to solar activity of some kind but the linkage could be a delayed reaction as the ‘momentum’ within earth’s weather systems (atmospheric jetstreams, ocean currents etc) must be significant. It can’t be that an action at the sun today causes a reaction on earth tomorrow…..

      Why are so many scientists not doing real work to understand these type of issues instead of being so so lazy and following the gravy trail of easy government handouts and grants in attempts to prove and perpetuate rather silly myths about CO2 induced climate change.

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