The Storms in North West Britain

by frankbeswick

Parts of Britain have jut been hit by a large Atlantic storm that overwhelmed flood defences in places and has created havoc.

Britain has just been hit by a monster. No, not Godzilla, but something mighty powerful, a large Atlantic-wide storm that swept over Ireland, covering the country, hit North Wales and then raged across North West England and into Scotland,but the whole island was hit in some way . Here in South Lancashire, at the southernmost tip of the North West, we got bad rain, I avoided the allotment for fear of flying glass from greenhouses, and my greenhouse was damaged. But Cumbria and South West Scotland were hit, yet again. What is to be done?

Picture courtesy of Brian Jackson

The extent and severity of the storm.

I once walked the lonely and beautiful Honister Pass with my father, as we took a long hike down Newlands Valley through Buttermere and Borrowdale, a treasured time with a now deceased parent. It was a dry summer day, but we knew the reputation of the place for rain, and in recent years the area has exceeded all the worst expectations. The village at the foot of the pass, Seathwaite, is known as England's rainiest place, and a year or so ago it recorded  31.6 centimetres in a day, but yesterday exceeded this unwanted record, with the rain at Honister pouring 34.6 centmetres in 48 hours on the lonely road through the hills. The water cascaded down both sides of the pass, on one side descending to lake Buttermere, and the other down to lake Derwentwater in Borrowdale, where the town of Keswick, near the isthmus between Derwentwater and Veronica's beloved Bassenthwaite,  suffered some flooding. 

But Keswick was not the most badly hit. Down to the south in Kendal parts of the town were flooded, and an elderly man was  swept to his death in the swollen river Kent.  Many families had to be evacuated from their homes,power was lost, and the local member of parliament, the leader of the Liberal Democrats,  had to escape from his flooded and now to be written off car, leading four children to safety in the process. But north of this, the river Eden burst its banks and overflowed into the town of Carlisle, swollen with water that had rolled off the Pennine hills.Sadly, even though the government had improved flood defences in the town after flooding two or three years ago, the new defences were overwhelmed in places, such was the severity of the rain. Sixty thousand homes across the North West lost power as the electricity failed.  

But the rest of Britain did not escape the attack. In London a ninety year old man was blown into the path of a bus to  become the first fatality of the storm. In Southern Scotland a whole side of a street crumbled into a river. And I was  anxious, but later relieved, as I knew that in Wales my son-in-law was driving home from a business trip through the storm to Anglesey, only an hour's drive across the Lleyn Peninsula, lovely by day, but dark and lonely in a storm at night. Sometimes if there is a bad storm the police shut the bridges to the Isle of Anglesey, so I did not want him stuck overnight in a car waiting at the bridge. But he reached home safe, but tired without delay.The police are not being unreasonable in shutting the two bridges, as such as the strength of the wind across the  Menai straits that lorries have been known to topple, and cars and pedestrians could be blown into the metal framework.   

The problem is that climate change predictions are that there will be an increase in Winter storms in North West Britain,and we are seeing it now. The rainfall in winter is growing heavier, fueled by the temperature rise in the Atlantic, just as this heat fuels hurricanes in North  America. Climate change is real, dangerous, expensive and happening. I know that storms of great severity happen elsewhere in the world, and we cannot equal America's hurricanes, but we are not on a continent, but a crowded  island, and if certain parts suffer economic damage, the whole island will suffer; and there is nowhere to run to.    


The emergency services were as usual heroic, and the police faithfully searched for the missing man, but they can only respond. The army were sent in and served grimly through a stormy period, reinforcing defences and taking people to safety. The community banded together. As usual,  the church opened its doors to turn churches into refuges, though one church was flooded and unavailable. 

There are measures that can be taken. All these measures have to be effective in a heavily populated island where whole areas cannot be rewilded, but will always contain human habitation at a reasonably high level of  density.

One suggested measure is to change land use in the affected district. The Cumbrian hills are sheep farming territory, and like all sheep range they are quite bare of trees. But land that is denuded of trees, which are the natural land covering of Britain, cannot hold water, which runs down the bare mountain sides far quicker than it does though tree covered land. Soil that is tree-covered absorbs water sixty seven per cent more effectively than non-tree covered soil. So to hold water on the hills and therefore slow the pace at which it descends we need to restore tree cover. Even a small restoration would create a significant slow down in water run off from the hillsides. This may mean a change in patterns of farming, with hill farmers becoming part time foresters and forest enterprises becoming part of the economic life of the area. But this is for negotiation between farmers and society, and expecting farmers to  sacrifice their livelihoods for no gain is not acceptable. Britain needs to fully cultivate its land, and farmers are the key to this process.

Maintenance of peat bogs is important, as these places can be sponges that soak up surplus water and hold it for slow release. Part of this vital strategy is to ensure that peat deepens, as the more peat there is the more water and carbon dioxide it holds.

One strategy is to designate  certain areas along rivers as overflow zones. This might mean buying up some farm land and letting it turn into wetland as an over-spill for times of serious flooding. Creating zones which can turn into winter lakes at spots along rivers is an important strategy.  More storm drains in towns can help, but the water needs to go somewhere, which is where seasonal wetlands come in. 

As a long term strategy we need to rethink house design so that houses are raised above street level to allow a certain leeway for water to flood without causing difficulties. Electrics need to be rethought so that they are not so near the floor as to easily flood. 

In the longer term

In this island we do not suffer the worst of disasters,and in many ways we are blessed. But global warming is causing changes and the benign climate in which I  grew up is changing. What it will be for my descendants I know not. As a grandfather I am concerned for the generations who come after me.  

Britons need to develop a flood culture, so that they will not be taken by surprise. I am fortunate that my house is near the centre of Stretford, so it is on a slight rise, which is why Stretford was located where it was, to be free from the ever-recurring flooding of the Mersey. But we cannot be complacent. I  will need to think ahead to times when we might be flooded, so preparations such as supplies of food and a source of heat may become important, as will suitable clothing. We need to rethink winter not as a time for snow, which in truth it rarely was in Britain, but as a time of wind, rain and floods. We must get used to the future to prepare for it.    

The government needs to play its part  in combating the global warming that is fueling these Atlantic storms.It does something, but it needs to be promoting renewable energy even more than it is doing. David Cameron promised us the greenest government ever, but so far the delivery of the promise has proved disappointing.

But everyone in our island needs to realize that whatever the differences between England and Scotland, climate change is an enemy that attacks both of us and does not worry whether you wear a kilt or not, for as you saw, the storm that hit Cumbria attacked the whole of the British  Isles. We have different cultures but a common set of problems in our small, but  densely populated archipelago. We are better together.

Updated: 12/07/2015, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 04/01/2023

Probably, but I don't know it.I suspect that Scotland's rainiest place is near Cape Wrath on the North West tip. BlaenaeFfestiniog just at thevsouthern edge of Snowdonia is renowned for rain and has a claim for the honour. As for Ireland,the whole of the west is is said to be a place where you get four seasons in a single day.

DerdriuMarriner on 03/31/2023

The first paragraph to your first subheading, The extent and severity of the storm, describes Seathwaite as "rainiest place" in England.

Would there be a place even rainier in Ireland, Scotland or Wales?

frankbeswick on 01/08/2016

Any expatriate Scots in the USA will be saddened to know that East Scotland has been badly hit in the last few days, the county of Aberdeen to be precise. Police are talking about threats to life and in some cases advising evacuation till the flood passes.

frankbeswick on 12/26/2015

We have just had to cancel a trip to see my daughter and her husband in Anglesey, North Wales, as she sent a message saying, "Don't come, the main coastal road is flooded."

frankbeswick on 12/25/2015

Just to keep people updated, there is yet another storm approaching Cumbria, though a smaller one. For the first time in peacetime COBRA, the government's emergency committee, is meeting on Christmas Day, which shows the level of concern. The meeting is at 10 Downing Street,the Prime Minister's official residence.

What's more, I was one who suggested that the army be drafted in for emergency road repairs to the main route through Cumbria, but we have discovered that no road repairs can happen until the hillside above the road is stabilized, as it has slipped and is threatening a landslide. When the repairs will be finished we just don't know.

frankbeswick on 12/16/2015

This is interesting and relevant information.

WriterArtist on 12/15/2015

Recent occurrences of landslide and frequent phenomenon of floods are man-made. Recent disasters in Uttarakhand in India were the result of deforestation. Populating the religious shrines for commercial purposes, building hotels and lodges near the banks of river, baring the mountains of trees were the true cause of the major devastation that resulted in huge losses of lives.

Chennai was recently flooded and the causes are being explored. Politicians are justifying and manipulating as usual, for their benefits. I agree with you on strategizing and planning for catastrophes. Every time we end up calling the Army when the local authorities are unable to handle them. The shabby and shoddy urbanization has to be checked somewhere, some time.

frankbeswick on 12/12/2015

The problem now is that the main road through this mountainous region has been partly washed away in one place, and the economic effects are dire, as a massive diversion is needed for those moving from North to South and vice versa. There are calls to summon the army to do emergency repairs on the road. The British army always do well in circumstances like these. We would use the Royal Engineers for this task.

frankbeswick on 12/11/2015

Thanks! The big Atlantic weather systems affect both America and North West Europe. They start in the West and flow Eastwards, so we all need to know what weather is happening in the Atlantic region. We cannot just focus on our own little area.

There was a repeat of the event on a local scale when the scenic village of Glenridding was swamped when a small river coming of mount Helvellyn overflowed, but what points to a future solution is that the locals took responsibility for their own clean up, aided by government agencies. So maybe the response to flooding is for local people to take charge of events and for governments to back them up, where possible. But of course, as the locals in Glenridding include several farmers,they had mechanical diggers available.

blackspanielgallery on 12/10/2015

Many do not understand that warmer air can hold more water, so the water available to a storm is increased. You are quite correct to point to global warming. Another feature of climate change is a shift in the jet stream, which governs where storms occur.
Our news here missed this. You are indeed informative to those of us who would otherwise have no clue this happened.

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