Soaked British Isles Could Remain Flooded for Months
February 12, 2014
There is a thread running thru this narrative, that includes unseasonable melt and warmth in Alaska, brutal drought in California and the West, Frigid air masses in the US East, and the constant pounding of rain and storms in the UK – all connected by a stubborn, “stuck” jet stream, that is behaving very much as we might expect if it is indeed responding to loss of arctic ice.
I’ve been talking to well informed observers on the ground in the UK, more on this later – but as one of them told me yesterday, it’s one thing to have a “one-in-150 year” event, that’s weather. But when you begin to have a string of “one-in-150 year” events, back to back, you begin to wonder if the dice are indeed loaded.
We are watching a globally significant environmental, and perhaps, political, event unfold.
The defence secretary, Philip Hammond, insisted the government has got a grip on the UK’s devastating floods as he tried to put an end to “recriminations” about whether more could have been done to prevent them.
The senior Tory cabinet minister argued that the military and emergency services have everything under control, as concern about the potential scale of serious flooding along the Thames Valley continues.
It comes after the government reaction to the severe weatherdescended into infighting over the weekend, forcing David Cameron to order his feuding cabinet ministers to stop sniping at the Environment Agency (EA).
The prime minister, who returned to the flooded West Country on Monday, was said to be exasperated by the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, who attacked the competence of the EA on Sunday and apologised for the policy decisions taken by the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, who is recuperating from eye surgery.
Cameron is continuing his tour of flood-hit areas of the south-west on Tuesday while thousands of properties in the Thames Valley are at risk of flooding on Wednesday.
Amid anger about the speed of the response to the crisis, Hammond told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The government has got a grip on this. The emergency services are in the lead and they are properly organised, the military have been mobilised to provide additional support [and] additional money has been available, equipment has been brought in …
“We’re dealing with an enormous force of nature here, vast quantities of water and an unprecedented weather pattern.”
The chairman of the Environment Agency risked further criticism on Monday night when he suggested that flooded residents were partly to blame for their problems by choosing to live in high-risk regions.
Lord Smith said people who bought homes in flood plains need to think about the “risk that that property faces”.
The remarks stoked the mounting anger towards Lord Smith’s agency, which has been criticised for its response to the floods.
It comes just a week after Lord Smith said Britain must decide whether to protect “town or country” from flooding because it can’t afford to do both.
Flooding affecting south-west England and along the Thames Valley should provide a “sharp reminder” even to climate change sceptics of the risk of flooding, a former Conservative environment secretary has warned.
Caroline Spelman told the Guardian that today’s climate was a consequence of what had happened twenty years ago – and that the UK must adapt to the changes that she said were still to come.
“This flooding is a sharp reminder that everyone, sceptic or not, has to think about the risk of flooding, whatever they think causes it,” she said. “We need to adapt. What is happening now relates to what we were doing two decades ago [in increasing greenhouse gas emissions].”
The debate over tackling climate change had become “muddied”, the former minister added, and criticised politicians for using the term “global warming” because it confuses people into thinking that climate change will result in warmer weather, rather than an increase in extreme weather such as higher rainfall.