Flooding has been in the news a lot recently. This new year the downpours in the north of the UK have flooded properties in Cumbria, Yorkshire and Aberdeenshire among other places, but last year it was the south of England that saw the worst of the flooding. The river Thames and the Somerset Levels were both badly effected.
In East Anglia, although there have been many river floods over time, it is tidal surges from the North Sea that do the greatest damage. Although the surge of December 2013 was in some cases more extreme than the surge of 1953, improved sea defences and early warning measures meant that this time it passed off without loss of life. On the night of January 31/February 1 1953 over 300 Britons were drowned in the floods. It is strong north easterly winds coinciding with spring tides that cause these surges, not rainfall.
Fortunately for me I live on top of a hill, so the possibility of flooding does not worry me greatly. This is not true of my sister who was flooded out of her home in 2013; this happened in Canada, so as you can see flooding is a problem across the world. In Norfolk the Broads and the Fens are the two area which are most at risk of river flooding. In the Fenlands it is not really a risk at all, but a certainty; controlled flooding is part of the management of the annual rainfall. The Welney Washes on the border of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire are the principal place where the flooding is concentrated. Nearly every year the ‘A’ road adjacent to the Washes is closed by flooding, often for weeks at a time.
Norwich has not suffered from flooding for over a hundred years, but in August 1912 the lower areas of the city were inundated by rainwater. As you can see from the date, floods are not always a winter phenomenon. All of Broadland suffered too in 1912, and damage caused to the lock at Buxton ended river navigation from Coltishall to Aylsham on the canalised section of the Upper Bure. Nowadays when you look down on the tiny stream that runs under the Aylsham bypass, it is incredible to think that wherries once used to navigate this river. It was obviously wider then.
The 1912 Floods; CLICK HERE to view a photo gallery.
Flooding is not always a bad thing; water meadows receive the benefits of annual flooding and this improves the grass that animals rely on for food. Wetland floods are regarded as essential habitats for our winter visiting birds from the Arctic. It is when places that are normally not flooded get unusually heavy rainfall or swollen rivers that the floods become a real threat.
The damage is not always from the water itself soaking people’s homes; the rushing torrents can sweep away roads, bridges and buildings. Abergeldie Castle in Aberdeenshire came perilously close to falling into the river Dee in early 2016, but as it has dropped out of the national news headlines I assume that it must have survived.
The flooding has been blamed on global warming. We have been warned to expect more flooding in the years to come, as the warmer air will hold more moisture. This sounds reasonable, but only a few years ago, when we experience a particularly dry spring, we were told by the experts that droughts would be much more common in future. We have since been told to anticipate variable extremes of weather, which covers just about every possibility except a period of moderate weather. I wonder how the experts would explain that? The fact is that climate is a very complicated subject that defies simple explanations. It is the jet stream rather than the global temperature that determines the weather in individual countries. In the past ice ages have come and gone, to be followed by tropical periods, with no help from human intervention. Clearly climate change is a natural phenomenon, although it may well be that human activity is speeding up global warming. It is undoubted getting warmer at present, and the glaciers are shrinking, but I have noticed no dramatic rise in sea levels. It is fashionable to worry us about all this, but there is absolutely nothing that I personally can do about it. Even on a national scale we are pretty powerless; if the whole of the UK went carbon neutral tomorrow, there is no sign of the much larger countries like China reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases. India continues to burn ever greater quantities of coal. The results can be seen in frequent smogs which regularly descend on the large cities in both countries.
We know that whatever the future may hold we will have more floods; but flooding goes back to the time of Noah, so there is nothing new about that.