Last winter’s floods were ‘most extreme on record’

Aerial picture over the Kirkstall Road, Leeds. Credit: Ross Parry.
Aerial picture over the Kirkstall Road, Leeds. Credit: Ross Parry.
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Last winter’s floods were the UK’s most extreme on record, experts have said.

An appraisal of the winter floods of 2015/2016, published on the first anniversary of Storm Desmond, reveals it ranks alongside the devastating flooding of March 1947 as the largest event of at least the last century.

A recent review of the impact of the floods on West Yorkshire and York put the overall cost at more than £500m including £100m on repairing roads, bridges and Yorkshire Water infrastructure.

More than 4,000 homes and 2,900 businesses were flooded and 12,000 properties remain at “high risk”, the report published last month said.

The Government has committed £200m to be spent on flood defences in the area.

November 2015 to January 2016 was the wettest three-month period in records dating back to 1910, while December was both the wettest and on average, the warmest on record for the UK.

The highest ever rainfall recorded in the UK was seen at Honister Pass in the Lake District with 341.4mm falling in the 24 hours leading up to 6pm on December 5 2015, as Storm Desmond hit.

The storm, which caused an estimated insurance bill of more than £1.3 billion, was part of a persistent pattern of 
weather which also included the major storms of Abigail, Frank and Gertrude.

Some 16,000 homes and businesses were flooded in December alone, with more flooding in January, although a further 20,000 homes were protected by defences.

Lead author Terry Marsh from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology said: “At a national scale the winter floods of 2015/16 were the most extreme on record.

“The November to January period was the wettest three-month sequence in the UK rainfall series - which begins in 1910.

“The associated flooding was both extensive and repetitive, and total river outflows from Great Britain following the passage of Storm Desmond in December exceeded the previous maximum by a substantial margin.”

Cumbrian resident Dr Ed Henderson, a co-author of the review from the British Hydrological Society, said the effects of the flooding were personal.

“Speaking with flood victims, the words that come out are despair, fear and anxiety - fear of flooding again and the anxiety of an approaching winter.

“Floods don’t just take your home, the place where you should feel safe, they often take your future as well.”

And along with March 1947, which saw heavy rain and snow thaw after a freezing winter, causing flooding, the 2015/2016 floods are the largest such event of the last 100 years, the study said.

Last winter’s floods were more extreme in scale, but the 1947 events had a greater impact in terms of homes flooded and crops destroyed, in a country recovering from war and with only rudimentary flood defences.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn last week called on the Government to help businesses secure affordable insurance following last winter’s floods which devastated firms across the region.

During his visit to Calderdale he urged Ministers and the insurance industry to work together to extend an existing scheme covering homes, known as Flood Re, to cover industry.

He claimed the area was continuing to pay the price for cuts to flood defence budgets inflicted by the coalition government.

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