2012’s weird weather turnaround a first for UK

Posted: Thursday 6th December 2012

A year of record breaking highs and lows highlights the need to plan for extremes.

The driest spring for over a century gave way to the wettest April to June on record this year, in a dramatic drought turnaround that has never been seen before, the Environment Agency, Met Office and Centre for Ecology & Hydrology confirmed recently.

After two dry winters - which saw 20million people issued with a hosepipe ban, 200 drought related environmental incidents and major roads cracking in the dry conditions - the heavens opened, river levels tripled and reservoirs went from their lowest ever levels to full or exceptionally high. Flooding hit almost every region of England and Wales from May to July, with rivers such as the Devon Axe reaching their highest ever levels.

Speaking at a briefing in London today, Christine Tuckett of the Environment Agency said: “The weather extremes which we’ve seen this year – with widespread floods almost immediately following a long term drought - have brought the importance of resilience into sharp focus. Taking action today to prepare and adapt our homes, businesses, and infrastructure is vital.”

The Environment Agency is at the forefront of efforts to increase the country’s resilience to flooding and water scarcity, both now and for a future climate. During the drought the Environment Agency granted drought permits to five water companies to ensure that 16.5 million people continued to have water.

Since the start of May, flood defences have protected over 53,000 homes and businesses, in places like Carlisle, Appleby, Wigan and Worle. The Environment Agency sent over 100,000 warnings directly to households and businesses to allow them time to prepare and protect themselves from flooding.

Flood defences opened by the Environment Agency this year include Nottingham protecting 16,000 properties, Keswick protecting nearly 200 properties, Truro protecting over 200 properties and Banbury, protecting over 500 properties.

Paul Mustow, Head of Flood Incident Management at the Environment Agency said: “The Environment Agency and Met Office are constantly working to improve their flood forecasting and early warning systems and we are improving flood defences to protect communities. However the most important step people can take in protecting themselves from the worst impacts of flooding is to find out if they are at risk, and sign up to the Environment Agency’s free flood warnings service.

“As winter approaches we’d encourage everyone to take this one step to help protect themselves from what is recognised as one of the country’s major natural hazards.”

Terry Marsh, from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said, “The late spring and summer of 2012 have witnessed an extraordinary transformation in the water resource outlook. Dramatic post-drought recoveries have occurred before, most notably following the extreme drought of 1975/76, but sustained recoveries of this magnitude during the late spring and summer have not been seen before.”

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