Tuesday, 29 December 2015

An unprecedented blogpost...

I never blog over the Christmas and New Year period…

Except for this blog post, which is unprecedented….
Except for that time when I blogged about the S.E Asian tsunami…. and that other time…

What does unprecedented mean?

It's been used quite a few times over the last few days to refer to the rainfall, and seems to be being used as some sort of 'excuse' for the extent of the flooding that has hit Cumbria, Carlisle, and then Leeds, Lancashire and West Yorkshire including Mytholmroyd, and the surrounding area, and now across into York, Selby and Tadcaster. Flood defences have been overwhelmed and a lot of buildings have been inundated, businesses are threatened, and people's homes and possessions have been ruined, in some cases several times, and for many for the first time in living memory. Many of these people didn't have sufficient insurance, and are going to have real trouble getting it now.

Over the last week or so, heavy rainfall has hit the NW and now further east, as several storms have passed through, with Frank due to arrive later today. The rainfall totals are far in excess of seasonal averages, with Shap and Capel Curig amongst places that are being reported as having very high rainfall totals.
My family all live in York, and my dad went into the city centre yesterday to check on the flooding, which has changed the city's mood completely - yesterday there was no internet or phones for some people, and shops were accepting cash only as card payments weren't possible. The city has been flooded before... is it the worst that it has ever been in the city? Is it really unprecedented? Certainly there are more houses and other buildings close to the river channels than ever, and many of these were seen in aerial photographs of the affected areas. There was also the collapse of an important bridge in Tadcaster, and many rivers in North Yorkshire had record levels of flow (or at least since their discharge was recorded)


Weather is making the news around the world too:
- a deadly swathe of tornadoes in the southern states of the USA
- record levels of water in the Mississippi, which is normally at low levels because the rivers further north are frozen
- huge snowdrifts in Texas...
- over 150 000 affected by flooding in S. America in Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil and Uruguay.
- 'record' warm temperatures in the Arctic
and many more...
- a record El Nino event...

This Guardian editorial provided a useful context… as did quite a few of the articles in yesterday's paper, and on the website, including an excellent article from the streets of York itself.

Guardian Editorial – 27th December 2015
The peculiar destructiveness of modern floods arises from complex causes acting over long periods. They are not just a product of unprecedented rainfall, but of well-established patterns of land use and river management. All too often these have been greedy, arrogant, and short-termist: changing them will require co-ordinated efforts, maintained over decades. The way in which the floods have recurred over the past decade does not make for optimism

So is what is happening now truly unprecedented? Or is unprecedented starting to be the new 'normal'?

York is a medieval city which has several rivers running through it, and no doubt has flooded many times before, even worse than the previous 'worst ever floods' in 2000 probably. There have been several tweets which seem to show that that the rivers are really 'reclaiming' areas that used to be watercourses and pools in medieval times. This mirrors something that I used to talk about when I worked for the GA, following the flooding that hit Sheffield and Hull in 2007. "They're called floodplains because they flood" was a quote by Philip Eden on one of the first slides in the presentation, and in the paper yesterday (and today's Independent) it appears that around 10 000 homes a year are still built in flood plains. Indeed, George Monbiot has written about the inevitability of the flooding given the way that upland areas are managed. I also talked in my GA lectures about the changes to insurance coverage that took place.

A few other links I noticed:
The Guardian's editorial:

We will have to make difficult decisions on what can be saved and what must be sacrificed to rising waters, unreliable coastlines and dangerously high rivers. Not all property, not every house, but surely every person can be made safe in this new, warmer time. (That is more than can be said for poorer parts of the world.)

And finally, I've been curating a Pinterest board… no doubt there are some Flipboard magazines out there too...


Follow GeoBlogs's board UK Flooding incl. Dec 2015 on Pinterest.

Don't forget you can also now follow all the main EA river gauges on Twitter via GaugeMap website. These have been followed and tweeted endlessly.

I hope that the recovery continues to show the resilience of these communities, which have already been affected. I expect there to be a reappraisal of flood defences and land-use management, and of return periods, and also the longer-term impacts of almost £6 billion of losses.
Stay safe for the arrival of storm Frank, I hope that nothing unprecedented is about to happen….

Update

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