UK Flooding: No Climate Link

  • Date: 14/01/14
  • Dr David Whitehouse

It has been said that much of the recent flooding in the UK has been triggered by heavy rainfall brought about by changing climate. Some have said this is due to anthropogenic influences. Others collate what is thought to be happening with what many climate models predict about the future incidence of extreme weather. It has been said that the explanation for the sever flooding lies with the fact that last December was the sixth wettest December in the UK since records began in 1910, and that we are in a wet period as 2012 was the wettest year on record.

Such comments, whilst true, are cherry-picked to make a particular point and do not tell the whole story.

The Met Office data for UK rainfall starts in 1910.

Looking at the annual data 2012 is not the wettest on record as it ties with 2000, and is not much above 1954. There have been wetter years recently. Of the seven years with annual rainfall above 1250 mm five have occurred since 1997.

Rain Annual Data

It is easy to see that no great conclusions can be drawn about rainfall trends given the scatter of the data. The only apparent increase seems to be in the past few decades of higher rainfall in the summer but that is not dramatic, in fact it is far less in evidence in the plots of the individual summer monthly plots.

Annual Rainfall England

December 2013 was the sixth wettest on record but looking at the December 1910 – 2013 graph puts it into perspective as there are about 13 comparable Decembers. Winter rainfall in 2013 was the 27th wettest on record.

Winter rainfall uk

Many of the floods have occurred in England where 2013 was about the 46th wettest year since 1910. In England December was the 17th wettest December on record. In Wales it was the 20th, and in Northern Ireland the 31st wettest. In Scotland it was the wettest, where flooding took place but not on the same scale as England and Wales.

Anyone attributing a climatic shift behind these data, especially one with anthropogenic influences, is misrepresenting it. The floods have causes in land and water management, not climate change.

Feedback: david.whitehouse@thegwpf.org