With the Country’s lock-down due to Coronavirus/Covid-19, the only bright spot has been the improvement in the weather towards the end of March into April which has at least provided the opportunity to catch up with the gardening and take exercise, albeit with spatial restrictions. The increase in footfall on the Nene Way footpath has been noticeable not only with the regular dog walkers but with families enjoying walking or the occasional jogger.
After the excessively wet February March saw a significant reduction in rainfall ending up at 80% of average and the start of a rise in daily temperatures. This continued into April when temperatures rose to 24 degrees with negligible rainfall until overnight rain on 17th April. With the Met Office forecast for the remainder of April when temperatures in the 20’s are anticipated together with low probability of rain it looks as though April will end up with rainfall around 50% of average. River levels have remained exceptionally low with any rainfall being absorbed in drying ground.
The flooding events in the North and West as a result of storms Ciara and Dennis have long disappeared from the news headlines. However a recent article highlighted the plight of those effected as Coved -19 impacts were felt. Families have been forced to return home to live in squalid conditions having to self isolate in the only habitable parts of the house, namely upstairs with limited access to facilities that we all take for granted. In the midst of our current problems let’s hope the Local Authorities / Government / Insurance Companies have not forgotten their promises of help.
In the current situation that the Country is facing the word “RESILIENCE” springs to mind. Like many words they can have multiple meanings and in the case of flooding it means accessing your own risk and providing protection measures appropriate to your property.
“ REMEMBER TO FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES AND KEEP SAFE”
The government eventually succumbed to pressure from communities effected by January and February storms and in the recent Budget increased the flood defence funding from £4Bn to £5.2Bn over the period 2021 to 2026.
The Met Office declared February 2020 as the wettest since records began in 1862 with the UK average rainfall exceeding 200mm or 237% of average for February. In areas such as the north and west of the UK with the most severe flooding problems this percentage rose to 350-400% !
Locally February closed with storm Jorge on 28/29th. Why storm Jorge, as storm Ellen was the next in the Met Office named storms after Dennis? As the storm approached the UK from southern Europe the Spanish Met Office designated name was adopted.
Our local rainfall for the month reached 230% of a February average and although the river flooded on 16.02.20 and peaked again on 28/29th it has subsequently remained low. This has been helped by less rainfall to date in March and a welcome rise in temperature allowing the ground to become less saturated-all good news for gardeners. Generally the River Nene has coped well largely due to the work undertaken by the E/A in 2017/2018.
Disappointingly the E/A has failed to meet the target date of August 2019 to resubmit costed plans for further funding for additional flood defence work in the Village. Let’s hope the distraction of staff to support seriously flooded areas does not reduce Nether Heyford’s priority status.
Whilst our local flooding risk is comparatively low we must remain vigilant. Besides local and National weather news forecasts a reminder of the on-line access to real time data for rainfall and river levels is listed below:-
(A) Shoothill GaugeMap: www.gaugemap.co.uk
Upstream at Flore:
Downstream at Bugbrooke:
(B) River and sea levels Flood information service for England from Gov.uk
(C) Northamptonshire County Council: www.floodtoolkit.com
Finally don’t forget to register with the Environment Agency flood warning service on Floodline 03459 881188 to receive telephone and advanced flood warnings for the area.
The overriding message is “BE PREPARED”.
February’s main news headlines have focused on Atlantic storms, Ciara and Dennis which have caused chaos across the country due to prolonged high winds and heavy rain. Some areas have experienced 1 months rainfall in 24 hours (up to 150mm) with the inevitable severe flooding causing evacuation of whole communities from their flooded homes. For some this has been their third flooding in 3 years! Residents effected have said “living through a flood is the most appalling experience. Every time it rains your heart beats faster”.The trouble is todays news becomes tomorrows history and little action follows.
Suddenly the Environment Agency are realising that such events can effect mental health for years after an event with an increase in PTSD stress and depression. It is worth noting that our Flood Alleviation Study in 2017 mentioned health risks but the
Grant-Aid funding procedure did not include such a category. Surely this should be
rated highly in any cost/benefit analysis!
Clearly there is a growing problem with climate change and the increased risk of major flooding events and even the current budget of £4bn to 2026,less than 1% of the infrastructure budget,is woefully inadequate. The E/A claim that a spend of £1bn per year for the next 50 years will barely maintain the current level of risk.
Locally January 2020 had significantly higher rainfall than January 2019 and reached our expected monthly average total. With the ground already saturated and February being dominated by strong winds from storms Ciara and Dennis where wind speeds reached up to 60mph it was inevitable that another flooding event would occur on 16.02.20. Previous storms, Atiyah in Dec 2019 and Brendon in Jan 2020 winds only reached 40 mph. As a result February’s rainfall looks set to exceed its monthly average with the possibility of more flooding.
As 1 in 6 homes across the country are now at risk of flooding,excluding the effect of climate change, it is about time the E/A and local Planners refused all applications for building in areas of flood risk. 10% of new homes were built on zone 3 floodplain and in areas like Lincolnshire this figure rises to 100% where they have already experienced 7 floodings in 20 years!
The Government must now realise that flooding is a National emergency and needs to take immediate action to support those currently effected and make a concerted effort to increase funding for prevention schemes capable of dealing with future long term needs.
2019 ended with a final month of excessive rainfall which resulted in another flood event on 21.12.19 bringing the total for the year to five. An analysis of the years rainfall data at local gauging stations in Daventry, Dodford, Towcester, Pitsford and Nether Heyford showed many similar trends, namely Jan-May below average whilst every month from June to December significantly exceeded the monthly averages. In particular June and October witnessed twice their monthly averages and although there were local variations, Nether Heyford recorded the highest yearly level of 826 mm, ie.18.8% above average. In spite of this Northamptonshire remains one of the lowest rainfall Counties in the Country, possibly due to its central location and surrounding elevated terrain.
These seasonal and now annual variations in weather patterns can clearly be attributed to the erratic behaviour of the jet stream and the effect of global warming. The warming in the polar regions have effected both the northern and southern hemisphere jet streams which coupled with increased El Nino activity have contributed to extreme variations across the UK. 2019 saw record July temperature of 38.7 degrees centigrade in Cambridge whilst Scotland recorded 18.7 degrees centigrade in December. Further evidence of global warming was seen in extreme levels of flooding, forest and bush fires, hurricanes and volcanic activity.
Already January 2020 has started with moderately warm weather interrupted by cold winds from storm Brendon and local flooding on 15.1.20 due to moderate rainfall on 14.1.20 falling on an already saturated catchment area. However the longer term forecast for the remainder of January is generally dry and sunny with overnight frosts. Day time temperatures will be nearer to the January average.
In spite of this let’s hope the World’s 2020 weather settles down!
PS: My thanks to Tony Clewett for Nether Heyford rainfall data.
What a difference a year makes is clearly shown in local plots of monthly rainfall and accumulated rainfall. A single flood in March/April 2018 has been superceded by four in 2019, all occurring within one month period,namely 15.10.19, 27.10.19, 10.11.19 and 14/15.11.19. The latter saw extensive coverage of the floodplain and recorded the highest gauge reading of 71.9m.
Prolonged and heavy rainfall has seen extensive flooding across the UK with Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and the East Midlands witnessing flooding of 100’s of homes. Comments from communities effected again highlighted serious problems with the management of flooding in general, namely
(a) E/A warnings too late, clearly a failure of AVM.
(b) delays in activating emergency services.
(c) new flood defences in upstream areas enhancing downstream flooding,creating
(d) E/A misleading residents with claims of “it won’t happen again in your lifetime”.
(e) residents unable to insure properties even though Flood-Re promised affordable cover by adding a levy to everybodies insurance policies.
In this era of high technology it remains incomprehensible why advanced warnings cannot be given well in advance as there is an extensive network of real time rainfall and river level gauges. In addition satellite and ground radar provide forecasters with the ability to make 10 day forecasts and provide updates every 5 minutes.
All of this reminds me of the Bye investigations following the Northampton flooding of 1998 :-
(1) improvements in forecasting and warning systems with the use of local media and sirens to alert communities. Flood wardens with their local knowledge must form a vital link.
(2) improved communication between E/A and emergency services.
(3) in the light of the ever present risk of flooding the E/A recognised the imprudence of inappropriate development in flood risk areas and agreed to defend rigorously their advice to LPA’s to prevent such developments adding to the problems of flooding. It was agreed that the impact of climate change should be factored into any flood defences.
Currently it is forecast that over 10,000 new homes are to be built on the flood plains largely with E/A approval, contrary to their own principles in “Living on Edge”.
Building bigger flood defences is not the answer and more cost effective upstream storage and bypass diverts should be used to ensure the rivers natural capacity is never exceeded.
Clearly lessons have not been learnt, not helped by reductions in staffing levels within the E/A and emergency services.
A flooding event is defined as any occasion in which river water encroaches onto the adjacent floodplain. In the case of Nether Heyford this occurs when the monitoring gauge reads 71.55m which has not occurred since March/April 2018. However with the recent changes in the weather pattern as a result of the jet stream being centered to the south of the UK, 2019 has seen increased rainfall totals per month since June .This has resulted in saturated ground and increased run off in the catchment area. This culminated in flooding on 15th October when Broad Meadow opposite Crow Lane and the fields downstream of the Bridge were flooded.
Since Easter floods of 1998 such events have occurred on average 2.5 times a year. Tracing events back to 1947 the trend has been increasing until the latest changes in weather pattern over the last 2 years. Clearly climate change is taking place with weather becoming more unpredictable as evident when comparing rainfall in June 2018 of 1mm to June 2019 of 97mm.
George Clarke’s recent Channel 4 documentary “Council House Scandal” celebrated 100 years since the Addison Act of 1919 kick started Council Estate building. Sadly since the Right to Buy was introduced properties have not been replaced, hence the current shortage of Council properties for rent. GC has launched a National campaign to encourage Government to build more Council homes and has secured land in Manchester to demonstrate how to build good standard homes at reasonable cost. The programme highlighted a problem with commercial properties being converted to rentable homes under “permitted development” which fail to meet minimum acceptable standards for room sizes. Unfortunately this type of development introduced by Government reduced the power of local Planning Offices to enforce standards and bypass the formal planning processes.
The growth in permitted development could potentially lead to problems during conveyancing on house sale/purchase when the status of each building on site is investigated whether these are new build or change of use. Ideally a Lawful Development Certificate should be produced. To avoid risk to the seller/purchaser the seller can purchase an Indemnity Policy in the name of the purchaser. Not until permitted development is scrapped and the planning process returned to conventional planning application/building control will standards return to normal.
June/July/ August weather has continued to be untypical for this time of the year with short periods of high temperature near 37 centigrade and prolonged periods of heavy rainfall. Surprisingly total annual rainfall to the end of August is only 82% of average resulting from the extremely low rainfall earlier in the year.
Anyone interested in participating in discussions with the E/A over future flood defence requirements and contributing with their own local knowledge of flooding are again invited to contact me directly.