UK flood risk: Flooding IS becoming more frequent – Trend likely to continue expert warns

Storm Dennis has left parts of the UK devastated after heavy rain brought by the storm caused severe flooding to communities. The recent extreme weather has led to questions on whether flooding is becoming more frequent.

An expert has now warned flooding is indeed happening more often than before and it’s a trend expected to continue.

Professor Paul Bates, CBE, Professor of Hydrology at the University of Bristol, has widespread research interests in risk, resilience, uncertainty, governance and decision-making in relation to natural hazards and global water issues.

He said: “It can be difficult to be statistically certain that the frequency of rare events, such as floods, is changing.

“Year to year variability in weather and climate is high, and lots of other things within river catchments, such as land use changes and building flood defences, can obscure the link between weather and flooding.


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“Where we do have long term data sets in relatively natural catchments, we also see decadal cycles in flooding linked to large scale changes in the ocean and atmosphere.

“We see 10 to 20 year periods that are flood rich followed by periods that are flood poor: the 1920s and 1940s were flood rich, the 1970s and 80s were flood poor, but since 1998 we seem to have entered a flood rich period in the UK that is still ongoing.

“Moreover, climate change will be having an effect and creating a trend in the data.

“Unfortunately, because of all the above factors that trend is very difficult to see in the flood records for particular places, and even for the UK as a whole.

“So, we’re certainly seeing more flooding now than we did 40 years ago and for property owners that’s all that really matters.”

Professor Bates explained the increasing population in Britain is a contributing factor to the more frequent floods.

He said: ”The other big thing that has definitely changed is our exposure and vulnerability to floods.

“As the UK population has grown over the post war period, home building has extended to more risky places and we have, in effect, been storing up problems.

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“Data presented to the last UK Climate Change Risk Assessment showed that between 2001 and 2014, 250,000 homes, approximately 12 percent of all development, were built in areas classified as having a greater than one percent annual chance of flooding.

“More worryingly, since 2001 approximately 23,000 homes have been built in areas having high risk of flooding (defined as a three percent or greater annual chance).

“With the UK population projected to increase from 64.6 million in 2014 to 74.3 million by 2039 these trends are highly likely to continue.”

At the moment, there are more than 200 flood warnings and alerts in place across England by the Environment Agency (EA).

Severe flood warnings, meaning there is a danger to life, have been issued in areas along five rivers.

River Lugg at Hampton Bishop, River Severn at New Street, Upton upon Severn, River Severn at Uckinghall, River Severn at Waterside, Upton upon Severn and River Wye at Hampton Bishop are all under severe flood warnings.

In addition, 82 flood warnings, meaning flooding is expected, has been issued, while 148 flood alerts, warning flooding is possible, are in place.

The best way to protect yourself from flooding is to know what to do in advance.

EA issue three levels of flood warning:

Flood alert – Prepare

  • prepare a bag that includes medicines and insurance documents
  • check flood warnings

Flood warning – Act

  • turn off gas, water and electricity
  • move things upstairs or to safety
  • move family, pets and car to safety

Severe flood warning – Survive

  • call 999 if in immediate danger
  • follow advice from emergency services
  • keep yourself and your family safe

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