So we are now half way through February and I think the best way to sum it up so far is some variation on the word “wet”. Last month we reportedly suffered the wettest January since records began in 1910 and, if anything, things seem to have worsened since with continued severe flood warnings. Just to spice things up a bit, the rain has now been joined by winds of up to 100 mph.
Around Gloucestershire, as with much of the south west and now the Thames Valley, it has become commonplace to see vast expanses of water stretching out across what were once fields. It is hard to comprehend the sheer volumes of water necessary to saturate and then flood such large areas.
Apparently, as of last week, the level of the River Severn was still 80cm lower than at its height during the floods of 2007, which is good news – the Mythe Water Treatment Works in Tewkesbury has not been inundated so we don’t have the strange situation that we had in 2007 of being flooded but having no water to drink. It also shows how exceptional the weather must have been in that year as the floods came pretty much over a day or two – at least this time it has taken weeks to get this bad. And in 2007 it was during the summer!
Of course, all of this comes with a sad human cost as people see their homes ruined as they are engulfed by the waters. And, human nature being what it is, people are looking for someone to blame. This is understandable, but is it fair?
The main criticism seems to be levelled at the Environment Agency, with calls for the chairman, Lord Smith, to resign. Despite the agency’s supporters pointing out that Britain’s record on flood protection is much improved, people still think more should be done, but what?
The problem is, as we keep building houses, which we are told we must do, we increasingly waterproof greater expanses of the countryside and all of that water has to go somewhere. We build on flood plains and are surprised when the houses flood. Or those houses are somehow protected from flooding, but mysteriously houses elsewhere, which have never flooded before, now start to flood. As I said, the water has to go somewhere.
As an aside, one place it doesn’t go is into new reservoirs. We keep building houses, but when did you last hear of a new reservoir being built? This means that, even after all of this flooding, give us six dry weeks in the summer and we’ll still have a hosepipe ban!
More dredging of our silted up rivers should be done, the people cry. But this is a similar argument to the cry for more snowploughs every time we get a few inches of snow. Most of the time we can get by without dredging or snowploughs, so the huge cost of these things is generally considered to be better spent elsewhere – hospitals and schools for example.
This extreme flooding is also gleefully exploited by those making the case for global warming. Surely our abuse of the planet is catching up with us and this is just what we have to expect from now on.
Clearly we are witnessing some weird and extreme weather lately, but as the more measured meteorologists point out, weather is a tricky thing with many variables and such simplistic assertions are difficult to prove. Over recent years we have had snow, extreme cold and unseasonable warmth at this time of year, so no clear pattern emerges. Also, our records don’t go back far enough to really allow long term patterns to be discerned.
The only thing that I think we can safely discount as a cause for the flooding is gay marriage, the reason put forward by UKIP Councillor David Silvester last month.
So in the end it seems we just have to shrug and say “well, that’s British weather for you”. I don’t mean to make light of the plight of those who are flooded – they have my sincere sympathies, but I don’t think any single scapegoat can be identified to take the blame. I’m sure that won’t stop people trying though for both personal and political reasons.
Meanwhile, I’m going to trade my bike in for a jet-ski and get working on that ark, just in case.