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February 2020: A month of severe weather, floods, and storms.

February 2020 saw extraordinary weather and unprecedented floods which devastated parts of the UK. As the climate is changing and the planet is warming up, will these “1-in-100-year events” become more frequent? Flooding during 2019 and 2020 would suggest so…

‘Extremely wet’, ‘windy’ and ‘record breaking’ are phrases which could describe February 2020 perfectly. Two storms were named just one week apart by the Met Office. Storm Ciara arrived first (8th and 9th February) which had the most impact on the North West, with some areas experiencing a month’s worth of rain in just 48 hours. Shortly after, Storm Dennis arrived (15th and 16th February) which fortunately had less of an impact than first expected. At the end of the month, Storm Jorge was named by the Spanish Met Office and was expected to arrive in early March. These storms led February 2020 to be the wettest February on record.

As expected, rainfall, soil moisture deficit, river flows, groundwater levels and reservoir storage levels were all recorded as exceptionally high and, in some instances, record breaking. The total rainfall for the North West in February was 362% of the long-term average (LTA) with the highest rainfall recorded in the Wyre and Lune catchments at 417% of the LTA for February. All ten areas in the North West observed rainfall totals classed as ‘exceptionally high’, with eight of them recording their wettest February since 1891, the exceptions being the Cheshire Rivers Group and the Esk (Dumfries), which recorded their 2nd and 5th wettest February totals for those areas.

The soil moisture levels remained at very close to full saturation throughout February in the North West, as expected for the time of the year. Following the heavy rainfall, areas of standing water were a common site on saturated soils at lower ground levels. Monthly mean river flow values also had a sharp increase in catchments across the North West and were also classed at “exceptionally high,” with the highest flows in the Wyre (420% of the LTA) and the lowest in the Mersey (244% of LTA).

INFORMATION ON EACH STORM

Storm Ciara:

• Arrived on the 9th February 2020

• Strong winds of 70-80mph were recorded in inland areas and the highest recorded gust was 97mph at Needles in the Isle of Wight.

• The highest rainfall total was recorded at Honister Pass in Cumbria at 179.8mm with 177mm recorded in the 24 hours leading up to 16:00pm on Sunday.

• There was localised flooding and widespread disruption to many areas across the country with around 1346 properties flooded as well as many businesses.

•A total of around 23,415 properties were protected from flooding by flood defences.

Storm Dennis

• Arrived one week after Storm Ciara (15th and 16th February).

• Strong winds and heavy rain affected the whole of the UK.

• There was 157.6mm of rain recorded at Crai Resr in Powys, South Wales.

• Wind speeds of up to 91mph were recorded at Aberdaron in North West Wales.

• Around 1569 properties flooded.

• Businesses and infrastructure were also badly affected.

• Around 25,109 properties were protected from flooding by flood defences.

Storm Jorge

• Arrived shortly after Storm Dennis (28th February – 1st March).

• Brought heavy rain and strong winds.

• Rain fell on already saturated ground which kept river levels high and caused further flooding.

• At least 516 properties flooded.

• Around 34,184 properties were protected from flooding by flood defences.

• Some coastlines had gusts of over 69mph.

• The highest gust recorded at Needles Old Battery at the Isle of Wight at 87mph.

So, are “extreme” rainfall and flood events now becoming the norm? Heavy rainfall events were a common theme in 2019, with flooding taking place in March, July, August, October and November and have been so far in 2020. The recent dry weather we have experienced may also lead to another summer of flash flooding. Thousands of households, businesses and communities have been badly affected over the last couple of years and some are still in the recovery process. Understandably, people living in flood risk areas are becoming increasingly anxious at the threat of more floods. I do believe there’s a good chance that weather patterns seen in February 2020 will become the norm in the future, unless we all take steps to minimise the effects of climate change.

Sources used: Environment Agency, Met Office

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