Flooding and Climate Change: What have we learned?

The River Thames in flood last weekend. As I write, the water level has called by around 20 centimetres.

The River Thames in flood last weekend. As I write, the water level has fallen by around 20 centimetres. What lessons have we learned?

As the flood waters slowly recede, can I be the first to congratulate the Environment Agency?

We have just experienced the worst sequence of weather events for a few decades or a few centuries. And almost nobody was hurt, and only a few thousand houses were flooded. That has to be a pretty good result.

Although these events cannot in any way be linked to Climate Change, there is still a lesson to be learned in that regard: and that is that we are vulnerable.

If the future climate changed so that such weather was more normal – then we would be have to adapt and there would be real costs (financial and otherwise) involved. And if the weather changed more dramatically, then the consequences could easily be more significant.

Now you may think that following Julia Slingo’s comments to the media that there is a link toClimate Change. So I read the Met Office’s 27 page media briefing on ‘the recent storms’ with interest. It reads like a police report of a pub brawl. But instead of:

  • A hit B because B said’s A’s girlfriend was sleeping with C.
  • C screamed and hit A who then attacked D who fell over and hit the bar.

We have:

  • Excess rain in the tropical Pacific affected stratospheric winds
  • These winds made tropospheric storms across North America move southward drawing air from the warm Atlantic etc. etc.

And then after 26 pages the report concludes

… it is not possible, yet, to give a definitive answer on whether climate change has been a contributor or not. 

So let’s put that particular baby to bed: in 30 years time when we look back we will see whether this event was part of a trend or merely a blip – but at this moment, we just don’t know.

And when in 30 years we look back, what will we say?

  • Will we say ‘Thank you’ to ourselves for considering the  possibility that this could be start of a significant change?
  • Will we be grateful to ourselves for updating our flood defences, and adapting our farming and flooding strategies?
  • Will be glad that the extra money we spent saved lives in the many storms which followed?
  • Or will we regret spending the money because – as things turned out – there were no major floods since.
  • Or will we look back and say ‘Great’ we got away with that – we have had 30 years without flooding?
  • Or will we kick ourselves for not acting when we could have done.

Whatever we want to be thinking in 30 years time, we need to act to achieve it now.


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