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Disastrous flooding in England and Scotland as December is warmest and wettest month on record

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Britain was been hit with record rainfall and flooding during the month of December, particularly in northern England and southern Scotland. This was not a freak occurrence but rather a pattern of rising winter rainfall.

The record rainfall is being caused by changing global weather patterns, in turn caused by warming temperatures. This month was the warmest December on record in Britain, just as the month and the year 2015 were the warmest on record in many parts of the world. Steady, heavy rainfall in Britain has soaked the ground and if land management and flood defences are bad, there is nowhere for water to go but downstream.

In this case, yes, Britain has very bad forest and land management practices, driven by greed and inattention to science and citizen concerns. The BBC reports here on the tidal wave of criticism of inaction or bad policy decisions by the British government in the face rising rainfall patterns. British environment writer George Monbiot writes about this side of the storm and flood story in a December 29 article in The Guardian.

A monster winter storm over the North Atlantic during late December brought yet more rain to Britain on December 29-30 in the form of Storm Frank. The storm pushed into the Arctic and brought the temperature at the North Pole to 0 C; that's about 25 C above normal (CNN news story here, deeper analysis here). The forecast daytime high temperature at the Pole for January 2 is 2 C.

This was the same original storm system that brought tornadoes to Texas on December 26, killing some 40 people, and then heavy rains causing flooding as it moved northeast. Parts of the U.S. Midwest and southeast are bracing for rising flood waters from the rainstorms of late December. Some 18 million people are living in areas threatened with flooding, from Kansas to Florida. Fourteen people have died from the flooding in the state of Missouri.

Sections of the Mississippi River and its tributaries rose five meters above flood stage level, including in Missouri and in the area around St. Louis, where the Missouri River meets the Mississipi. Flooding in areas of the Mississippi matched the record-high flood levels of 1993 that killed 50 people and cost an estimated $15 billion in damage. That event led U.S. authorities to begin to return areas of the river's flood plain to its natural state.

The Mississippi flooding has crested in St. Louis but areas further downstream are bracing. (See a map of the flood levels along the Mississippi River here in the New York Times.)

Timeline of storms hitting northern England and Scotland in December 2015

From the BBC, December 29, 2015

  • Storm Desmond, first week of December. Rainfall in this storm broke all previous U.K. records, with the Met [weather] Office saying Honister in Cumbria received 341.4mm (13.4in) of rain in the 24 hours between 4 and 5 December.
  • Four days after Storm Desmond, lighter rain falling on already saturated ground led to yet more flooding. And yet more light rainfall on Tuesday, December 22 left some parts of the county under water for a third time in a month.
  • Storm Eva brought torrential rain on December 25 and 26.
  • Storm Frank hit on December 29-30, bringing yet more flooding.

Background:

The growing science linking global warming to extreme climate events, on RobertsScribbler, December 31, 2015

Cut now, pay later: the floods show what happens when you strip back the state, by Owen Jones, The Guardian, December 29, 2015

From "biblical" floods to deadly heat, 2015 was a year of weather worsts, by Raveena Aulakh, environment reporter, Toronto Star, December 30, 2015

A year of extreme weather, and no reprieve in sight, by Raveena Aulakh, environment reporter, Toronto Star, December 30, 2015

Freak storm in North Atlantic to lash U.K., pushes temperatures 50 F degrees above normal at North Pole, Washington Post, December 29, 2015 (with update)

And on the same subject: Warm Arctic storm to hurl hurricane force winds at U.K. and Iceland, push temps to 36-72+ degrees (F) above normal at North Pole, Robert's Scribbler, December 29, 2015

Britain hammered by ocean surges and "most exceptional rainfall in 248 years" by Roger Annis, February 14, 2014

An "inconvenient" ice storm hits Canada and northern U.S. amidst the whirlwind of climate science denial, by Roger Annis, December 30, 2013

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