Monday, March 04, 2013

It's Not Extreme Once It Becomes Normal

Britain's Environment Agency has warned that the country must prepare for increasingly extreme weather conditions.

Last year, flooding was recorded on 20% of days and drought on 25% of days, with rivers such as the Tyne, Ouse and Tone going from their record lowest flows to record highest in four months.

"It was an extraordinary year and it serves as a warning for the country that we face a future in which there are likely to be more and more extreme weather events," said Lord (Chris) Smith, the agency's chairman. "We need, very urgently, to prepare plans to deal with these extremes."

In early 2012, the Environment Agency issued a series of warnings about desperately low levels in rivers, reservoirs and groundwater aquifers. The previous year was one of the driest on record, and reservoirs and boreholes were at record lows for that time of year. In winter, they should have been full and the agency warned that only a downpour lasting weeks could avert a serious summer drought.

Britain got its downpour, but it lasted months, with previously parched fields turned into quagmires and more than 8,000 homes flooded. "We saw environmental damage caused by rivers with significantly reduced flows, hosepipe bans affecting millions and farmers and businesses left unable to take water from rivers," said Smith. "But we also saw the wettest year on record in England."

A dramatic illustration of the extraordinary changes in weather is revealed by water flow measurements in the Tyne. In March, flow was 28% of its long-term average for that time of year. By June, after months of heavy rain, the flow hit 406%. 

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