Rain, drizzle and dampness are about as common to Britain as Wellington boots. But no one has seen anything like the wet weather that has saturated the country in recent weeks and smashed rainfall records that have been kept for more than 100 years.
From Scotland to Cornwall and just about everywhere in between, Britain has been soaked by unrelenting rainfall that has led to widespread flooding, evacuations, rail disruptions, road closures and landslides. More than a dozen counties, including all of Wales, remain at risk of flooding and officials have issued in excess of 300 local flood alerts and warnings. Flood insurance claims are expected to come close to $2-billion (Canadian).
England has already broken its record for annual precipitation along with several other regions. It’s expected that Britain as a whole will set a new mark by the time revellers stagger home, wet, on New Year’s Eve. Last week the national weather service, the Met Office, said that as of Boxing Day the UK had received 1,291.2 mm of rain in 2012. It has rained almost every day since, and forecasters said that just 46mm of rain were needed by Dec. 31 to make this the wettest year since the Met started keeping track in 1910.
“It has been a very difficult year,” said Rev. Mark Badger who lives near Severn Stoke in western England, which remains partly underwater. “Certainly November and December have been very, very difficult for the community.” The local church, pub and several homes have been flooded since Christmas, he added.
The village sits next to the River Severn, Britain’s longest waterway, and flooding is not uncommon. But Rev. Badger said the overflow this year has been worse than normal. “The way the water flow is happening, the houses flooding and the church’s flooding, is contrary to what might be predicted,” he said. “The whole community is affected by it. They’ve all pulled together in a very sort of war-time spirit.”
Dozens of communities have been trying to cope with what has been almost constant rainfall since summer ended. Roughly 40 properties are underwater in Burton Fleming, along with 200 in Cornwall and Devon. In London, officials closed the Thames Barrier last week to hold back the tide and prevent flooding upstream. Three people have died in weather-related accidents this fall.
Some have found it all too much. Tony Ginn is closing down his pub, The Ship Inn, in Mevagissey, Cornwall, after it flooded for the 12 th time in three months. “It flooded for the first time the day I got the keys in October,” he told the local newspaper. “I was told it floods occasionally, but never imagined it would be three times a week.”
Britons have had to get used to weather extremes. Last year was one of the driest on record and the country was in near-drought conditions up until this March. Then the rain came. April was the wettest month on record and the rain barely let up, dousing the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June and the runup to the Olympics in July. The rain stopped briefly for the Games, then resumed again in August and continued through until December. Four out of the past 12 years have been among the rainiest ever.
All that wetness is taking a financial toll. Flood-insurance premiums will likely climb by 10 per cent, experts say. But just how much longer some home owners will be able to even get flood insurance remains a question.
Insurers have been obliged to offer flood insurance as part of standard policies since 2000 as part of a deal struck with the government. However, the agreement expires next June and unless a new deal is negotiated millions of properties in flood prone areas would no longer be covered. “It shouldn’t be forgotten that flood insurance is absolutely vital to property lending,” said Liz Peace of the British Property Federation. “Without it the property market in certain parts of the country is completely undermined.”
Severe rain and gale force winds have also thrashed parts of France this fall, forcing evacuations and power outages along the Atlantic coast.
Forecasters say one reason for the wet weather in Britain has been a slight southeastern shift in the jet stream. The steady airflow normally pushes Atlantic storm systems across the northwestern part of Scotland, skirting most of England and Wales. By moving southward, those systems have hit the bulk of the country.
“It’s more of a direct hit,” said Michael Lawrence, a forecaster with the Met Office. When asked if he has found 2012 unusual weather wise, he replied: “You could say that, yes.”
He did have some good news. The weather office is forecasting a dry and sunny start for 2013.