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Imagine living somewhere that shrugs off rain as something that is a necessary inconvenience of where you live. One might gain a reputation from the rest of the world for having only one topic of conversation, the weather. Yet that is perhaps how most who live in warmer more arid climes think of the English, someone who can conjure a diatribe upon the weather from a casual glance at a cloudy sky that could last for hours. The metrological events of the past two or three weeks are nothing if not an indication of the fickle nature that the average “Brit” can draw upon when no one else can think of anything to say. When fictional speculation upon what the gods of metrological intervention may or may not bestow upon lesser mortals changes from “What might be” to “What is” then the one strangely quiet upon the subject of the weather is the “Brit”. It is almost as if there is a belief that the gods are wreaking some terrible retribution for man’s feeble attempt to second-guess their purpose.

In the past weeks it has been the misfortune of Britain and in particular England to been suffering under just such a cloud.
It began around four weeks ago with what might be termed “Flash flooding” it was not a single incident of the phenomena but a succession of downpours of such volume that a whole months rainfall fell from the sky in a few minutes. Naturally drainage systems were overwhelmed and floodwater began to rise devastating homes, businesses and the infrastructure. In a few minutes enough rain fell to flood Hull on the east coast making 16,000 homes uninhabitable but it did not end there. Near Rotherham the M1 motorway is usually busy, there are electricity pylons supplying a sub-station carrying 270,000volts and both nestle under the sphere of potential catastrophe that is the Ulley dam, a dam that holds back a 35-acre lake. The rain running off already saturated land began to swell the lake to a point where its design limits had been exceeded, the sheer weight of water behind the dam cracked the dam wall and the dam threatened to burst. Lying in the path of destruction was not only a major arterial road and electricity sub-station but also three villages which lay waiting to be engulfed. South Yorkshire was not the only county affected, Worcestershire suffered a similar fate with towns isolated by floodwater, houses and bridges washed away by the force of water and chaos on a scale that was beyond memory. Shropshire too had its share of excess water with many towns flooded and sustaining damage that would take years to rectify. The subsequent flooding led to claims against insurers in excess of thirty million pounds with many further claims to come. The UK government assessed the final bill as approaching 2 billion pounds, which was very convenient because in order for the UK government to lay claim to a 3 billion pound EEC disaster fund the minimum damage sustained had to total at least 2 million. Inevitably charges of incompetence and the government being unprepared for such disasters followed. The government agencies responsible for flood planning countered the accusations with a catalogue of measures that they had in place or were about to put into place and outlined plans for future measures citing time periods of between 10 and 20 years for the implementation of such measures. When challenged that their intentions did not help the present situation they countered with, “This situation is a once in a lifetime event and it might not happen again for another fifty years!

The furore began to subside and for all of ten days the front pages shed their questions, editorials and human-interest stories related to the floods to their less prominent inner pages. The temporary flood barriers were packed away and returned to storage in readiness for the next “Once in a lifetime flood” curiously the place that the barriers were collected from was Upton upon Severn where the river had risen and was threatening to flood the town. As the flood level progressed down the Severn the know crisis points were monitored for any sign that the town of Tewkesbury or the City of Gloucester might flood.

Then just as it was thought that the danger had passed it happened again, a merciless rainstorm raged across Worcestershire, Gloucestershire Warwickshire and Herefordshire. This time it was not a succession of heavy downpours, it was a rainstorm of huge proportions that raged in a torrential cascades all day on Friday 20th July. Most ground was already saturated from the previous storms so the water could not be absorbed; it collected on the surface and began to run off into the swollen rivers. Though local flooding was widespread it was the towns and cities built upon the rivers edges that were in the most danger. The Rivers Wye, Severn and Avon all burst their banks and flooded large areas of farmland, businesses were devastated and the many more were driven from homes both in the towns and cities or wherever a natural watercourse was a feature. The town of Upton upon Severn became an island and the anger of its residents as they were driven from their homes steamed from a request made to the Environment agency a week before the second flood to re-erect the flood barriers. The response of the agency was “We were waiting until we were sure that the town was going to flood” Perhaps they are sure now? Further downstream on the Severn the town at the greatest risk was Tewkesbury; it was once a natural island formed by the confluence of two major rivers, The Severn and The Warwickshire Avon [of Stratford on Avon fame]. Both rivers had taken on massive volumes of water and the towns along the Avon had given a portent of what was to come. One by one the towns along the Avon began to flood, Evesham town centre was under four feet of water, Stratford was flooded, Wellford was swamped and vast areas of food producing land was now under water at a time when harvest was usually taking place. The water was now uncontrollable and Tewkesbury was next on its list.
On Saturday a water treatment plant was overwhelmed by floodwater and had to be shut down depriving 150,000 people of fresh water and threatening the water supplies to 600,000 more. The desperate situation was further compounded when residents realising that there was no water at the taps [fawcets] began panic buying bottled water, within hours there was no supplies to be bought. The Army mounted a massive operation to supply the town with water in a matter of hours and their current rate of supply is 3,000,000 litres a day but the treatment plant is not expected to be back on line for 10 to 14 days.
Water and electricity do not mix and when the rising floodwater threatened the power supply at Walham the battle against the river moved to a power station. Walham supply’s the power to run the water treatment plant and without power Tewkesbury and much of the surrounding area would have no power. The army and emergency services won that battle and maintained the power supply but only just, the commander of Gold command when asked how close disaster came replied “Six inches, another six inches higher and the water would have shut down the power as well”.
Walham not only supplies power to Tewkesbury and its water treatment plant but also supplies GCHQ at Cheltenham and the power for the weapons research facility at Aldermaston is also routed through Walham, if the power had failed so would the level five containment at Aldremaston. Perhaps that was why a hasty meeting of COBRA
 [Cabinet Office Briefing reappraisal and assessment] was called.
This “Once in a lifetime event” has now happened twice in the space of one month and if any proof were needed that it is not a “Once in a lifetime event” then the floods of last year the year before and the year before that should be sufficient. Though the UK government claim to be spending upwards of 600 million a year on flood defences the forces of nature are rapidly overtaking their time scale for the work. A five-year plan is of no use if the disaster is a predictable event that is happening now, a drain in five years time will not alleviate the problem.

The Meteorologists maintain that the current weather is due to abnormal weather patterns and not as a result of climate change but the question then arises, “What has caused the abnormal weather conditions?” Could it be something the UK government has known about for 10 years and failed to plan for? Like, say, Global Warming.
The idea that this weather is unique to the UK is a false premise; China is recovering from the same weather right now as it buries its 240 dead that died in their floods. The writing is on the wall for anyone to read, this is the beginning of the phenomena known as global warming and it will not be the end of storms like these, they will get worse.


Posted: July 25, 2007 

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