In which we are inundated: the #ukstorm lingers on

Britain is as soggy as a crumpet dunked in tea.

(No Brits I know actually dunk their crumpets in tea, but it sounds suitably British, doesn’t it?)

Even for a wet, rainy country used to wet, rainy winters, it’s been pretty darned wet here in the UK. Thousands of homes are still flooded and without power, beach fronts have been destroyed by monster tides, and the Thames Barrier has seen 25% of its lifetime action in the past two months alone, even though it was built more than thirty years ago. Fierce winds have brought down trees and power lines, flipped cars, forced entire train lines to a standstill and even killed a taxi driver via a massive chunk of dislodged mortar in Holborn Circus. Historically masters of the civilized world, we Brits have had to turn to the Dutch (yet again), this time for extra pumps. They might want to redesign the entire county of Surrey while they’re at it.


The Thames, looking deceptively tame last week

Although weather carnage has been going on for weeks in the rest of the UK, the Prime Minister’s decision to act at last correlated suspiciously with the moment the mansions of the Home Counties (presumably full of rich Tory occupants) finally started succumbing to high waters last week. It’s hard not to be cynical hearing him trumpet, so very late, how we’re all in this together and money is no object. Try telling that to the Cornish.


Destroyed huts on Cromer East Beach, about a fortnight ago


Richard and Joshua inspect a casualty of wind in the park. Another felled tree missed our block of flats by a few feet this past weekend.

Predictably, there’s been a lot of wibbling about climate change, mostly from Labour politicians trying to score points. We don’t have anything as cool-sounding as a Polar Vortex here, though, and the flooding of flood plains may not actually be that unusual. And certainly not as sexy. Proving definitively that the crazy weather this winter on either side of the Pond is anthropogenic is probably quite tricky from a scientific standpoint. But it did all remind me of Kim Stanley Robinson‘s excellent lab lit fiction trilogy about climate change, kicking off with Forty Signs of Rain. Do check them out if you want to get into global warming’s equivalent of the Blitz spirit.

About Jennifer Rohn

Scientist, novelist, rock chick
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10 Responses to In which we are inundated: the #ukstorm lingers on

  1. rpg says:

    One of the things about the weather—apart from our love of talking about it, of course—is that Britain’s climate is remarkably mild in all aspects. A ‘temperate’ climate—neither too hot nor too cold, too wet nor too warm. While the west does get more rain than the rest of us (nobody actually *lives* west of Oxford, which is probably the real reason Cameroon was so late deciding to poke his oar in, as it were), London, for example, actually has the same number of wet days as Sydney but half the total rainfall.

    Sydney has massive great storm drains and the rain washes straight out to sea (how the place manages to maintain a permanent drought status is beyond me)—our problem, on the other hand, is that we’re just not set up for it. Like the piddling amount of snow and the disproportionate associated chaos in previous winters.

    There’s also a rant here to be had about the beached whale of an Environment Agency, the obscene Common Agricultural Policy, and the progressive deforestation of our hills, all of which have contributed directly to the floods and concomitant damage.

  2. rpg says:

    PS How soggy would crumpets actually get? I think, weight for weight, ginger nuts are likely to absorb more liquid (tea)—or at least more rapidly. Crumpets just don’t seem to be cut out for the job—wrong texture and whatnot, dontcherknow.

  3. cromercrox says:

    Britain is flooded. America is frozen. Australia is burning. Truly, these are the End Times.

    And I always dunk my crumpets in my tea. Doesn’t everyone?

  4. Loif move a little slow down yurr in Deb’n.
    We’m still tryin’ to unnerstan wot happened to them trains, why aint they coming anymore? I ‘eard that storm blew the line away but per’aps I’d ‘ad too many jars o’scrumpy that noight.

    Folks talk of a giant building in the big city of Exeter. I ain’t been there but friends say it’s called the Met Office. They tell me that if I want to unnerstan storm I munn listen to someone called Julia Slingo. She’s the ‘ead ‘pparently and she know about these things. Maybe I will … but maybe I’ll have another zyder first.

  5. What I’ve seen of the flooding on the news looks very bad. Hope it settles down soon. Of course, I suspect we’ve been treated to the absolute worst images – ascertainment bias in the media and all that.

    Our death-defying wrestling match with the Polar Vortex (TM) seems to have passed… the temperature is now hovering around freezing, which is a good 15 to 20 Celsius higher than it was a couple of weeks ago. Still very snowy though, which will make the ground good and soggy for the farmers come Spring.

  6. Grant says:

    @Jennifer

    “via a massive chunk of dislodged mortar in Holborn Circus”

    That would be unre-enforced masonry? A good thing (substantial) earthquakes aren’t common in England. Unre-enforced masonry, brick chimneys and old brick buildings were an issue in the earthquakes near Christchurch. (Including in the smaller aftershocks after a decent ’quake – after earthquakes people would walk on the road to stay away from buildings in case masonry, bricks, etc., fell in a following aftershock.) NZ is, slowly, reviewing all older buildings for unre-enforced masonry, etc.

    @rpg – NZers also have an (annoying) habit of talking about the weather and like England it’s usually fairly temperate here, too. Don’t get me started on what summer has been like in Dunedin though. For your sake! :-)

  7. rpg says:

    ” A good thing (substantial) earthquakes aren’t common in England.”

    Well, we do have reinforced masonry, particularly in new builds, but I think the point is we don’t have serious earthquakes so we don’t need to make building earthquake-proof!

    (which to my understanding actually means making them more flexible, not necessarily stronger, right?)

    *insert picture of glass-covered 1000 ft building here*

  8. cromercrox says:

    Last year I woke up in a hotel room at 4 a.m. At 4.05 a.m. the whole room started swaying, and continued to do so for several seconds. I later discovered that I had witnessed an earthquake which registered a shade over magnitude 3.

    It was Vienna.

    A few years ago we had an earthquake in Cromer of sufficient force to jiggle crockery. I slept through it.

  9. Earthquakes in Britain aren’t as rare, or even as small, as you might think. We had a notable series in Manchester in Autumn 2002, certainly big enough (3-4 on the standard scales) to ‘wobble’ buildings and bend window glass in and out.

    One interesting thing about earthquakes of this magnitude is that you have to be still (e.g. lying in bed or standing still – I was stood shaving for one of them, I remember) to notice them. If you were walking down the road when a tremor that size hit, you might not notice it at all, since all your body’s sensing systems that would usually detect it would be busy handing the mass of ‘sensory feedback’ generated by your walking.

    Getting back to the floods, from the perspective of a famously damp part of Britain it is interesting, as Jenny says, to notice the panic buttons being pressed when the floods get near to the regions on the Thames where TV and radio presenters and producers, MPs and other ‘people like us’ (and massed Tory voters) live. One never recalls serious flooding in Yorkshire, for instance, which has happened several times in the last 20 years including this Winter, getting the same kind of coverage. I tend to the view that everywhere outside the South East (see also Devon and Cornwall, and even Somerset) shares the same fate of being not terribly important to those in Westminster.

    Anyway, though we are famously damp here, we seem also to be fairly well-drained, so there’s been no flooding locally despite a lot of rain and high, though not overflowing, rivers. The last big storm did bring down quite a lot of trees, though, so we had a night of blocked roads and railway lines. Perhaps we provincial folk are simply a bit more used to wild weather than the denizens of Importance-Upon-Thames?

  10. Grant says:

    Sorry for going off-topic. February 22nd (today) is the third anniversary of the magnitude 6.8 that hit my hometown, which will be partly to blame. (The magnitude 7.1 event was Sept. 4th, but occurred ~4:30am – few people out and about in the city; the later 6.8 had greater ground acceleration with peak ground accelerations in excess of 3 x gravity in places.)

    A particular aspect of masonry I was thinking of was the decorative pieces on older buildings. If not re-enforeced they’re just held on by masonry. They break off in a bigger quake and fling out to the street where people are trying to get away.

    I’m not a building engineer, but my impression is like yours that flexibility helps. Wooden buildings on piles in particular did well. Their chimneys were a big issue, though. Many brick chimneys fell on the roofs and crashed through; ceilings aren’t particularly strong.

    As you were saying sizable earthquakes are rare in the UK. In NZ, last year there were over 2700 magnitude 3-4 earthquakes; they don’t do much (we’ve got building codes for that). Stats here for the curious: http://www.geonet.org.nz/quakes/statistics

    Apparently the largest magnitude earthquake recorded in the UK is magnitude 6.1, but it was off the coast (so less impact on land). According to wikipedia a notable event was that the earthquake beheaded the waxwork of Dr Crippen at Madame Tussauds. (A homeopath who murdered his wife.)

    But ’nuff said.

    We have a similar effect on reporting and action of events in New Zealand, with events in the South Island reported less, especially south of Christchurch, which is the largest city in the South Island. (TV here is North Island-centric). I recall a storm in Dunedin with gusts up to 230km/p/h in the harbour not being reported until someone got some photos to media of motorway lights poles—the big ones that arc over the motorway—bent over by the wind, who then finally gave it some sort of passing mention…